Confronting Lovable Bigots: White Privilege

Written by Amanda Huettner

*FACE BC CAVEAT:  We are 100% for confronting bigotry, for marching and protesting, for labeling hate as hate, and we completely support cutting racist people from ones life.

We’ve all been there.  Someone you care about - a friend, family member or colleague - shares a white privilege meme on Facebook or makes a sarcastic remark at the dinner table about “white guilt”.  

Your first reaction, and rightfully so, is to rip them a new one, call them a racist a**hole, share the numerous headlines about racialized police brutality or just cut them out of your life completely.  

But… these are people you love.  For many of us, it's our parents, grandparents, siblings and friends - or as I like to call them, the lovable bigots.  We don’t want to cut them from our lives, but we also don’t want to be subjected to the poison that is white privilege denial.  

While lovable bigots do not deserve empathy or justification of their hateful beliefs, understanding your audience is a powerful tool.  I am probably not the first person to tell you that hate stems from ignorance. That being said, most racist people are not stupid.  Our sources of knowledge (news, media, history books) are steeped in racist ideology.  What we know shapes who we are.  To challenge what we know and our sources of knowledge can be pretty scary, and our reaction to feeling scared and threatened is defensiveness and denial.

Additionally, many people who are defensive about their privilege tend to have unresolved trauma or are currently experiencing hardship that makes them extremely averse to accepting they are privileged in any way.  

But that’s no excuse!  Dear Lovable Bigots: no matter how tough the recession was or how much you struggle to pay your bills, how old or old fashioned you are, it's 2017 and the ignorance and hate have got to go.  

Below are 3 of the core areas of the concept of white privilege that when clarified, tend to result in more “aha moments” then not.  Our talking points will hopefully help you demonstrate the theory in a neutral way, but we can't promise you won't be called a Snowflake...


WHITE PRIVILEGE DOES NOT = CLASS PRIVILEGE

The most common reason lovable bigots deny their privilege is because they have experienced economic hardship in their lives.  Understandably, poor people - or any person who has struggled financially - will become defensive if you tell them they are privileged.  

“Privilege” in the context of white privilege, is not about social class, it's about being born into a society that has a racial hierarchy with white at the top of the ladder.  White skin is understood as normal, and enables a person to always feel included by society, seeing themselves reflected in the media, on the cover of magazines and in positions of power.   White privilege does not mean a person has not struggled financially or experienced class-based oppression.  Their poorness; however, would not be attributed to their race, while a person of colour’s poorness likely would.

Additionally, white privilege is less obvious and more passive.  It's something white people could go a lifetime without realizing, despite the fact that it is so pervasive and makes so many feel excluded.

TALKING POINT:  old school crayola crayons “flesh colour” or the emojis we use always reflected the white race, but many white people didn’t think twice about it until the crayon was discontinued or emojis with different skin tones were created.  In a more serious context, many white people don't think about the fact that there has never been a prime minister or supreme court justice that is a person of colour.  When everything we see has a white skin tone, from people in power to flesh-coloured band-aids, white people feel normal and comfortable in society.  These examples demonstrate passive privilege.  


OPPRESSION IS REAL AND HAS MANY LAYERS THAT INTERSECT

Oppression isn’t just about race.  There are many different forms of discrimination that impact how a person is able to move through the world and is treated by others.  “Normal” in western society is the white, able-bodied, middle class, straight man. Anyone that deviates from this is seen as abnormal, which is where sexism, racism, classism, ableism, homophobia and many other bases for discrimination stem from.  

TALKING POINT: a great way to discuss patriarchy with lovable bigots is to use the example of matrilineal societies around the world (societies in which women are the head of the family).  They are a fantastic example of how western society’s institutions of marriage, education, and other systems favour white men, and how society could be organized in a different way.

Most lovable bigots can accept that oppression is real and that there are certain beliefs and stereotypes held by society based on skin colour, religion, fatness, intellectual ability and so on.  To deny white privilege is to deny that racism exists.  You can’t have a negative without a positive - you can't have discrimination without having privilege.   

TALKING POINT: A great way to relate oppression to someone is to make it personal, whether its about them or someone they know.  If you're talking to a woman, they have likely felt nervous walking alone in a parking lot, or had their academic or career potential limited by discriminatory ideas about their sex.  If you are speaking with someone who is physically limited, their access to employment, education and special needs services (like accessible bathrooms or braille interpretation) is limited by ableism.  Build on that to demonstrate that a person can experience many forms of oppression at once - say, as a queer, disabled woman of colour.  

WHITE PRIVILEGE DOES NOT = GUILT

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being born white, or male, or able bodied.  The problem lies in refusing to acknowledge that people of colour have to work much harder to achieve success and are subjected to racialized violence and discrimination every day.

When society asks that one accepts their white privilege, they are simply asking that they:

  1. Learn about racism and how it affects their life and the lives of others.

  2. Speak up in the presence of bigotry.  

  3. Accept and support “leveling the playing field”.  For example, do your research to understand affirmative action and other programs for people of colour in business and education, and support businesses owned by people of colour.

TALKING POINT: Confronting bigotry is hard for a lot of people, hence this blog post!  Offer simple examples: stop laughing at racist jokes.  Be aware of comments made about people of colour and question if assumptions about a person's character is based on the colour of their skin.  Read a book written by a person of colour.  Check out the new Ethiopian restaurant in town.  Turn off Fox News and find less conservative sources of information.  If they have negative beliefs about people of colour and crime, terrorism, imprisonment, or education, suggest that they google some statistics.

None of these points are really that difficult to adapt and practice in everyday life.  I mean, I’m sure they can find amazing anti-racist memes to share on Facebook, too…

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