“White Privilege” is a Stupid Term, and Here’s Why
It is no secret that diversity and representation matter a great deal to me. I write about it. I talk about it. From time to time, I argue about it. I make sure I show good examples in my own work. In fact, helping people to see that diversity is important and normal was one of the main reasons why I started this website in the first place! I have written so, so many posts about diversity and why it matters. Because it really, really does matter. So believe me when I say I’m not saying this to shun “the Left” or make us seem stupid. I’ve thought long and hard about this whole “white privilege” thing.
The more I think about it, though, the less I like the term. Wait! Don’t run away yet! Hear me out. I’m not going to pretend that POCs don’t suffer from inequality based on their race or ethnicity more than white people do. That’s not what I’m saying at all. But rather, I just think it’s a lot more complicated than that, and I don’t think the term “white privilege” does us justice when we throw it around all the time. I think that we can come up with something much better. That’s all!
So let me explain myself. Feel free to comment! Join the discussion on my forum! Maybe we can come to an interesting conclusion.
“White Privilege” Has the Wrong Connotations
Words matter. I’m sure we can all agree on that, right? Or at least most of us? No matter how pure your intentions might be, if you don’t use the right words or communicate in the right way, people won’t get what you mean. Then, they might react in the wrong way. People aren’t psychic. They don’t know what you meant to say or how you wanted to say it. The only thing they have to go on is what they thought you meant. And that’s what’s happening with the term “white privilege” right now. It has all the wrong connotations!
You see, when a lot of people think of the word “privilege”, it makes them think of something that is unfair or undeserved. Something that we’re going to take away from them. Yikes. You can probably see why people rail against it so much. I know I sure can. It just doesn’t sound great.
I know. I know. The dictionary definition doesn’t say anything about taking away privileges. I get that. But that doesn’t mean that people are stupid or wrong for coming to these conclusions. That’s the way they see it being used in their lives, so that’s the way they think you’re using it. I don’t care about what the word technically means. I care about how it’s used and what we mean when we sat it.
At the moment, the way many white people see the term makes them think of it as a threat. If they’re privileged and we aren’t, then we must be aiming to pull them down to our level. Is that really what you want to do?
Everyone Should Be Treated That Way
Let’s think about this. What does “white privilege” really mean to you? To a lot of people, it’s complicated. There are many things that display white privilege. Like many little pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. There are thousands of examples, but I’ll give you a few.
It’s when the police won’t think you’re up to no good just based on your skin colour. It’s being able to turn on the TV and seeing lots of positive role models and characters with different personalities who look a little bit like you. In the west, most white people don’t have to grow up in a world where their parents or grandparents were forced to not reach their full potential because of racist laws. And while we aren’t that backwards in the US or UK anymore, it does still have a huge impact.
For me, I was quite lucky. I live in the UK, so I could go to uni even though my family couldn’t afford it. We didn’t have segregation like the US. I didn’t grow up in a ghetto. The schools around me were good. So I didn’t get to see the worst aspects of “white privilege”. I just saw the small things around me. Like being told I’m good-looking for a brown girl. As if my race just makes me less attractive. And then there’s the fact that white is treated as the default state in the media. White = normal. POC characters = political. It’s bull.
And aside from the white people being the default thing, don’t you think that most of these “privileges” are how everyone should be treated? No one should be judged by the police because of their race. POCs shouldn’t have to grow up in poverty because of outdated laws. We should all be “privileged”.
“White Privilege” Focusses on the Wrong Thing
So if we should all be getting those benefits, we shouldn’t think of them as privileges. For the most part, the way white people are treated in society should be seen as basic human rights. The bare minimum for how a human should be treated in the world. White people aren’t privileged. No! Instead, we as POCs have been robbed of a basic level of dignity for far too long. “White privilege” isn’t some gift that some almighty power gives certain people. It’s a benchmark.
The police not profiling you and seeing you as a threat because of your race? That’s a right. Having the tools to do well in life without bad ghetto schools and poverty getting in your way? That’s a right. Not getting stopped at the airport, age 16, for four hours on a school trip because you’re brown? That actually happened and, you guessed it, it’s a right.
What I’m asking for here isn’t for us to ignore the injustice in the world. No! I’m just calling for a simple change in mindset. Instead of asking “why do they have that thing”, let’s instead ask “why don’t I have it?” And if the answer is “because of my race”, then we have a big problem on our hands. But that problem has nothing to do with taking away “white privilege” and everything to do with getting rid of prejudice.
“The Left” Has a Branding Issue
You might have heard a thing or two about optics lately. All of my favourite BreadTubers seem to be throwing the word around. It refers to the way we make ourselves look when we share our facts and logic. Sadly, we make ourselves look bad, and that affects how people see us.
When a single person in the Black Lives Matter movement throws a punch or two at a policeman, it gives the right ammo to call out all of the BLM activists as violent. It doesn’t matter that BLM made some good points about how the police treats black people. When a single black person in the movement acts violently, people use it as a way to prove that black people are profiled because they are violent, and not because of racism. They say “See? They’re proving that the police are right” and then shut their ears to what BLM actually has to say. It’s not fair, but it’s true.
Why do you think it is that we learn positive things about Martin Luther King more than Malcolm X. When you’re fighting for your rights, being peaceful is good for your optics. And Unless we want another French Revolution on our hands, we need to think about our optics.
So what does that have to do with “white privilege”? Well, if we make it seem like we’re trying to take rights away from white people, that’s bad optics. Laughing about white people’s tears is a bad idea. We would get so, so many more allies if we changed our approach. Our actions make our words spread better. There are loads of white people out there who will see reason if we let them.
“White Privilege” is Only Part of the Story
Being white doesn’t mean your life is definitely going to be great. If that’s what any of you mean by “white privilege”, you’re plain wrong. Life isn’t that simple, honey, and there are so many other things wrong with the world that play a part in what makes life suck for people.
Have you ever said the words “white privilege” and had someone tell you that you had to fight their way through life? That their struggles mean that they aren’t privileged? Well, they’re not completely wrong. Whiteness isn’t like a fast-track ticket in a theme park. Many white people still have to deal with poverty. They might experience abuse, sexism, violence, ageism… the list goes on. And you saying “white privilege” doesn’t make their struggles any less real.
This is where the benchmark thing comes in. Not being profiled by the police based on race is a bare minimum. Lots of white people are going to have other struggles that make their lives unfair. They don’t need to be told that they actually have it easy, on top of that. In fact, it would be a lie to tell them, and assuming that someone has life easy based on their skin colour is a form of profiling, too.
So when you’re talking about the fact that POCs (usually) have it harder in the world, remember that there’s a lot more to inequality than the colour of your skin. Think about ways that we can make the world a better place for all of the people in it. You might find that you have a few more allies among white people than you did before.
We Need Our Allies
Let’s be honest. The world is getting bleak. The alt-right is getting brave. Nazis are coming out of the woodworks. Centrists feel like they can defend the alt-right more than the moderate left. It’s scary! And part of that has to be pinned to our optics.
In a world like this, we need to get as many allies as possible. Centrists aren’t stupid. We just make ourselves seem inaccessible. One of the ways we do this is by making white people seem like a disease or a pest in society. Or, by making it seem like our perfect world is one in which white people don’t have those privileges.
If that’s the world we look like we want to create, can you blame centrist white people for feeling like they can’t identify with us? If we want to take away that privilege, what does it mean for them? Does it mean we want them to be profiled by racist policemen? Or that we want them to live in a world where their skin colour is seen as less attractive? Or that we want them to have to grow up in a ghetto because their parents didn’t have the opportunities to leave? No! That’s not what we should be aiming for!
If there’s even a single person out there who thinks “yes, that’s what I want”, then we aren’t fighting for the same world. Maybe you have a bit of a problem with bigotry yourself? We can have some amazing allies of the people we alienate right now. And in a democratic world, more people means more power.
This Matters in Your Writing!
As you might now, I try to link all of my posts back to writing. Why? Well, the way you see the world affects the way you write. What you read affects the way you see the world. It’s an endless cycle. So how do you write white people in your stories? How do your opinions on white privilege shine through in your work?
If you see “white privilege” as the root of injustice, you might try to force all white people out of your work. Or you might reduce them constantly to roles such as villains and clueless bigots. You could be at the risk of treating white people like they are the enemy in your work, which is not how we should be dealing with this.
You might overcompensate in your work by replacing all of the roles that white people used to have with POCs and calling it a day. But that isn’t enough. It doesn’t make us think of the right questions, like why we see it as a privilege in the first place.
Instead, ask the questions. Think about what we mean by “privilege” and use that to inform how you write. If you start to see “white privilege” as a right that POCs deserve in your writing, you’re going to be a step closer to true equality.
This post feels especially relevant given everything that’s happening in the world right now! It’s very well-written, and it definitely makes a good point. Language can affect so much of how we perceive and interpret things, so using terms like “privilege” to describe things that should be true for everyone almost makes it seem like those aren’t as important to do. I’d love to see more good stories that actually show these themes in a good way. I wonder how to best add this into writing…
“Nazis are coming out of the woodwork” what a stupid and insipid thing to say. What Nazis? Where?
Did you miss things like the Unite the Right rally in the US with people with swastika tattoos or are you just being purposefully obtuse?