By Chris Crass (Sept 15, 2017)
My goal in talking with white people about racism is to generate outrage for racial injustice and a passion and urgency for racial justice. My goal is to awaken a hunger for justice in the hearts and minds of white people that leads them into confrontation with the death culture that is white supremacy, a death culture that devours, restricts and imprisons life in communities of color and malnourishes and suffocates the humanity of white people with fear, misplaced anger and resentment.
Given this goal, I rarely begin conversations with white people by talking about white privilege. I talk about the racial injustices in society, about the ways that white people are pitted against people of color, about the ways that our shared humanity is pulled apart, and then I’ll bring in white privilege as a way that those with power and wealth have divided working people from each other.
White privilege developed over the hundreds of years that the U.S. was a slave society, it developed as a method to divide indentured and poor Europeans from uniting with enslaved Africans, to overthrow slave masters and fight for a better world. Laws had to be made to prevent Europeans, Africans and Indigenous people from marrying, forming family, building friendships, forming bonds of love and solidarity. Denying people of color rights and opportunities for economic advancement, while granting rights and economic opportunities to Europeans was a way to create a structurally unequal racial hierarchy of Black and white and those who wanted to concentrate wealth and power to the few, used racism, racial antagonism, and racial divisions as a way to both create and maintain vast political and economic inequality.
White privilege is a set of very real material benefits where for most white people, the police are in fact there to protect and serve, where your name and ancestry help you get, and keep a job, where your family has had access to lower interest loans to buy housing in white only suburbs, where the color of your skin makes you appear more innocent, where being white means you don’t have to think about race or the history of racial oppression and racial inequality, and how this history shapes the world around you and impacts your daily decisions and future experiences.
So white privilege is a system of benefits for white people and a system of denial of those benefits to people of color. And it is fundamentally a strategy of dividing the vast majority of us from uniting for economic justice and building an inclusive multiracial democracy where human rights and dignity for all, are at the center, rather then a white supremacy worldview that justifies and maintains devastating poverty in communities of color and in white communities while the 1% has vast wealth and power.
How I talk about white privilege does change depending on who I’m talking with. I try to think about what will resonate with the person. Different things work for different people: some are moved by poetry, others through personal stories, and others through coming to and experiencing a community event or protest for racial justice. But what is key, in whatever approach, is sharing your own experience of becoming aware of racism and white privilege. Sharing your own discomfort, fear, denial, and other barriers you have had to work through. This is so important, as a way of normalizing what the person you’re talking with may be experiencing, as a way of providing insights from your own experience of what helped you move out of white denial, white silence, white obliviousness, and into white anti-racist action.
But what’s most important to moving and supporting white people into racial justice values, commitment and action, is your relationship with them, inviting people into the work, and helping connect people with opportunities for learning, growth, and action.
There are times when we must confront racists about their racism. But more often, it’s about engaging white people on the sidelines, who are confused, who might be open if given the opportunity, who know in their gut racism is wrong, but have never been exposed to a deeper understanding of white supremacy, let alone an action plan for racial justice.
With folks who I am trying to move, I’m not trying to make them feel guilt and shame about having white privilege, my aim is to generate a deep passion and hunger for racial justice as central to winning and creating collective liberation that frees us all, and help give them opportunities to take the next few steps, from where they’re at, and get them moving.
Remember the people who have supported you, reflect on what has helped you, and bring those lessons with you. Love and courage to you.