You know, how sometimes people of color write about their experience being a person of color in American society, or whatever society they live in? (I live in the US, so it’s usually America.) White people gotta do that, but with respect to being white in American society. Or Peruvian society, or Somalian society, or whatever.
Now, whenever I say that to my friends, I often get the response “But, most writing is written by white people. We already have too much writing written from the white perspective – why add to it?” to which I have TWO retorts.
1) Most writing written by white people is written with the *assumption* of white ubiquity – aka, most white writers think that their experiences with respect to race are *everyone’s* experiences with respect to race. (This is a big problem right now in feminist circles, for instance – or so I hear, I’m not in those circles.) Or, perhaps more accurately, white authors don’t even *think* about race because it’s not usually causing them the type of problems it’s causing people of color. Calling out an experience as a *white* experience, it is actually *less* racist than writing from a “universal” perspective when the author is white. White people don’t have a universal perspective, they have a white perspective. Let’s be honest about it.
2) There hasn’t been a lot of thought, at least that I’ve come across, about what it’s like to *be white.* According to Louis Ck, it’s great, but I think that our culture has currently caught a PC Privilege-owning mind worm where you can’t admit there is ANYTHING wrong with being white because zomg, it’s clearly SO MUCH WORSE to be NOT WHITE. You can only say, “I admit my privilege” as you keep sipping your caramel macchiato. But, like – that’s wrong. I hope when we get racial equality, everyone doesn’t end up living the current “white” experience. And, the things that suck about being white are *totally different* from the things that suck about being black.
Would you like to be a slave owner?
I’m guessing 99.9% of people reading that said no, and the other 0.1% are into BDSM. That means, on some level, it sucked to be a slave owner. BUT BEING A SLAVE WAS WORSE! I’m sure it was.
The point is not to say who is the biggest victim, the point is to end slavery. To end slavery, you need to know why some people choose to have slaves.
When black slaves were emancipated in America, what was their model of success? White slave owners. It proved *very difficult* to end slavery, and we still really haven’t, we’ve just replaced it with different types of servitude. Better types! But, on some level, we still view a person’s success as proportional to the number of people he or she can control. CEOs, for instance, are right at the top. College students with 100k of debt they need to pay back? They’re the new serfs. We may not be as awful as we once were, but we have a lot of room for improvement. To understand this hierarchical mindset, we need to understand slavery – both, from the slave’s and the slave owner’s perspective.
Anyway, back to the contemporary experience of being white. A little while ago, I wrote about Asian fetish. I *totally* missed the boat on cultural appropriation. I assumed it was just a *physical* preference, but talking to a few of my Asian female friends revealed a lot more going on. Often, white men make assumptions – and feel entitled to explicitly articulate those assumptions – about Asian women’s personalities, or tastes. There was added complexity around a woman’s specific cultural heritage, and one of my friends who is an immigrant from China said she believed that she was subjected to a different beauty standard than her culture’s, and found it offensive that other races set the standard for Asian beauty. On the one hand, I wasn’t really qualified to write about that topic, but on the other hand, I’m glad I did because I got to talk to people about their experiences.
One thing that was interesting, however, is that a lot of my white female friends liked my post. I had written something that had reached them – and, I think what it was, was the discussion of how critique of beauty culture often implicitly reinforces typical beauty culture. Slim, white women are sometimes seen as status objects, and this position as a “status object” is often read as a form of privilege when in fact it is much more complicated than that. Without confronting the true complexity behind this privilege, a white woman cannot hope to truly understand herself.
More generally, I would argue that the entire concept of white privilege is complicated in a similar way. What is it that the white race is most privileged to do? Oppress other races. Is this a form of privilege everyone else really wants? Are we lucky to have that?
Even more importantly, how are white people dehumanized by this privilege? White women have access to some amount of power through exhibiting conventional beauty – as do conventionally attractive women of other races. However, these women exercise this power at the cost to their own humanity; to get any amount of money or control they must allow someone to objectify them.
What is the cost white people pay for oppressing other races? To eliminate racism, white people will *need* to understand that cost. When people like Louis CK talk about how great it is to be white, they pander to a politically correct audience, however, they also reinforce the notion that white people benefit from racism. It’s time to move beyond that.