It hit me while I was still pregnant. Standing there at the Mall of America, looking up at the huge rotunda of bright lights and countless stores, I realized something. This baby I carried inside of me, at this point no bigger than a knucklebone, was going to be privileged with a capital “P.” And with that awareness, I entered a place of contradiction. You see, I could already feel the mama-self growing in me; that place where my bear claws would live, where the desire to do anything to make this child safe, make this child whole, would growl as it grew stronger. That mama-self doesn’t feel like a choice. It’s in there, hooked around my mitochondria and woven into the DNA.But there’s this other self; sometimes called the political self or the activist self or the stand back and pay attention self. It knows that my child — white and raised by white parents in a family where the adults have the gift of education, have choice about their work, and own their own home — is a privileged child. Every gain my mama-self wants to support my child in making will be on the backs of other children, children with mother’s whose mama-selves are just as fierce as mine but who have to fight against real monsters like hunger or violence.
Friday, August 7, 2009
Can A White Person Successfully Give Up Their Privilege?
I was reading this post at the anti-racist parent blog about White Noise, a Minneapolis-based group of "white parents with white children" who want to end white supremacy. The name sounds a bit too similar to militia/supremacist groups which is why I initially decided to research them. I was going to write about this the other day but the Sodini shooting took precedence. Speaking of which - his merely thinking he could lose some privilege was enough to incite violence.
Let's ask those teabaggers and birthers how they feel about the prospect of having less power even when it's the perception and not something that has come to pass. This kinda proves my point and informed by initial response. There are certain rules that govern a society. Smart groups focus on dominance for their survival - amongst other things. Who voluntarily tries to step back from the meat brought in from the kill while they examine how it got there and whether they should cut off a piece to give away? Others aren't going to wait around, they're "hungry" and will eat it. They may also decide to get rid of the ones who aren't grabbing for it because it might cause the group to be weakened beyond repair. So all in all I think the premise is a bit ridiculous!
I know. I know. I bet some of you would have thought I'd applaud the efforts and say, Right On! No. This isn't Utopia. In the real world groups fight for dominance. In the real world said groups change the rules all the time at their leisure and apply them discriminately to retain an advantage. Even the definition of whiteness shifts - and will continue to do so for the ones they chose to grant "whiteness" to. Black people will never be allowed to be white. That one drop rule will always apply. So everybody else can get a crack at it but not us. Not even after you've declared yourself Cablasian. Not even after you marry into and immerse yourself in the proximity of whiteness. At least half the people in this country who identify as white weren't considered white at some point in our history. For the purposes of elevation they had to pit themselves against the more obviously non-white peoples to step into their whiteness.
That's not to say I don't appreciate the efforts of the benevolently privileged in examining their power infrastructure. Men can be feminists after all. Blacks can be racist. Which is also my point. People who've been given the short end of the stick can and do find someone else weaker to pick on. Like how some black men take out their frustration at not being able to successfully complete against white men as a collective and bash black women and abandon their children. Like how some black people use religion as an excuse to bash LGBTs and say it's about "following God" as if other people don't have a spiritual practice of their own.
So the white mother in that post mentioning having a "partner" versus a "husband" caught my attention. I wonder how much her orientation (if I was reading between the lines correctly) has something to do with her efforts. Again, orientation alone is no guarantee of being equitable. Part of the response I got to my initial critique in the comment section was that these parents are focused on what's going on today. That they're not trying to deny having cultural and ethnic pride nor do they want to insist their children attempt to make up for historical wrongs.
Well....if that isn't examined properly and in context to what they're trying to accomplish perhaps I'm missing the point to this initiative. Or they are. As I replied the focus is leaning heavily on race as a construct not class. Are these a bunch of yuppie white parents trying to be "down"? I may be a little harsh on them and their efforts but they don't get a cookie or gold star. Like I said I think they need a bit of a reality check. If they have limited interaction with non-whites how are they putting into practice what they want to preach? Also have they considered what the response of other privileged white people will be? Do they allow themselves to be graded on by non-whites?
Minnesota doesn't exactly have a large non-white population. I can guarantee if they had to compete on equal footing with others and "had to share" privilege all of that talk would go right out the window. If they were inconvenienced past a certain comfort zone they wouldn't want to give up anything. If they had to deal with an underclass population in their daily lives they'd move to separate themselves immediately. Having the friend, confidant, lover or neighbor is no guarantee of being free from racist/sexist attitudes either.
So I could be the benevolent Negress and applaud their (misguided) efforts but since everything's on their terms they don't need my approval.
Update: I found a web site that according to them "provides resources and tools for white people who are motivated to investigate their white cultural conditioning" that's called UNTRAINING.