Practical Ways We Can Stop Centering Everything Around White People’s Feelings


Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre

Fun fact: white people’s feelings are magic. They can bring any conversation, meeting or movement to a halt. In a debate, they can outweigh even the most credible, concrete evidence. They can threaten someone’s job. They can even kill. White people’s feelings are one of this country’s most abundant natural resources and important exports.

Because of all this, any conversation about social justice, power, or history is going to naturally settle into orbit around white people’s feelings. And I get it: if we want to really do something about racism in this country, it’s white people who need to change the most, and it’s white people who often have the longest political/spiritual/emotional journey to undertake.

But when social justice education and/or media focuses solely on understanding racism through a white privilege framework, that can recreate the same oppressive structures we’re trying to destroy. When the conversation has such a laser focus around educating white people and carrying their emotional baggage, what potential voices, perspectives or frameworks are missing? We may be moving forward, but how are we defining “we?”

As someone who is both a social justice educator and who identifies as at least somewhat white myself, I’d like to explore some other options. How else can we engage in anti-racist work without having everything be about white people’s feelings? A few possibilities:

Separate Spaces
This kind of work is already happening, but I think it’s worth noting: we can continue to develop programming that is specifically for white people (alongside programming that is specifically for any identity group) rather than relying on the “catch-all” approach that alienates, bores or infuriates so many students (specifically students of color). In these spaces, we can talk about white people’s feelings without having that conversation derail the other work that’s happening. “Caucusing” can sometimes be controversial, but it can also be effective.

Maybe that’s a strong word, but in social justice education spaces, we can acknowledge that some material is going to make white people (or men, or straight people, or any other privileged group) sad. Or angry. Or guilty, confused, defensive, etc. And we can acknowledge that, and then we can just keep moving. As a facilitator, it’s not your job to “save” anyone. As an educator, you want to get your point across and cultivate understanding, but when all of the energy in the room goes into making a handful of defensive white students feel better, that’s not healthy or productive for the larger group.

Sometimes, Education Isn’t the Answer
Sometimes, the personal/cultural change happens after the institution has already moved on. There may be times when the funding, time and energy poured into “diversity education” initiatives could perhaps be better spent changing the fundamental structure of the institution. We can teach an all-white board of directors about the importance of racially-inclusive language, for example, or we can fight to get people of color on the board of directors. Education is always going to be part of the larger movement toward racial justice, but that doesn’t mean that it is the absolute answer in every scenario. Clearly, education and organizing are not mutually exclusive (just the opposite), but as the saying goes, “the work is not the workshop.”

White People: Do Your Homework
Most of the points on this list are for educators and organizers who work in these spaces. But those of us who are white can do more, proactively, even outside these spaces. Read books. Listen. Suppress the urge to always get defensive about everything. Never rely on someone else to do the emotional dirty work for you, or hold your hand while you do it. Related to this point, one of the most powerful things I read this year was Mia McKenzie’s “No More Allies” piece here.

Brave Spaces vs. Safe Spaces
I’m not sure who came up with this framework, but I think it’s very important. In any social justice education space, it’s worth acknowledging that it’s good to be challenged and to be uncomfortable. Of course, we need to take care of ourselves, but “taking care of yourself” should never mean “sticking your head in the sand to avoid all criticism and/or difficult conversations.”

A common thread in all of these points is that change isn’t predicated on anyone’s feelings; change is the product of collaborative, intentional work. Education matters—and even feelings matter—but only as much as they make that work easier or harder. When all of the energy in an educational campaign or organization is poured into making sure the people who already carry the most privilege aren’t getting their feelings hurt, that hurts movements. We can do better.

Nothing I’m saying here is new; these are ongoing conversations that will continue to shift, evolve and come to new conclusions. I also, clearly, have my own baggage and biases around this topic. Feel free to add to this list, post relevant links, etc.


107 thoughts on “Practical Ways We Can Stop Centering Everything Around White People’s Feelings

  1. Pingback: Practical Ways We Can Stop Centering Everything Around White People’s Feelings: Blogs You Should Read | Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian (N.A.H.)

  2. Mr. Tran Myhre wrote:
    “if we want to really do something about racism in this country, it’s white people who need to change the most, and it’s white people who often have the longest political/spiritual/emotional journey to undertake.”

    Aside from the complete dismissal of civil rights history of the United States in the preceding 50 years – here it is, a declaration that “people of color” are excused from being responsible for any of their decisions, behavior, and its subsequent result. It is the white man’s burden to fix the problem.

    • it’s the whitemans obligation to move out of ALL NON WHITE LANDS as everyone is sick and tired of whites slandering ,oppressing ,dehumanizing,defamating character calling Indians dotheads featherheads! etc. whites are hypocrites and should leave indian land as this is not their land to be trafficking who can come and who should go. whites are illegal in north America and have been illegal for a couple of hundred years in KA-NA-TA ,KA-NA-DA and illegal in America since 1492

    • It IS the white man’s burden to fix the problem because it is the white man who created the problem in the first place.

  3. Anyone ever get the feeling that all of this anymore cliche post-modernist rejection is kinda just idiotic and not really a philosophy or opinion at all but simply a way to feel morally superior to anyone who doesn’t share your viewpoint without actually having one yourself (Because after all there is no way you could be wrong). This morally perfect plane of existence where everything is fair and everyone is equally miserable doesn’t (fortunately) exist so it is a bit of a fallacy to hold everything up to this imaginary and impossible standard and rallying against anything that doesn’t meet it. I have always found that those who enjoy telling others about how little they know about discrimination usually know even less themselves. How arrogant and full of yourself do you have to be to feel like you know what is best for everyone to think. The whole “so much work still to be done” attitude reserved for anyone who disagrees with you is so messed up I don’t know where to begin. I bet some of you have even thought you beat someone in an argument because they misspelled “you’re” and you caught it. This comment section is some of the worst rhetorical masturbation I have read on the internet and I hope that someday you will join the real world. Spend more time trying to be better people rather than trying to feel better than other people and maybe more people will listen to you.

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  5. i’ve been watching a very popular show on netflix that is just an absolute train wreck of white privilege… it’s so graphic i can’t look away. anyone else watched that show ‘parenthood’? it’s about a white, upper middle class family that has what we all kind of want, privilege, and lots of it.

    when a character in this show wants something, they demand it, expect it, whether it’s an answer from a doctor, an enrollment in a school or a piece of real estate. the general attitude is ‘everyone pay attention to me and give me what i want now without question!’ and then magically, it happens.

    when a character in this series wants employment, someone knows someone (someone else white) who has certain advantages, and by way of relationship, is willing to confer some of these advantages onto so and so’s daughter due to the relationship. the advantages are historical, and have grown out of advantages conferred through white economic supremacy. the economic benefits of being white continue to be felt through our insular relationships. this is ingrained racism, which is sometimes institutional.

    this is a significant way white privilege exists today. it’s in the benefits we continue to share with each other based on past history. it’s in the attitude that we should get what we want, ney, not even the attitude, but the absolute expectation that the world will give us what we want. maybe it doesn’t for all of us, but across the board, a white person demanding their end gets a lot more results than an equally deserving person of color.

    this show, as i said, is a train wreck of white privilege, and not all white people have all the advantages i see there, but it’s also a very direct and accurate portrayal of our white power structures… an interesting mirror to look into for active self reflection. i wish i had the kind of family support and cohesiveness that tv family has.. otherwise, they are pretty grating on the nerves.

    p.s., although i don’t want to engage you, this is primarily for the poster(s) who continue to deny white privilege and institutionalized racism.

  6. Kia Ora Guante!
    Straight to the point, laying it out there..
    Time to colour in the white spaces…

    Anyone that ain’t getting it yet – re-read it or watch this..
    – Invisible Privilege – Sacha Norrie

  7. Privilege is shorthand for easy access to opportunities in society. Some people like the comparison to play level in computer games, “white male” is the easiest setting, everyone else has to play better to succeed. As a generalisation there will be instances where the idea doesn’t apply but in the majority of cases, yes white men have it easier. People shouldn’t just think about skin colour or heritage though but also history and how inequalities occurred.

    White privilege is fueled by money, property and institutional power much of it dating back to land thefts. English rulers stole land from Scottish people, from Shetlanders, from the Irish, and the Welsh. White Americans and Canadians stole from the First Nations people, and are still doing this – look at the Idlenomore land invasions in Canada. White people stole land from indigenous people of Australia and New Zealand, by force and by lawbreaking. People of color in all these countries still sug=ffer because of less access to resources and property. Working harder and bootstrapping don’t work when your land and tools have been taken.

    • “White privilege is fueled by money, property and institutional power much of it dating back to land thefts.”

      You left out the Arab and Muslim invasions of the Near East, Maghreb, South Asia, Balkans, Europe; the Japanese invasions of Korea, China and the Pacific; tribal warfare in Africa and the Americas.

      Unless you believe that rules of civilized behavior are to be applied only to white men, you will have to hold everyone to the same standards. If you intend to excuse the behavior of everyone besides white men, you would are guilty of a double standard. That would also make you a racist.

      • Respectfully, I don’t think that follows. I read Jenny Kay NZ to be saying — and Jenny Kay NZ, please correct me if I’m wrong — that white privilege entails easy access to opportunities, and, also, is rooted in land theft.

        No claim was made that *only* the ancestors of people with white privilege engaged in land theft; or that land theft was only wrong for them but nobody else; or that land theft is only wrong if you get unearned privilege because of it. The claim was only that, in this set of instances, land theft helped to engender easy access to opportunities for those descendents.

        Suppose someone got rich because they stole your winning lottery ticket, and then they use their ill-gotten winnings to fund a lifestyle of hurting kittens for sport, punching hippies, and paying off politicians and law enforcement to ensure they can continue doing so with impunity. If you point out that their current lifestyle is made possible by theft, you’re not saying that they’re the only person ever to steal. Nor are you saying that stealing is only wrong if that person does it. Nor are you saying that the only thing wrong with stealing is that it makes someone hurt kittens and punch hippies. You’re simply saying that their above-the-law status is made possible by previous theft. Analogous, no?

      • _This_. So much this. I wish I could upvote your post.

        People seem to have a mistaken impression that both privilege and disadvantage confer any kind of abdication of responsibility for one’s own personal conduct: it merely serves to explain the power dynamics and relationships between different groups in society who are treated very differently, and have been for a long time in an inequitable fashion, where one group or another was often oppressed for generations by another group.

        No one is saying this hasn’t been happening for millenia: that’s how we evolved, we are a very war-like and savage race as a human beings in general, and our tribalism always threatens to tear us apart.

        But people have to respect that members of groups who have been so oppressed and marginalized have every right to be more than a little pissed off at being treated this way, and for so long. Those aren’t the kind of grudges and righteous fury that go away, just because President Barack Obama got elected. How does one man (who is half-white, but ‘One-Drop Rule’ and all) get to be POTUS make up for slavery? It doesn’t, especially when the repercussions of racism and racial slavery still reverberate through our Western society to this very day. Obviously that’s a very U.S.-centric point of view, but generally in this discourse it’s necessary to point out the pervasive influence of Western popular culture in how it infiltrates other cultures, and supplants it with their own. That’s not even conscious programming, but simply the natural assumption that Western standards and ideals of beauty are better than others, so they push an all-white cast of 90210 into the far reaches of the globe, through the mass media. And other cultures just eat it up, try as they might to avoid it (like France… claims to do, not always successfully).

        Or the First Nations/Native/aboriginal peoples of North America, whose lands were taken by force and deception: they took the word of the white man and paid a heavy price. At every turn they tried to make peace with the white man, and look at where it has got them today: stereotyped as ‘drunks’ and ‘layabouts’, taunted with remarks about ‘firewater’ as if that doesn’t hurt every little First Nations child out there who watches TV and movies and looks for role models and sees no one on TV like his own, except gross caricatures of his people. It’s insulting to not see the reality that mass communications foists upon those who don’t control the airwaves, and the internet.

        And it’s not even conspiratorial, like it’s not a bunch of old, white European Protestant right-wing people in some secret cabal or something, trying to undermine people of other races: no, reality is much more nuanced and insidious than the cartoon villains of old (except maybe Rupert Murdoch, who I imagine strokes a white cat while telling Mr. Bond all about his latest machinations ;P). The reality is that mass media sell to us what they think we want… except what we want is predicated on what we see in the mass media. It’s a vicious cycle, which needs to be broken: the assumptions of the past no longer apply. You don’t need an all-white cast to appeal to Middle America, who you assume are all racist or that they can’t understand the universal appeal of people of all ethnicities, shapes, sizes, ability, sexuality, gender, etc. because they’re fundamentally human, just like them, just like their friends and neighbours and relatives. No one is suggesting banning white people or something, like they’re all a monolithic entity.

        But really, if you benefit in any way simply for the happenstance of having been born with certain privileges, if you can’t understand why the oppressed have to have a little black humour and joke about pointing out universal truths about living as a marginalized group in society, and you think you have more of a right to be offended over a joke than be offended about living in privilege due to the legacy of generations of oppression of other groups? I’d say people of all groups who have been marginalized in our Western society thus far are pretty damned calm considering all they’ve been put through. It’s not right to marginalize anyone because you never know what wonderful advances for humanity they can bring if given the chance. Or even just entertainment. 🙂

  8. Want all of this alleged contemporary “oppression” to end? Other minorities need to look toward what is often called “the model minority” (people from Asian countries) and outrank everyone through hard work, perseverance, and sacrifice. My (poor, some indentured) European ancestors embraced this ethic. No, we were not slaves, but neither are you. Look toward first-generation Asians, who grapple with some of the most grinding poverty known, and see how they eventually outrank everyone within one to two generations. They’re too busy focusing on betterment to look around and blame Whites. They don’t kill each other on a mass scale. They create true communities, both economic and social, and strive toward education and betterment. No, they weren’t slaves, either, but I would argue that the circumstances they have fled rival the horrors of slavery. (Myanmar, anyone?) Still, one does not hear Indians, Bengalis, Chinese, or Burmese blaming Whites for their circumstances. They just work to better themselves, and leave us in the dust while doing so.

    The excuses and the “privilege” pseudoscience need to end. Life is hard. Life is unfair. Pull up, work hard, work harder, and aspire to be smarter than everyone around you. Does that make anyone feel bad? Too bad. The sooner everyone realizes these truths, the sooner that, maybe, we can all join those from Asian-American cultures at the pinnacle of intellectual and community excellence.

    • Wow. Racist tropes, check. White/Western European supremacy, check. “We pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps” mythology, check. Using the odious (and yes, racist) “model minority” trope as an aspirational goal, check. Describing Asian and Asian-American cultures as a monolith, check. Using Asians and Asian-Americans as props in a white-supremacist argument, check. Name-dropping indentured servitude as an analogue to slavery, check.

      Too bad there wasn’t any “at one time, the Irish/Italian/Germans weren’t considered white, either” in there. I could have had bingo.

      • Clearly, you miss any nuance and refuse to acknowledge any truth in the statements given above. I find it interesting that those who remain on the hamster wheel of “victimization” always chalk up the bootstraps reality to Eurocentric or Pan-Asian “mythology.” Carry on with that, then. Meanwhile. those who are working toward progression via education, work, and yes, cultural assimilation, are lapping everyone else. Some groups do seem to be doing better–a lot better–than others. That’s reality. Adapt.

    • Gail, you need to stop making these very generalized false claims about Asian American exceptionalism. The “model minority” idea silences the very real oppression that many Asian Americans recognize and struggle against. And the diverse origins and histories of Asian Americans, a few of which you at least do recognize, are directly related to the very different outcomes that Asians of different ethnicities experience here, though not because of some “Asian-American cultures” pseudoscience.

      You are praising us for creating “true communities”, and you say that we “eventually outrank everyone within one to two generations”. A less exaggerated version of statements is true for many Asian Americans, such as my family. But problems like Islamophobia and racial profiling and violence targeted at South Asians, the way our immigration and criminal legal systems collude against documented and undocumented immigrants, the poverty rates of certain ethnic groups (e.g. almost 40% among Hmong Americans, 30% among Cambodian Americans), the lack of educational support (e.g. somewhere around 30-40% of Hmong, Laotian, and Cambodian populations haven’t finished high school; and this is related to why many Asian Americans do support undergraduate affirmative action), criminalization and police brutality, and employment and housing discrimination – these problems are ignored and invisibilized by your “they just work to better themselves, and leave us in the dust while doing so” thinking, and these problems do not go away if we just “work harder” and refuse to address racism in a system organized to devalue the lives of people of color. Educate yourself about some Asian Americans (many of these names are from Bao Phi’s article at ): Vincent Chin (Detroit), Cau Thi Bich Tran (San Jose), Fong Lee (Minneapolis), Balbir Singh Sodhi (Mesa), Daniel Pham (San Jose), Jason Yang (Minneapolis), Yoshi Hattori (Baton Rouge), Chonburi Xiong (Detroit), Michael Cho (Orange County), Waqar Hasan (Dallas), Kuang Chung Kao (Sonoma County). While you’re at it, read up on the work Yuri Kochiyama has done. As Asian Americans, we’re not simply “too busy focusing on betterment to look around”. Rather, the lives of many Asian Americans are being abused and discarded by the same kinds of systems and institutions that oppress people of other races, in different and specific ways. And, in solidarity, many of us have been working build communities to join with all those from various backgrounds, Black, Latin@, Chican@, Native, Pacific Islander, Asian, who are “at the pinnacle of intellectual and community excellence” – those who, through their political work and their organizing, made it possible for many Asian Americans to thrive here.

      What I mean is: you don’t know our lives, so stop trying to use them to lecture people about how they should behave.

      If you’re shocked at the existence of Asian Americans willing to act out and misbehave, get used to it! If your feelings are hurt, have some words: I’m not angry at you personally for perpetuating stories that work to hurt Asian Americans. I’m mostly just annoyed at your attempt to use communities I belong to as a tool to delegitimize others. Challenge yourself to do better, and have some respect for the lives, struggles, and accomplishments of your fellow human beings.

      Now let’s both stop occupying space in a discussion concerned with a different topic.

      • You hit the nail on the head here, “And, in solidarity, many of us have been working build communities to join with all those from various backgrounds, Black, Latin@, Chican@, Native, Pacific Islander, Asian, who are “at the pinnacle of intellectual and community excellence” – those who, through their political work and their organizing, made it possible for many Asian Americans to thrive here.”

        And while I didn’t feel it at first necessary to justify my presence on any public online forum, my grandparents are Japanese, having spent their unfair share of time in a Utah internment camp. If by some acknowledged and grateful distance, I exist in one corner of this community. I will speak as I see fit. I will occupy space in any appropriate, public online forum as I see fit, because I do not kowtow to the guilt-or victim-fueled ramblings of anyone.

    • As someone who is completely ethnically Japanese (not that that has anything to do with anything, except as anecdotal biographical knowledge about me), I have to put in my two cents to add that there are many Asian Americans who fit into the ‘model minority’ myth and stereotype who entirely disagree with your assertions. I would be one of them.

      You fall into the classic trap of false equivalence, confusing and conflating historical differences between disparate marginalized groups, confusing solidarity between races in the fight against racism, with the idea that any one group’s experiences is in any way comparable to another’s. The reality is that because history unfolded for each group in different and unique ways, it’s not a logical comparison to compare the any one group with any other’s.

      Certainly for the purposes of being empathetic to the plight and struggle of other groups, it is possibly the only way any one oppressed group can really understand the plight of another group by in some small way using their own experiences with racism (or any other bad -ism, whether it be sexism, homophobia, ableism, ageism, etc.) and the suffering caused, with that experienced by other groups. But there is a danger in making the assumption that just because one has experienced, for example, anti-Asian racism (as I have), that one is automatically qualified to make pronouncements on what _other_ marginalized groups have faced in terms of oppression, or how they should feel about it, or what they should do about.

      For all that I have experienced racism since coming to North America (Canada) specifically, I would never dream of in any way comparing what I’ve suffered (and really, for all the negative impact racism has had on me, I think I was lucky that it was not much, much worse), with some truly appalling cases of blatant racism that I have seen others experience, or have heard cases of in the news. I certainly wouldn’t assume that just because I ran into a bunch of neo-Nazi skinheads when I was 16 and they threatened to beat me up if I didn’t do as they said, that I somehow know what it was like to lose one’s entire extended family to the Zyklon ‘B’ gas chambers of Auschwitz, or to suffer generational poverty because my great great grandparents were forcibly taken from their homelands and forced into generational slavery, the after-effects of which still reverberate through the repercussions thereof, nor do I know what it’s like to be of First Nations/Native/aboriginal descent, to be born in a country that should be my own, but to be treated like a burden on society, to experience terrible physical and sexual violence at the hands of those charged with ‘educating’ me from ‘savagery’… as a Japanese immigrant-turned-Canadian citizen, what do I know of such things that I can speak to them with such authority, or tell the people who truly have suffered such terrible injustices at the hands of others, that if they just pulled themselves up by the bootstraps, if they tried harder, they could do anything?

      The founding myths of the United States of America (which is relevant due to American cultural hegemony, regardless of whether one is actually American or not, since the pervasive influence of American culture spreads far and wide across the globe, and is a form of cultural imperialism) basically gave rise to the bootstrap mythology, because it was a good way to sell the American Dream: try hard enough, and _anyone_ can become rich, successful, etc. Of course, those people selling that particular fantasy are the same people who became terribly rich by being robber barons, who blatantly consolidated their power and influence through taking that which was not theirs to take, buying off politicians and the judiciary, and in all ways acting in a manner entirely inconsistent with ‘working hard’, because thieving is not the same as honestly coming by the fruits of one’s own labours (

      But of course, robber barons have a vested interest in maintaining the myth of the American Dream, because not only does it serve to justify their own luxuries and excesses, but pulls wool over the eyes of others who might question exactly _how_ they obtained said riches, simply by claiming they got it through blood, sweat, tears and elbow grease, rather than simply graft.

      And it’s particularly the model minorities steeped in their own privileges who fail entirely to be able to critically deconstruct and analyze these things, because we are so entirely bamboozled by being petted on the heads for being so productive, so obedient, “not like those blacks” (their words, not mine). I totally admit to being a firm assimilationist when I was younger, because I really did not get how I was so privileged in so many ways, despite having grown up relatively poor (maybe not below the poverty line, but my parents as first generation immigrants certainly struggled to make ends meet, clipping coupons, doing ‘aru-bai-toh’ (the German word for ‘work’ — ‘arbeit’ — adopted by the Japanese to refer to work that was not a formal salaried job, eg. home tutoring people’s children in math, as my father did).

      So when I was younger I totally didn’t understand why if my parents couldn’t do it, why couldn’t some others? I had no idea about our white supremacist culture or how in so many subtle yet insidious and pervasive ways our entire society was skewed to portray certain groups as being better than others, because I had become so inculcated to North American culture (which is mostly American culture, especially if you’re a Canadian, even if Canadians would be the first to deny it ;P) that I literally could not see how it was a false comparison.

      The reality is that, prior to my taking my oaths as a Canadian citizen, if I really felt so aggrieved about anti-Asian racism in Canada that I experienced, I could have left, could have gone back to Japan: I still had my Japanese passport, my Japanese citizenship. It’s not like my land was taken from me by force and deception, generations ago, the way First Nations peoples in Canada were. Japan may have been occupied and oppressed post-WWII, but that’s not to say they are now, and certainly benefited considerably from General MacArthur’s SCAP, who oversaw the rebuilding of Japan and made sure not to make the same mistakes of the past (re: Treaty of Versailles which bankrupted Germany and set in motion the historical forces that resulted in a Second World War).

      I retain many privileges, despite facing anti-Asian racism:

      1) I am cis-gender, meaning I will never, ever have to worry about whether my sex and gender is male, or female, or intersex.

      2) I am heterosexual, so I don’t have to worry about whether I am secretly gay, or if that means I’m going to burn in hell, or get kicked out of my home and rejected by ultra-religious parents (not my parents, but referring to the typical parents of a gay teen who reject their children ‘because the Bible says it’s wrong’).

      3) I am male, so I am less likely to be sexually assaulted (or have to worry about such), even though I’m not a very big guy at 5’4″, I will never know what it’s like to have to plan my every day, subconsciously wondering if going out for a jog when it’s gotten dark is a wise idea or not, or whether an acquaintance of mine might try to force themselves on me sexually, or worry about becoming pregnant, or any of these things that women have to think about every time they wake up in the morning or leave the house.

      4) I have socioeconomic privilege, for all that when I was little I grew up in student housing with my sister and our parents because mum was a homemaker and dad was working on his PhD – I know quite well what baby cockroaches look like and as cute as they are, I’ve squished my fair share growing up. ;P

      5) I have intellect privilege, in that my parents have an above-average level of intelligence in most areas and have passed that on to me genetically, just as their parents passed on theirs to them.

      6) I have ableist/ability privilege, because for all my medical conditions, I’m not missing any limbs or suffering from illnesses or medical conditions that literally make it impossible for me to walk or do things that I want unaided.

      7) I have education privilege, because I was lucky enough to have parents who paid for my post-secondary education (also a socioeconomic privilege) that I got to go to one of the best (and more expensive :P) universities in Canada.

      8) I have religion privilege, because for all that I’m an atheist now, I grew up Christian and I could probably easily pass for a Christian if I needed to, considering I was a devout believer until early high school and did my fair share of questioning Biblical teachings in Sunday School and reading the Bible cover to cover on my own.

      9) I have class privilege, because regardless of my economic circumstances or that of my parents, both my parents come from middle class backgrounds (my paternal grandfather was a school principal, and my maternal grandfather was a banker) – I was taught social niceties, etiquette, etc. so that I could easily move amongst and between different social classes without worrying that I’m not going to fit in or not know what to say or how to conduct myself (arguably this is hardest for me when hanging out with working class friends, so they endeavour to teach me how to be more ‘street’ (their words 😉 ).

      In all these ways I am privileged, and benefit substantially from a kind of social capital that accrues within families that retain said privileges between generations, and I will no doubt similarly pass on these privileges to any children I may have. And all those privileges prevent me from really knowing or understanding what it’s like _not_ to have those privileges, since I was born with them, I was inculcated to them from birth, that it’s entirely consistent with my own worldview and my view of self in relation to the world, because my worldview developed _with those privileges ingrained_.

      That’s not to say I don’t have disadvantages, and certainly in having them I am now better able to relate to others who do have those disadvantages, even if the kind of disadvantage or the degree to which I experience them compared to them, isn’t analogous (and it would be a false equivalency to believe or claim otherwise). But it wasn’t until I actually started to learn critical thinking skills, to be able to self-analyze and start deconstructing my own innate cognitive biases and just plain old prejudices that I realized not only how terribly racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. I truly was, despite having been marching in solidarity with pro-choice groups, labour unions, gay pride and anti-racism rallies since I was 16, but also how truly privileged I was in so many ways that I had hugely better opportunities, and more of them, in life, compared to so many others in society.

      And that’s when I came to realize that the idea of ‘bootstrap’ work ethic was a myth: everyone is born with the hand they are dealt, and it’s largely random as to who lucked out and who got screwed, and while yes, hard work is important to success, it is hardly the most important or even integral part of success in life, because it is still largely predicated on the vagaries of what life throws at you. And if you are already born into substantial disadvantage, your chances of success are drastically diminished _despite_ having a solid work ethic, because the playing field is not level, and of course, some people simply luck out compared to others. It’s like winning the lottery jackpot for many people when it comes to success in life, except because their “win” is seen as a result of hard work and pulling themselves up by the bootstraps (and who doesn’t want to believe their own successes are indicative of their hard work and abilities?), rather than the reality which is that some people are simply born with more lottery tickets than others.

      I’ll never know what my black friends feel when they get followed around a store by store security or ‘over-solicitous’ store clerks. I’ll never know what my First Nations friends feel like to be told over and over (and particularly over the internet, but even in mass media and popular culture portrayals) as being nothing but ‘lazy’ and ‘drunk on firewater’. I’ll never know what it’s like to have been born pretty much constrained to a wheelchair, or crutches, or have to take a dozen medications every day just to stay alive, or to live in an iron lung. I’ll never know what it’s like to have to give birth to the offspring of my rapist. I’ll never know what it’s like to so desperately crave an education, but not even be able to afford textbooks, or laptops, or even a scientific calculator, let alone tuition fees.

      _That_ is privilege, and I’m steeped in them. The question you have to ask yourself is: are you?

    • Gail, you mention pseudoscience, but it seems to me that you’re making a claim that “hard work and sacrifice” are the only pertinent variables that determine whether someone is powered or disempowered, privileged or marginalized. Since most sociologists, economists, and others who look at data would disagree and say that it’s much more complicated than that, can you explain why your account is more sound than theirs?

      Moreover, when you compare demographic groups with different histories and outcomes, how are you accounting for the fact that (for example) Asians in the US may not generally encounter exactly the same set of factors, as a group, as do African-Americans or Latin@s? Or are you just assuming in advance that the only pertinent variable is individual hard work — in which case, isn’t your argument circular? Thanks in advance for any clarity you’re able to bring.

    • Okay, as a second-generation immigrant turned citizen and a member of what you would call a ‘model minority’ group (the Japanese), I would have to disagree with you: there are slackers amongst all of us, and to hold people like me to that impossibly high standard (a standard that is in fact shared by many other groups that are _not_ considered ‘model minorities’) is unfair. If you watch Asian American cinema, you would see, that we’re just like everyone else, and often try to assimilate more, but that doesn’t make us all alike. Sure, my parents worked hard, and I try my best, but that’s all everyone does. It’s just that some of us were born into more privilege, as I was: just because I’m a ‘model minority’ member doesn’t mean that I don’t also have other intersectional privileges, such as cis-gender male (which, for those reading who apparently are not interested in doing due diligence by actually researching the topic before ignorantly spouting what they know nothing about, means: born of the male sex with a congruent male gender: that’s it, that’s all). I benefit as a heterosexual in a very heterosexist society where everywhere you turn, there’s women being sexualized in the media, selling their looks to make money, catering to male heterosexual fantasies. I have class privilege, because for all that our family was student-poor while my father worked on his doctorate, and my mom clipped coupons to make ends meet, both of their parents were from middle-class backgrounds so they benefited from a middle-class education and socialization, so I did.

      And for you to compare all those intersectional ( privileges that people like me have had, with the plight of say, for example, the First Nations/Native/aboriginal peoples of North America, who continue to be treated as second-class citizens in their own countries, the land that we are supposed to be renting from them? And meanwhile we (and I consider myself complicit too now because as a Canadian citizen I too must hold myself accountable for what I let my government do while I’m around to protest it and I hadn’t in the past) are now abrogating , the rights our own government swore to uphold, to always consult with First Nations groups and communities before any kind of decision that would affect waterways and environmental health, because remember, this is _their_ land, not ours ( That’s what those treaties signed long ago say, and they still apply today, they are the law, but the law is being broken here, and that’s not right. There are First Nations communities where the children are getting sick because of substandard building practices of their schools ( Peaceful anti-shale gas exploration protests at Elsipogtog, New Brunswick are being met with armed police action (

      Many First Nations still survive and thrive despite so many coming from untold harsh socioeconomic backgrounds, just as many First Nations children are lucky enough to come from stable homes with loving parents. They may have relatives who suffered under the residential school system’s systematic racist physical and sexual abuse, but they survived with dignity and self-respect and carried on, telling their experiences to others in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (

      In North America, First Nations and Native and Aboriginal people are still treated and even portrayed as second class citizens, which can cause untold damage to the self-esteem and lives of young people and how they view themselves and the world. Idle No More as a social movement is what is now taking place because First Nations, Native and Aboriginal people are standing up and saying: Enough is enough, this is not right, and they are disappointed in their own people’s leadership, who have so often failed to live up to dealing with the challenges their communities face in the modern world, as well as how past injustices have still not been righted.

      No one is asking for pity or indulging in ‘victimism’: one of my friends is Ian Campeau, a.k.a. DJ NDN of the electronic dance music collective A Tribe Called Red, who are just rocketing up the EDM charts this past year. They first appeared on my radar after I saw Mr. Campeau fighting to change the name of his local football team, which had unfortunately mimicked the sins of the Washington Team of the same name, which is a racist and offensive term of derogation about Native people. And now, ATCR are getting mad props from all kinds of music magazines, critics and chart lists, yet still they have to ask white people politely not to dress up in faux-Indian caricatures of warpaint and feathers, or worst of all a chief’s headdress, doing ‘tomahawk chop’ moves on the dancefloor: I mean, come _on_ people, it’s as easy as going by the rule of “don’t wear other people’s cultures as a costume”?! And really, a football rivalry turns into racist posters referencing the genocide which is “The Trail of Tears” ( (!

      Anyway, that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the First Nations community: the African American community in the U.S. and Canada have their own crosses to bear and their own issues of having to deal with the cultural genocie waged against them as they too lost so much social capital from their ancestors being taken as children, away from the only homeland and culture, and language, and mores, they knew, into a New World where they knew nothing, were taught nothing, except the value of hard work every day, and fear of the white man’s whip. I mean, there are people alive in the U.S. who were around when there were segregated fountains. We all mourned the loss of Nelson Mandela, a man revered for ending apartheid in South Africa… yet we forget how it wasn’t that long ago that white people and ‘coloreds’ weren’t allowed to sit together in public. I mean, that’s as racist as you can get, forget about privilege.

      And you’re telling me that all people need to get out of some truly horrible socioeconomic conditions, who have often suffered generational poverty amongst other numerous disadvantages, is a little blood, sweat and tears, elbow grease and to pull themselves up by the bootstraps? What a grossly simplistic understanding of how real life works that is, because ‘bootstrapping’ is a myth, which the 2008 world recession should clearly have showed: this is what happens when capitalism becomes unregulated: people at the top start stealing, and people at the bottom lose out. Except now we have a very large impoverished class and a dwindling middle. Who is going to be paying all these taxes that support our nations’ infrastructures? It sure isn’t the 1%, who hide their money in off-shore bank accounts like the Cayman Islands, the Turks & Caicos, the Bahamas. Many who suffered in the recession were hard-working people who made ends meet, working double jobs and overtime. How did _they_ deserve to get screwed out of their earnings? That’s not the American Dream, which is supposed to richly reward those who work and tried the hardest.

      Because bootstrapping is a myth, perpetuated by those in power who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo of socioeconomic disparity, where the 1% make billions on the backs of 99% of the rest of society who do all the hard work and still have to wish on a lucky star and this weekend’s lotto numbers for a hope of a chance at ever retiring to some sunny Caribbean island.

  9. I find this a very interesting discussion, as a person of color who teaches a course on culture, ethnicity, and race to mostly white students it can be distressing when you see resentment or defensiveness in white student’s faces. However, this has lessened over the years and I think its largely because of the triage model that I use also in class. I think tackling this from the first day is important. I normally invoke the ideas of power and privilege instead of the narrow binary of white and black. Clearly, the history of the U.S cannot be denied. Whites were in power, and all other groups were subordinate. However, in my class we look at what cultural and ethnic expressions resulted from this oppression. We do not look at current racism too much. But, on a purely personal level as an educated black woman, I know I have had negative experiences because I am black, People have told me to my face that my blackness has led them to jump to conclusions. I do not consider myself a victim in anyway. However, to pretend that white privilege and being white does not carry benefits is ostrich like behavior. This does not mean that all whites have a great life. Obviously, I live far better than a lot of poor whites, however, when it comes to being considered trustworthy, or followed in department stores, or denied apartments, I also realize my education, income, or diction cannot cover my black skin.

  10. “Elliot Ness”:

    Before I disengage from this “discussion” that’s run it’s course, an important point. I expect the opposing side in the argument to present their own argument and in their own words – not presume to be so condescending as to believe you are here to enlighten the unwashed. I expect my opposition to present their own arguments without requiring me to watch videos and read dissertations as if it were a class assignment.

    “Elliot Ness” wrote:

    “If you say something that is not correct and you get called out on it, that’s not a personal attack.”

    I have given you examples of your ad hominem, and you reuse to recognize them. So be it. I have read not very much in the way of counterargument, save for newspeak, straw men, ad hominem, and refusal to recognize there is objective fact. If someone – and you’re not the only one – cannot even admit to the existence of objective truth or objective fact, there is nothing to say: for there is no fixed, concrete definition of words or history; no commonly understood language to even start a discussion.

    Consider this discussion at an end.

    • Nachman,

      …last “straw man/piece of newspeak” for you – but you probably won’t bother with it. More proof that “institutional racism” in America is dead, right?:

      In 1982, Republican operative Lee Atwater gave an interview to Alexander Lamis, a political scientist at Case Western Reserve University, in which he explained how the so-called “Southern Strategy” of focusing on race had become much more subtle by the 1980s.

      Atwater, who apologized to Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis for the “naked cruelty” of his tactics before his early death in 1991, put it like this:

      You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

      Some conservatives questioned whether the controversial words credited to Atwater were ever truly spoken by the man who helped George H.W. Bush win the presidency using tactics like the so-called “Willie Horton” ad. After the racially charged 2012 campaign — in which the Romney campaign used racial dogwhistles including insinuating that the president was trying to “take the work out of welfare” — James Carter IV, the son of the former president and the researcher who unearthed the “47 Percent” tape, convinced Lamis’ widow to release the audio above.

      Atwater was in his own way echoing what President Lyndon B. Johnson once told his press secretary, Bill Moyers.

      ”I’ll tell you what’s at the bottom of it,” the president said. “If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll even empty his pockets for you.”

  11. Nachman,

    You’re exactly what I referred to the other day – somebody who argues for amusement & attention; someone whose interested in being “right” – even when they’re wrong.

    You’ve brought forth no “objective facts” yourself; I mounted no ad hominem attack against you. I made an obvious statement of “objective fact” about poor analogies or analysis in points you were attempting to make.

    If you say something that isn’t correct me man enough to accept to critique. I’ve been bringing my proofs to the table and you haven’t brought any from what I’ve seen here this far.

    You’re not in a position to judge here.

    • If you cannot restrain yourself from ad hominem attacks (“somebody who argues for amusement & attention”; “you simply are without the requisite skill and knowledge”) there is no point responding to you further.

      • You’re not bringing anything to the table and demonstrate zero receptivity to anything being said to you – and I can say this since you haven’t reviewed any of the material I’ve included, just to offer one example.

        You’re having fun. Enjoy yourself. This isn’t a serious discussion. It’s a joke and the folks engaging you have been had.


        And dude/Nachman: stop playing the victim. If you say something that is not correct and you get called out on it, that’s not a personal attack. That’s called being corrected or called on a mistake.

        But that’s not why you’re here. Live it up…

  12. Pingback: Practical Ways We Can Stop Centering Everything Around White People’s Feelings | HaifischGeweint

  13. Mr. Tran Myhre wrote:

    “We can teach an all-white board of directors about the importance of racially-inclusive language, for example, or we can fight to get people of color on the board of directors.”

    Replacing white people as an end into itself?

    “”We can teach an all-black board of directors about the importance of racially-inclusive language, for example, or we can fight to get white people on the board of directors.”

    Sound any better?

    • Assumptions of black:white equality (or male:female, het:queer, citizen:immigrant…) are part of the racist or liberal racist mind set.

      • Isn’t the goal equality? I understand that “assumption of” can be a problem, and certainly is in some places, but what if, in some places, equality ACTUALLY existed? How would we recognize it? When will it be time to celebrate?

    • …I’m personally not a big proponent of the drive to become the darker face of rapacious industrial/post-industrial consumer capitalist economies.

      The whole drive to put a POC In the White House hasn’t worked out well, either – not different to what we’ve seen with governers, mayors, aldermen, etc…the goal is misplaced.

      The politics of racial kinship is bankrupt – no matter what the color.

  14. Kranzstone wrote:

    “What _is_ being stated is that if someone has never experienced racism the way ethnic minorities have experienced it, particularly in Western society which is white-dominated, they can’t really know on an experiential level what it truly means, what it truly feels like to have faced racism.”

    If you’re going to go that route, black people haven’t had the honor of being completely out side the protection of the law. The Jews of Europe were no less white in skin color than their European counterparts, yet they were sent to to be slaughtered and had no rights, even as someone else’s proerty. Thousands of miles to the south and decades later, Hutu and Tutsi tribal members slaughtered each other by the millions – and both sides were no less black than the other.

    Experential? How many black people alive today in the West have experienced death camps or being hacked to death by other blacks during a genocidal inter-tribal slaughter? None, zero.

    You can know explain to me, Mr. Kranzstone, if this civil society is so oppressive, why minorities are trying to get in.

      • I would, except my original comment was redacted by a blog administrator. There three examples that would have provided context.

    • Your comment doesn’t really make a ton of sense. Whiteness is a social construction of privilege, and not solely defined by the colour of your skin. Jews in Europe during the time of the Holocaust were very heavily racialized, and I would argue not ”white.” It’s important to let people self-identify based on their experiences, but that doesn’t change the fact that most people who have white privilege in our society don’t know what it is like to face racism in the way that visible minorities do.

      Historically, black people have absolutely had the ”honor of being completely outside the protection of the law” and just because slavery was abolished and the civil rights movement happened it does not mean that they don’t face continued racism and oppression. You only need to look at poverty and imprisonment rates to see that.

      The comment about Rwanda is completely out of context, and, as I’ve said, ”whiteness” is not solely based on skin colour but is specifically a category of privilege.

      Maybe people are trying to ”get in” because much of the wealth of the west has been built on suffering elsewhere, and continues to be built on continued colonialism and expropriation of lands which destroy traditional ways of life in the developing world, displaces people and drives them to migrate.

    • Nachman wrote:

      “You can know explain to me…if this civil society is so oppressive, why minorities are trying to get in.”

      Seriously – you just asked THE question that needs to be discussed more in depth. The desire for inclusion is a product of misinformation, miseducation, and deep social conditioning.

      Actually, if you’ve ever heard of the conversation between Harry Belafonte & MLK just before the passage of the Civil Rights Bill, MLK had reservations about the entire push for integration – because he felt that America was a “burning house” that long ago lost any moral authority it may have had. He was saying this in the mid-60s. How much more is this the state of affairs today?

    • The Hutu/Tutsi conflict was largely exacerbated by the Belgians. That had significant European influence if you know anything about the history there. You can’t name a conflict on the African continent that wasn’t in some way,shape or form initiated by the meddling of Europeans. That’s simply the “objective facts”.

      …Nachman, you’re not a historian or rhetorician. You’ve certainly got opinions – which you’re entitled to, no doubt. But your opinions are largely misinformed.

      • palinsulassa wrote:

        “Whiteness is a social construction of privilege, and not solely defined by the colour of your skin. “

        White is a color, like black is a color, and that is how you describe one of the identifiable characteristics of a person. “Whiteness” is a word that can be defined as one wishes, such as “blackness”. I decline to use either of the latter two.

        palinsulassa wrote:
        “that doesn’t change the fact that most people who have white privilege in our society don’t know what it is like to face racism in the way that visible minorities do.”

        I find this amusing: because I wear a yarmulke, I am an identifiable Jew. That makes me a visible minority. I do not accept the premise of “white privilege”, because it is not defined, and even it is was, it would be as useful as “black privilege” or “asian privilege”. In other words, not useful. Such words are – if you pardon my use of newspeak – a socio-political construct. It is created for the use of bashing white people over the head.

        palinsulassa wrote:
        “Historically, black people have absolutely had the ”honor of being completely outside the protection of the law”

        Slaves were considered the property of their owners, and as such, were subject to the property rights of their owners: they could not be harmed or stolen by others. The Black Codes, at least in one of the statutes, specified that slaves were not to be murdered or harmed. Whether or not these laws were ever enforced is another matter, it is obvious that black slaves were protected *as property*. The Jews of Europe were not even considered to be human and were marked for extermination.

        palinsulassa wrote:
        “…and just because slavery was abolished and the civil rights movement happened it does not mean that they don’t face continued racism and oppression. “

        Discussing the lasting effects of oppression is certainly valid. I’ve already cast aside the fallacious “institutional racism” argument elsewhere.

        “You only need to look at poverty and imprisonment rates to see that.”

        If this were trues, the Jews would have as high a crime rate as blacks. This is not the case. At some point, you have to account for individual responsibility. Not doing so on your part degrades the humanity “people of color” and makes you racist since you do not assign any moral imperatives to anyone except “white people”.

        palinsulassa wrote:
        “Seriously, you think the statement ”colonial Israeli state” is ridiculous?”

        Yes, seriously. We will leave this for another day when some author at Opine Season decides to enter that war zone. I used the example to note the inconsistency of using an alleged “anti-racist” site as a source that expresses blatant defamation against Jews.

        “Are you more likely to be hassled by the cops because of the colour of your skin?”

        palinsulassa wrote:
        My demographic doesn’t commit a dispproportionate level of violent crime in the United States.

        Elliot Ness wrote:

        ““Objective fact” is a loaded term.”

        To reiterate: an objective fact is something that can be proven with the overwhelming weight of evidence and the historical record. In other words, the citation of observed and specific facts and circumstances.

        “The Hutu/Tutsi conflict was largely exacerbated by the Belgians.’

        “The Hutu/Tutsi conflict was largely exacerbated by the Belgians. That had significant European influence if you know anything about the history there. You can’t name a conflict on the African continent that wasn’t in some way,shape or form initiated by the meddling of Europeans. That’s simply the “objective facts”.”

        There have been inter tribal wars in Africa as there were intertribal wars in the Americas, as their were in Europe. The Belgians may have been one cause. To blame the genocidal rampages of one tribe against the other entirely on the Belgians would be analogous to entirely blaming the British for the Arab war against the Jews. At some point, you have to account for pre-colonial history and the moral agency of people and not offer up an excuse.

        “But your opinions are largely misinformed. It becomes more obvious every time you type something here.”

        Ad hominem attacks serve no purpose.

        Kranzstone wrote:

        “As a cis-male heterosexual…cis-gender men…trans*phobia…cis-gender black man…cis-gender privilege…”

        These are all unwords, not used in civil society. Which edition of the Newspeak Dictionary did you get them from?

        Kranzstone wrote:

        “the poor white man is more likely than not to get the job over a similarly qualified black applicant…”

        Not necessarily. Affirmative action has replaced merit in areas of society. I can use Civil Service exams I know of as examples. This has affected more people than you know.

        Kranzstone wrote:

        “[that] is white privilege, and every privileged class (heterosexual, cis-gender, male, etc.) in our society similarly benefits from these human biases that have nothing to do with a person’s qualifications or the content of their character.”

        Biases are acquired through experience, and the experience of working class white ethnics in cities has shaped their opinions and perceptions. It is valid to use rational discrimination and don’t think that even you, Mr. Kranzstone, are immune from using this survival tactic. If you don’t use rational discrimination, you can be in a world of hurt.

  15. Great article! Thanks! One thing i’ve been experiencing as a white person, to add to this conversation, and it relates to your point about separate spaces, is the importance of working on more commitment between white people present in these spaces/movements to do the emotional support work with each other.

    Not so that white people feel great at all time (the idea is more, on the opposite, to let go of more denial and stop avoiding any “difficult” feelings) and not as a diversion of resources and time – staying mindful that it doesn’t take these away from priorities. But as important and connected side work for white people, with the understanding that getting further away from our comfort zones, being more solid in support roles (including emotional), being able to listen and really hear, not being paralysed by undigested guilt and not jamming spaces with our defensive behaviour – ultimately being way more effective and thinking more clearly – depends on having safe and supportive spaces to go through the feelings, grow from/through them, dispel confusions and so on.

    I’ve noticed for myself that having a support group specifically dedicated to that taking regular time together (even with one other person) makes a dramatic change in how much i’m able to understand, take on, change my attitudes, build really solid and honest friendships with people of color and be right there by their sides whenever needed. Still making many mistakes but I feel like there’s a good space to make sure I learn from these, can take feedback, am accountable for them, and stay right in there beyond them.

    I read some of the comments and sometimes it feels hopeless… But it’s not. It’s hard to do online but in face-to-face situations it’s also our job to take the people who are far away in denial and make sure they spill their outrage with us rather than saying oppressive shit to/around people of color. Hear them out, let them rage, trust the power of your own attention and listening (even if you feel like throwing up inside) – sometimes it’s the most effective way they’ll start to move from that head stuck in the sand position.

    Good luck and again thanks to the author for your words!

  16. Before this discussion continues, fixed definitions must be agreed upon. First, objective fact, then institutional racism.

    Elliot Ness wrote:

    “…you’re going to need to clarify what qualifies as an “objective fact” here – because one person’s “objective fact” pass as another person’s propaganda.”

    An objective fact is something that can be proven with the overwhelming weight of evidence and the historical record. In other words, the citation of observed and specific facts and circumstances.

    • Utterly meaningless. My point still stands. “Objective fact” is a loaded term. Case in point – phrenology was a “science” based on “objective fact” that turned out to have absolutely zero scientific merit, yet it was used by eugenicists & social Darwinists to justify all kinds of evil. Here’s Part 1 (of 3) of a decent BBC Doc that runs down that history pretty well:

  17. “When all of the energy in an educational campaign or organization is poured into making sure the people who already carry the most privilege aren’t getting their feelings hurt, that hurts movements. We can do better.”

    Is it even remotely possible that “privilege theory” is doing more harm than good in dismantling institutionalized racism? I suspect that this will not be a welcome suggestion or popular suggestion, but I do wonder if it’s a possibility. This person has written about it at length.

    I once took a workshop in which all of the people present stood in a circle. It was a relatively diverse group of people. The moderator read out a loud of statement and if the statement was true about you, you stepped in to the circle. The statements were things like, “I have gone to bed hungry because of not being able to buy food.” “I have been homeless.” “I have experienced discrimination.” “I have experienced the loss of an immediate family member.” and many, many more statements. After each statement we all looked around to see who had stepped in and who had not. You could see looks of surprise and tears in many eyes. I think it brought us all closer together and inspired a lot of compassion for each other. It got us caring about each other more instead of being defensive with each other. It taught us that we can’t really tell much just by looking at each other.

    I wonder if this could somehow be useful?

    • I think discussing one’s own personal experiences with disadvantage can be helpful, if we each use our own experience to in some way relate to that of other people’s disadvantages in a more empathetic way, even if the situations aren’t analogous or interchangeable.

      That being said, I think it’s important to be mindful of intersectionality and how each person’s experience is unique to them because both privileges and disadvantages are situational and contextual, and they’re not necessarily additive so much as there is an interplay between them: it doesn’t work on a simple formula of (privilege+privilege)-(disadvantage+disadvantage) like a math question.

      I mean, we’re speaking to white privilege here, but in many ways, as a PoC, I still retain multiple privileges that confer substantial advantages to me over, say, an impoverished white person, especially if they come from generational poverty, and so I try to be mindful of the fact that it doesn’t end with my acknowledge of my cis-gender privilege, or my male privilege, or my heterosexual privilege, or even my ablist privilege, but things like socioeconomic privilege, and education privilege, intellect privilege, and even nuclear family privilege (i.e. I grew up with two parents in a stable home), which all ensure that in many situations, I am treated far better and more doors open for me than impoverished whites, even within a society with steeped in white privilege traditions.

      And certainly, I think to not understand my own privileges makes it impossible for me to see why poor whites are so often so angry, bitter and resentful of PoC, because they have been fed lies from the socioeconomically advantaged white power structures which serve to divide marginalized groups and cause infighting amongst the oppressed, blaming ‘affirmative action’ and other red herrings on why poor whites face substantial disadvantages in our society despite seemingly benefiting from white privilege. In reality, the white elite use impoverished whites as foot soldiers in racial oppression by scapegoating PoC, immigrants, feminists, the LGBT*QA community, etc., which is what leads to so many angry young white men from disadvantages socioeconomic backgrounds to join white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups.

      Sadly, many whites are unawrae that a lot of the work on ‘white skin privilege’ was advanced by a white working-class activist and intellectual named Theodore W. Allen (

  18. Ideologues typically base their arguments on half-truths (or outright lies), obfuscation, sophistry, dismissiveness/trivialization – smoke screens. When there is an inability or unwillingness to acknowledge or face a truth, a move is made to eliminate it altogether.

    Just an observation about some of the posts here.

  19. Just a general observation:

    I was thinking about how some people resort to being dismissive or trivializing with regard to the opposing arguments put forth by others rather than engaging the topic/subject at hand. Not only is it a classic sign of arrogance and possessing a sense of entitlement – it’s also the worst kind of intellectual laziness & cowardice. It’s weakness & fear trying to masquerade as high-class intelligence. If the argument is so silly, and you’re so smart, it should be easy enough to dismantle – right?

    It’s like rudeness being mistaken for strength. There’s nothing “strong” about being rude – it’s just bad manners and a clear indication of poor character.

    Some folks are sincerely interested in finding the Truth – and some are sincerely interested in being “right” (i.e. – winning the argument). They aren’t the same thing. This would explain why many discussions/debates/arguments end up becoming transformed into a strange kind of performance art where the person whose capable of coming up with the most imaginative, insulting retort or appears to be the most clever & smug wins the day.

    It’s funny how the skeptics and most dismissmive among us are reluctant to apply this skepticism and dismissiveness to themselves or their views.

    I guess it’s too much to ask to expect such people to apply the same standard to themselves.

  20. Nachman,

    It’s something of an observation about racism/structural racism and the reluctance certain folks show towards simply having a discussion about it. This is particularly true in my home country – America. Our history with regard to this matter is problematic, to say the least. Somehow, having a person with skin of a darker hue holding the highest political office in the land instantly absolves the country of having to deal with this troublesome history and its effects which are still quite significant (this phenomenon has been referred to by some as the “Magic Negro” Effect – actually, I distinctly recall Rush Limbaugh using this term). Having a relatively small handful of people who come from this group of folks of darker hue who have become successful (invariably, as some form of entertainer be they athletes, actors, singers, musicians, comedians, TV personality, general amusement of some variety, etc. – which is also problematic in its implications) are capable of magically transferring this success to everyone and wiping the slate clean of any & all misdeeds.

    I find it funny that a people and a society that predicated everything it built institutionally in its establishment throughout its history on race are also the same folks who have taken it upon themselves to determine when race can be declared no longer an issue requiring discussion (this would especially apply to the folks who like to use the term “race-bating/race-bater”) evidently due to people who we’d categorize as being exceptional individuals (by any measure, regardless of the demographic) who were able to “make it” in spite of these obstacles. So it appears the exception has now been made the rule – which logically speaking negates the exceptional nature of these accomplishments & successes (which I would think reasonable people would find unreasonable).

    So the nation (along with its people) who made race everything now say its nothing.

    Fascinating stuff.

    The danger of having a truly honest discussion about all of this for some folks is discovering they aren’t the people they imagine themselves to be. If that ends up being the case, then who are you?

    If you’d like to honestly (sincerely) conduct some research to fill in the holes of your understanding concerning this topic, I’d like to suggest a few things for you to watch/read:

    Khalil Muhammad on Facing Our Racial Past (June 29, 2012)

    Bill and Khalil Gibran Muhammad discuss the importance of confronting the contradictions of America’s past.

    ‘Slavery by Another Name’ Relays the Forgotten Stories of Post-Civil War Slavery

    “No Guns for Negroes ” exposes the racist history of American gun control laws. Every person who supports gun control laws must be shown this film or gun ownership will cease to exist in America.

    8 Successful and Aspiring Black Communities Destroyed by White Neighbors

    No one (certainly not me) is calling for reprehensible behaviour to be overlooked – no matter who it comes from. But there’s an historical precedent here – a huge body of evidence – that some people are attempting to ignore, dismiss, and trivialize.

    Some people are using their ignorance of this history to deny it even happened. That’s just cowardly. We’ve gotten used to that.

    “We have come to comprehend the nature of racism. It is a mass psychosis.”

    – Robert F. Williams, “Negroes With Guns”

    • This is addressing a completely different point than institutional racism: that of the lasting effects of the long term oporession of a group.

      “I find it funny that a people and a society that predicated everything it built institutionally in its establishment throughout its history on race are also the same folks who have taken it upon themselves to determine when race can be declared no longer an issue requiring discussion..”

      There’s no reason to find it amusing. Objective fact is objective fact. There is no more “institutional racism” in this country. The lasting effects of group oppression and of social policies that were intended to correct its effects is a valid issue.

      Which people are you talking about?

      • There is no more “institutional racism” in this country. The lasting effects of group oppression and of social policies that were intended to correct its effects is a valid issue.

        Now we’re going to jump into semantics: that is – What exactly accounts for what we’d consider “institutional racism”?

        If you are referring to there no longer being explicit laws on the books which call for the open oppression of a specific group of people, you’d be correct. However, you be naive to think that somehow this is proof of their no longer being “institutional racism” in America.

        We have a very clear precedence of this phenomenon with the implementation of what were labelled “The Black Codes”. In reading how these laws were configured, they could only apply to a very specific group of people given the conditions and set of circumstances they were forced into by virtue of being no longer considered someone’s property:

        This is what’s dealt with in Douglas Blackmon’s work “Slavery By Another Name” (both book & movie are available – which ever is most convenient):

        An extension of this can be seen in Khalil Gibran Muhammad’s book, “The Condemnation of Blackness” which discusses how crime statistics became what we now know of them & how they were entirely dictated by race. Ethnicity was overlooked in an effort to “Americanize” the new European peasants arriving on American shores. Ultimately, it wasn’t about the crime done – it was all about who was doing it:

        Likewise, if you look to the current day, the way the “War on Drugs” has been prosecuted since the inception of the Drug War (during Nixon’s presidency, escalated during Reagan’s, and turbocharged during Clinton’s). Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Era of Colorblindness”:

        The statistics, funnily enough, actually tell us that the difference in drug use demographically doesn’t reflect the incarceration rates (actually, whites use drugs at higher rates – which makes sense economically-speaking. America, being the largest drug market on the planet, couldn’t possibly qualify as such if the people with the least buying power/economic strength supposedly formed the primary market. The numbers simply don’t work).

        An interesting explanation for this phenomenon is given by many law enforcement people who are a part of L.E.A.P. (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition). Whites simply aren’t policed to the same degree as people of color – and it isn’t because whites commit less crime:

        They told this DEA agent not to enforce drug laws in white areas. Really.

        The “institutional racism” resides in the attitudes & beliefs of the people who run the institutions. This has always been (and always will be) the case. Another great example is the story below:

        I Got Myself Arrested So I Could Look Inside the Justice System

        The idea that “institutional racism” no longer exists because the explicit exclusion of people BY COLOR isn’t found in the law books is really quite laughable. As I just said – PEOPLE run institutions; and to believe that institutions are completely without bias is a myth that has absolutely no empirical evidence to support that assertion. We can run the whole gamut….Because PEOPLE have their biases – whether or not they vocalize them or openly make them known.

      • James Baldwin spoke very powerfully to what you’re wishing to seek evidence for:

        James Baldwin on the Dick Cavett Show

        Thomas Segrue, who wrote “Origins of the Urban Crisis”, has pointed to similar data. Funnily enough, the most segregated cities in America (statistically speaking) are found in the North – which is probably counterintuitive:

        Thomas Sugrue – Jim Crow’s Last Stand: The Struggle for Civil Rights in the Suburban North

        There’s a difference between accepting people – and tolerating them. Socially-speaking, most racists have a sense that being outwardly racist is frowned upon. But that attitude is much more common than most folks would readily admit.

        For example, black/brown people are cool – as long as they don’t live in my neighborhood or right next to me…that kind of thing.

        The whole point is not necessarily to have the explicit restriction placed upon a certain group of people – similar to the idea about how best to achieve mass control over a society. You don’t need heavy-handed repressive control if people police themselves by inculcating certain beliefs, attitudes and modes of behaviour.

        The same goes for “Institutional racism”.

      • …and you’re going to need to clarify what qualifies as an “objective fact” here – because one person’s “objective fact” pass as another person’s propaganda. Just because you might consider a piece of information an “objective fact” doesn’t make it so.

        What qualifies you to make that determination? What criteria are you using?

    • Last point (for now):

      From what I can sense in the line of discussion, ascertaining whether or not “institutional racism” (read: EXPLICIT LEGALLY SANCTIONED racism) currently exists, is pointing towards what I think is the most persistent American myth – Meritocracy.

      In other words (as it applies to people of color), since racism is no longer “on the books”, people get what they get in relation to how hard they work (i.e. – “It’s not my fault these people can’t make it. They need to work/try harder.”)

      Complete nonsense. This piece/book breaks down why:

      “According to the ideology of the American Dream, America is the land of limitless opportunity in which individuals can go as far as their own merit takes them. According to this ideology, you get out of the system what you put into it. Getting ahead is ostensibly based on individual merit, which is generally viewed as a combination of factors including innate abilities, working hard, having the right attitude, and having high moral character and integrity. Americans not only tend to think that is how the system should work, but most Americans also think that is how the system does work (Huber and Form 1973, Kluegel and Smith 1986, Ladd 1994).”

      “In our book The Meritocracy Myth (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004),…,we challenge the validity of these commonly held assertions, by arguing that there is a gap between how people think the system works and how the system actually does work. We refer to this gap as “the meritocracy myth,” or the myth that the system distributes resources—especially wealth and income—according to the merit of individuals. We challenge this assertion in two ways. First, we suggest that while merit does indeed affect who ends up with what, the impact of merit on economic outcomes is vastly overestimated by the ideology of the American Dream. Second, we identify a variety of nonmerit factors that suppress, neutralize, or even negate the effects of merit and create barriers to individual mobility. We summarize these arguments below. First, however, we take a brief look at what is at stake. That is, what is up for grabs in the race to get ahead?”

    • Yes, and no. Intersectionality plays a role here. Certainly there are parallels — and it is also true that white women have advantages generally over women of color generally. Like skin color, gender is usually easy to identify and social conditioning begins at birth (“Oh, what a brave, strong boy”, “Oh, what an adorable little girl”), as well as assignment of roles in society.

      However, it is not uncommon for white women on racism threads that make them uncomfortable to attempt to turn the topic to themselves. There are better places for this conversation.

  21. Pingback: Practical Ways We Can Stop Centering Everything Around White People’s Feelings | SEXed

  22. As a white guy, I have to say that this article does what it claims to speak against. It puts white people more at the center than they need to be.

    How do I think things change — including people’s ideas? They change because folks go out and struggle and change power relationships. Then most people re-adjust to the new relationships. Almost all my Southern kinfolk were for Jim Crow apartheid, but they mostly adjusted when it ended.

    So how many white people HAVE to be involved? None. Sure, there will be usually be a few white folks on the right side, as I hope I am. But the vast majority of the “rank and file” of fights against white supremacy in this nation have always been people of color.

    I hope and believe there is a role for white allies. Malcolm used the word “allies,” but said he was looking for John Brown allies, and I can’t claim that.

    There are some really good ideas in this article, but the assumption that white people have to be reached for white supremacy to be beaten back is just not true.

    When the struggle for abolition of slavery had been going on for centuries, and thousands of Africans had died in open rebellion, in the early 19th century, this was the status of white abolitionists. “There was a class of abolitionists in Cincinnati and the neighboring regions, but they were unfashionable persons and few in number …. they were regarded as a species of moral monomaniacs, who in the consideration of one class of interests and wrongs, had lost sight of all proportion and all good judgment…..” Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote that.

  23. Primarily to Nachman:

    1. This is neither here nor there, but my last name is Tran Myhre, not Myhre. Just a pet peeve; I don’t blame you for the mistake.

    2. This piece isn’t about the existence of racism, or the “theory” of white privilege. It’s about how social justice spaces (workshops, classes, activist meetings, blog posts, forums, etc.) often get derailed by white people who need to have their own emotional or intellectual needs met before they can work toward the goals of the larger group.

    Regardless of any ideological disagreements we may have, THAT’s the conversation being sparked here. Obviously, it’s the internet, and you can post whatever you want (and we’ve been kind enough to approve the comments even when they’re off-topic), but if you want to talk about “black privilege,” or how racism isn’t real, or how white northerners saved all the black people, or whatever, nobody owes you a response– rational, irrational, nonsensical, condescending or otherwise.

    • Even though we both communicate in English, either we don’t speak the same dialect or I must have missed something in your commentary. Though I still do not accept your underlying premise, at least you’ve respectfully made your objective clearer to me. Fair enough.

      I certainly do not believe that racism doesn’t exist (straw man or misread on your part). I was trying to make a point, lost as it is. Though it is true that no one “owes” me a response, respond they did. If they take the time to respond, let them with hold their straw men and ad hominem.

  24. It’s kind of a catch-22 though, isn’t it? Trying to end oppression without changing the minds and behavior of oppressors is a losing battle. And yet, as you point out, the amount of time spent soothing oppressors’ butthurt is taking away from other work.

    For myself, I’ve found the best results with trying to figure out whether someone’s just misguided/confused, and needs a little education, vs. when they’re just being deliberately obtuse, because they a) believe the propaganda or b) are just too lazy to want to change. The latter are best ignored, because there’s no sense wasting time on them. The former can be talked to, though, and I think it’s worth at least a little time trying to do so (until/unless they prove themselves part of the obtuse crowd.) Eventually, we’ll get enough of the means-well-but-clueless on our side that, in combination with the rest of us, we’ll outnumber the assgaskets and can simply tell them to piss off without worrying whether that will backfire. FWIW, depressing as it is, I don’t think there will ever be a time when we’ll be entirely free of bigots. I think the best we can hope for is eventually to outnumber them, particularly in positions of power, so the damage they do is minimized.

    • “Groupthink most commonly affects homogenous, close-knit communities that are overly insulated from internal and external criticism, and that perceive themselves as different from or under attack by outsiders. Its symptoms include censorship of dissent, rejection or rationalization of criticisms, the conviction of moral superiority, and the demonization of those who hold opposing beliefs. It typically leads to the incomplete or inaccurate assessment of information, the failure to seriously consider other possible options, a tendency to make rash decisions, and the refusal to reevaluate or alter those decisions once they’ve been made.” ~Kathryn Schulz, Being Wrong, Adventures in the Margin of Error

  25. So, as a social justice educator, activist, and long time student who just took an undergraduate course entitled “The Minority Experience,” I agree with everything you said, i think. My class was taught by the only black, though apparently the new politically correct term here is “person of African descent,” professor at my college and all but one student in the class was white. The course covered white privilege and institutional/internalized racism and all the things you’ve talked about, but of course this lead to the defensiveness and upset white people feelings you mentioned.

    I have yet to see however, if that reaction has prevented the point getting across. Because it was not centered on the feelings of the main demographic of the students, it may in this instance have caused the opposite effect. My fellow students seem more reactionary and defensive towards accusations of racism in the system and in life than they were before taking the course. Perhaps we should mandate that diversity education must include both separate spaces but also diverse collaborative spaces as well. I think we need a balance.

    • “My fellow students seem more reactionary and defensive towards accusations of racism in the system and in life than they were before taking the course.”

      I would humbly submit that the very structure of privilege theory might be the problem. I do not disagree that institutionalized racism exists. I just disagree about the model we are using to address it. From my admittedly limited perspective, it seems to be doing more harm than good and dividing us in our fight against inequality more than bringing us together. Here is someone who has written about it at length and, I think, sensitively and respectfully:

      I’ve been reading everything I can about the subject of dismantling racism, because I want to be on the team that is doing that.

      I think that telling people they are racist simply because of the accident of their skin color is the trigger for the defensiveness. I wrote a letter to the author of a wonder article about Calling IN in addition to calling out. I’ll share it here because I think it might add to this conversation.

      “My whole body got covered in goosebumps when I read your words here:

      Goosebumps are my capital T–Truth indicator.

      I got tears in my eyes. Tears of gratitude.

      Thank you for putting into words what I have struggled to try to say.

      Your words made my heart sing with hope that we really are all going to come together and build a beautiful, healthy, diverse, egalitarian future.

      Like you, I have sometimes felt crushed and disheartened by the way I’ve seen activists treating each other.

      Like you, I agree that we can’t build that beautiful future without people who make mistakes, because we all make mistakes.

      Like you, I think that we have to call out and interrupt behavior that is damaging to each other AND find ways to reconcile and heal the hurts and keep working together.

      Thank you so much for your article. It touched me deeply.

      Now for the hard part…

      The disclaimer broke my wide-open, rejoicing heart into a million shards. You see, I am highly invested in co-creating a world where every single human being’s voice is heard and respected and every single human being gets called back in. I believe that there can be NO throw away people if we want to have a truly healthy society. I believe it so much that I teach yoga in jails. I work with people the rest of society has thrown away. I work with radical honesty, radical acceptance, & restorative justice. I see value in all colors, all ages, all walks of life, all sexual preferences, all abilities… ALL.

      I don’t understand the disclaimer. I don’t understand how it helps us to build together. It didn’t seem to fit with the rest of your words and it broke my heart.

      I debated about whether or not to get in touch with you to tell you about the heartbreak, because the disclaimer makes it clear that my feelings should not be central to this discussion, because I have white skin. Do you think that the color of a person’s skin can automatically make them untrustworthy or make their contributions unnecessary or invaluable? Do you believe that a person’s skin color can determine whether they are more or less likely to fuck up? Do you think the disclaimer brings us closer to building together?

      I ache to be a part of as broad and diverse and deep a group of beings as possible who have in common a commitment to create a radically egalitarian society and this beautiful, majestic, mysterious home that we call Planet Earth.

      I want to contribute my ideas and hear the ideas of those who are both different from me and like me.

      The disclaimer seemed to tell me that I had no place in that, because of my skin color, but your words above the disclaimer seemed to be saying that we ALL need to be a part of that. What am I missing?

      I hope that you will find my inquiry valuable enough to engage in a respectful discussion with me, one in which we can learn from one another.

      I wouldn’t have written this if your article hadn’t touched me so deeply.

      A teensy bit about me: I am a 42 year old freshman in college. I am hoping to end up with a degree in environmental science with a heavy emphasis on social justice. I ended an 18 year career as a 9-1-1 emergency dispatcher and call-taker last April. For the first 10 years of my son’s life I was a single mom. He’s 21 years old now. I started our local jail yoga & meditation program two years ago and the students in jail have taught me as much, if not more, than I have taught them. I was a homeless bicycle messenger in San Francisco in the late 1980s. I have been witness to too much violence, racism, & sexism in my life starting at a very young age (really any is too much) and I recoil from those words because they bring to mind the horrific things I have been witness to. I have been fortunate enough to have had an incredible amount of support for healing in my life. I dream BIG, WILD, BEAUTIFUL things as an antidote to the nightmares. I would like to root out violence and bad-isms of all kinds in our society. I would like those words to fade from our lexicon one day, for lack of use because there are no more “bad-ists” in the world. I think that what you said in your article, “Calling IN” is the way we will make that future world happen. I’d like to be on your team.

      Thanks for your time and your work.”

      • I think the point is when there are hundreds of channels dedicated to anti-racism from the perspective of white activists, and only one channel dedicated to _all_ the perspectives of every non-white anti-racist activists, for a white person, no matter how well-intentioned, to also want to be allowed to join in on the discourse on the one channel reserved for voices other than theirs, is fundamentally greedy and unfair to the voices who lack any other outlet for their expression.

        As a cis-male heterosexual, I would not dream of going into a women-only space and demand that I have a say because ‘otherwise it’s reverse-sexism’ (or some other BS): these spaces exist as safe places where people who are otherwise marginalized or disenfranchised in all other areas of society have the opportunity to vent, to express their frustrations, etc. without having to worry that what they say in justified anger can be misconstrued or taken the wrong way (or worse, used against them) by white people, by cis-gender men, by heterosexuals, etc.

        No one is saying that being white is evil, or wrong, or that because someone is white that their thoughts, feelings, opinions,, etc. don’t count or don’t matter. What _is_ being stated is that if someone has never experienced racism the way ethnic minorities have experienced it, particularly in Western society which is white-dominated, they can’t really know on an experiential level what it truly means, what it truly feels like to have faced racism. Even the most empathetic and emotionally intelligent white person simply cannot know, except perhaps on a very superficial or intellectual level, what being on the wrong end of racism truly feels like. Even white people who have experienced bigotry or prejudice on a personal level from non-whites (perhaps they grew up white in a predominantly non-white part of the nation), can speak to the hurt they felt personally, but at the end of the day, they can look to their mass media portrayals and representations of white dominance in our culture, they can look to the power and organizational structures in our society and see it populated primarily by people who look like them, they can look to their history books and see their own largely sanitized pasts reflected in them at the expense of minority historical figures: they still benefit profoundly from the privileges that come with being white in our society, whether they want to or not.

        Obviously intersectionality demands that we also take into account other factors when determining issues of power differential, and a person who is white, but not cis-gender for example, may still benefit from white privilege, but would be substantially disadvantaged from our society’s inherent trans*phobia. That doesn’t discredit the concept of white privilege, it simply means that most everyone everywhere, in some way, has both privileges and disadvantages: the most common misperception of the concept of ‘privilege’ is that it is this magical trump card that automatically and always confers all advantages to anyone of a privileged class, when that is not what is being argued. Rather, privileges and disadvantages (or lack of privilege) are contextual, and depending on the situation, someone who is privileged in one area may well be disadvantaged in another, and the context of the situation determines whether it’s the person’s areas of privilege which confer advantage to them, or their areas of disadvantage which negatively impacts them. Example: a rich, heterosexual, cis-gender black man has substantial privileges in our society, because he benefits from socioeconomic privilege, heterosexual privilege, cis-gender privilege, male privilege… even though in terms of race, he is substantially disadvantaged by racism against blacks. But his other privileges still will not get him into a ‘whites-only’ club (and for all that such clubs are illegal doesn’t mean that they don’t still exist, they’ve just gone underground). If he were surrounded by a bunch of poor white cis-gender male heterosexuals with racist views, threatening to beat him up, the rich black man’s money, his heterosexuality, his being cis-gender, none of these privileges will protect him from that racist violence, because in that context, he is fundamentally disadvantaged because he is black and surrounded by racists. But the poor white cis-gender male isn’t privileged in all areas at all times either: he may have substantial privilege due to the colour of his skin, but that doesn’t mean (like the Eddie Murphy skit from Saturday Night Live: that his ethnic background is going to miraculously open doors for him to all levels of society: reality simply doesn’t work like that. He is still profoundly disadvantaged because he is of a lower socioeconomic class, which may mean that he comes from generational poverty, and although being cis-gender and heterosexual in our society also confers substantial advantages, it doesn’t erase the stigma that the poor face for lack of sufficient educational opportunities. What it _does_ mean is that if this poor white man were to be able to get a better education, improve his diction and vocabulary, get a nice new suit and show up for a job interview, the chances that he’s going to end up with a hiring manager/recruiter who is also white is great, and because human nature tends towards an ancient tribalism which subconsciously biases us all to prefer hiring based on people who look like us over those who don’t, the poor white man is more likely than not to get the job over a similarly qualified black applicant, which allows the poor white man to transcend the disadvantages of his socioeconomic background, in large part due to the colour of skin, in a way that a poor black man with the exact same life story would not be able to, no matter if he got that better schooling and the nice new suit. _That_ is white privilege, and every privileged class (heterosexual, cis-gender, male, etc.) in our society similarly benefits from these human biases that have nothing to do with a person’s qualifications or the content of their character.

        And these are all concepts that are understood instinctively by any and all who have are disadvantaged because they have experienced such discrimination countless times that they know what this means, even if they have never heard terms like ‘privilege’, ‘micro-aggressions’, etc. Sadly, it is the commonality of experience of racism which binds disparate minority individuals together in a common bond of having faced discrimination and having been disadvantaged in one way or another, that people with privilege (and particularly with multiple privileges) can never, ever hope to understand.

        And for such people with privilege to _demand_ that they too be given a voice in the discourse of oppression and identity politics is so inimitably galling that the natural instinctive reaction to such demands by the privileged, of the oppressed, is one of disbelief and anger. The very fact that people with privilege can’t understand why minority individuals are so damned angry all the time, speaks volumes about their inability to comprehend the true nature and reality of issues like racism, sexism, homophobia, trans*phobia, ablism, ageism, etc. that minority individuals and groups have to face and deal with every day… and we can’t even really blame the privileged for not understanding, because they have absolutely no way of really knowing, because they literally cannot experience being disadvantaged in our society when they are entirely shielded from those disadvantages by their privileges so they have no reference point with which to compare and constrast their lives to the lives of those who are oppressed.

        And for such people with privilege to express emotions like ‘hurt’, because they feel discluded from the discourse of identity politics is just another way that the privileged manage to turn the conversation away from the very real and legitimate grievances of the oppressed, and turn the spotlight back on the feelings of the privileged. _That_ is privilege.

        Hell, it’s happening right now on this very page with people who feel the need to forcibly inject themselves into every conversation about race without having an iota of common decency to enter the discussion with an open mind, open heart, and open ears. The privileged _need_ to have the spotlight on themselves at all times, and everything, even racism, always has to be about them and how they feel and how they experience life, and their worldview, but they are entirely clueless about the day-to-day indignities and injustices of racism experienced by people who have to live on the wrong side of it every day. More to the point though, they don’t really care: they’re just trying to derail the conversation because they are being inherently selfish and disingenuous in their arguments, refusing to educate themselves or even do a modicum of research before opening their mouths, but for some bizarre reason expecting others to welcome their spouting and spewing of their own ignorance as anything other than the garbage polemics that it is.

      • To clarify my point about the “hundreds of channels dedicated to anti-racism from the perspective of white activists”, I was speaking to my personal experience with groups like Anti-Racist Action in the town that I grew up in, which was predominantly white (and probably still is, although less so than in the ’90s when I was growing up there), and my sister and I were probably about four or five PoC in the entire group, which at its height, numbered in probably a little over 50 people (more if you count related groups like the trade unionists, the feminist women’s groups, the local LGBT community activist groups, the International Socialists, the anarcho-crust punks, SkinHeads Against Racial Prejudice, etc. who we marched in solidarity with).

        I mean, on the one hand, it’s always heartening as a PoC to see white people, who really aren’t negatively impacted by racism (at least, not directly) still care enough to do something about it and to stand in solidarity with PoC, and I’m always glad for the support. But it also makes it difficult to relay exactly what racism feels like, the experiential nature of it, to people who’ve never experienced it, and often the leadership of such anti-racist groups end up being filled with the same demographic that fills the boardrooms and political cabinets of the nation (Canada, in my case): white people.

        And for all the well-intentioned work that they try to do, without that fundamental understanding of racism beyond an academic or intellectual level, but just purely on an emotional level and how it negatively impacts the self-esteem of PoC, is not something that is easily conveyed by language alone… particularly when those voices are as underrepresented in the anti-racist realm as it is in mass media and popular culture. And that lack of representation of those voices of PoC and other marginalized groups is particularly problematic when trying to figure out a concrete plan of action to combat racism, because the people who know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of racism for having experienced it, and understand it on a very personal level, aren’t in a position within those power structures to dictate what should be done to fight it.

        Hopefully, there is greater representation of PoC and other marginalized groups in today’s anti-racist groups (I haven’t had a chance to participate in those types of political actions lately due to persistent health issues, so I don’t actually know) but at least online, there is still an issue with, for example, marginalization of First Nations/aboriginal women’s voices in feminist discourse, as well as queer PoC voices, trans*gender people’s voices, etc. There appears to be a deepening rift between white cis-female feminism and trans*gender feminists, for example, which culminated in the disturbingly trans*phobic rants from the likes of Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill, which was very disappointing, and highlights the need for not only better representation of marginalized voices in mainstream feminism, but the dangers of not listening to those voices and ending up turning the oppressed into oppressors themselves.

  26. Very good points you are making and a great way of starting the post.
    I totally agree that we should move forward together, not just preaching (or teaching) tolerance, but actually practicing it in every word, every move. I also agree that we should not deny it. I remember getting furious with “Barney” when my kids were young, because it featured one child of every ‘colour’ but without ever acknowledging these differences. I think racial differences (like cultural differences) are something beautiful we should treasure and celebrate.
    Myself, I write against another sort of discrimination: that of personality types and this underlies all racial and gender differences.

  27. How would you go about conducting this on a school’s campus? I’m apart of a group that raises awareness of different minorities. We also have a majority culture representative who tried to hear the concerns of the majority culture. How could we,as a cabinet of students, conduct events, etc.?

  28. To the authors of the stupid comments about reverse racism or living in a post-racial society, Guante said it best: white people, do your homework.

  29. Reblogged this on this is a work in progress and commented:
    Last year, I had the opportunity to attend a conference and take a class that educated the hell out of me. I learned that the modern and subtle methods of racism (denial of work and/or education, lower wages, healthcare discrimination, daily microaggressions, lack of representation in media, etc. etc.) are often denied in their severity and impact. I learned that when the word “racism” is used, white people think of lynchings and the n-word and the KKK, and they get angry because they support none of those and yet are being told that they are participating in and benefiting from an inherently racist system. And I learned about the laws, the research, the history, and the current, ongoing systems of discrimination which make it very, very clear that racism is still a thing that is happening, all around us. Sometimes blatant and ugly, like the n-word and lynching and beating; but more often subtle and insidious, like refusing to acknowledge systems of disparate impact and blaming people of color for being defensive, or claiming that poc are lazy.

    This year, I had the opportunity to take a class with a student body that was about 45 – 50 percent people of color. This is unusual in the area I live. Where I live, 83.7 percent of the population is “white” according to the 2010 census. The remaining 16.3 percent of the population breaks down as 2.0 percent Black persons, 1.1 percent Native persons, 6.0 percent Asian, 0.4 percent Pacific Islander, 1.8 percent “other”, 5.0 percent from two or more races, and 6.3 percent Latino persons. In other words, I live in a very white-washed area. It is also a very liberal/progressive area. These two realities combine to create not only a space where subtle racism persists through unconscious or internalized bias, but where many attempts to address this sort of subtle racism are met with offended denial — because we are progressive, racially conscious liberals. We would not do things like be racist or engage in cultural appropriation.

    During the course of this quarter, I have dealt with an internal struggle. How do I, as a white ally, help make this classroom a safer space? There are so many angry white voices in these classroom discussions. Despite the fact that people of color make up half the classroom demographic, their voices make up only a tenth of the discussion. They are drowned out by white allies arguing with white deniers.
    As a white ally in a classroom of voices silencing and speaking over the people of color, is it my place to speak up and against the systems of oppression and racism, or is it my place to be quiet and try to provide a place for voices of color to step forward? How can my silence achieve anything when more white voices step into my silence? How can I make a supportive space for voices of color, and how can I encourage my professors to make such a space?

    This post I am reblogging offers me hope. It offers some solutions. Ultimately, it’s up to my professors to navigate this classroom dynamic, but at this point it feels very much as though the hurt feelings of the white people in the room are being considered more that the people of color.

    • I feel that if you would like to provide equal sharing of your participants then a few (no more than 3 if its like more than 20 people) very effective questions presented from the beginning and like a “one mic” time limit (2min?), along with reiterating maybe some already discussed and understood group guidelines then that could be helpful in keeping the discussion channeled as a Facilitator and provide the opportunity reach out to unheard voices. And as a somewhat culturally diverse black female I can assure you that I’m just as concerned about the perpetuation of this systemic virus by people of color who I feel should be more aware, pro-active and unified as well as establishing some stronger foundations as communities and families. Its not just white people. Its people who do not think, know or pay attention to big pictures and conceptsj or history.. And at the end of the day its about Accountability. “To whom much is given, much is required”. And so I agree with the whites addressing it with other whites and blacks addressing it with other blacks (if there are progressive thinkers or articulate feelers) and then coming together after that in a second series or half. Just my thoughts, I hope they are helpful from how I would enjoy these series.

    • And I also would like to point out that could it be possible that our method of integration did not allow the proper emotional and intellectual adjustment necessary to create equal playing fields or some type of awareness of equal rights, existence, valur etc… just because a court case changes a situation doesn’t mean that those involved are prepared to deal or handle the truth. So approach and follow-through is everything when dealing with emotional and impressionable beings.

    • You could, instead of speaking up with your own opinion or thought, speak up and say, “I’d like to hear what Shanicqua, Takashi, and Tyrone think about that.” I made up names – the point is to user your platform, when you get called on to speak in class, to create a forum for them to speak up and be heard. White people arguing with each other has some value, but it’s not going to have nearly as much impact as making sure the “poc” as you put it are heard. When white people hear the details of “poc” life, what it’s really like right now to live as a poc in the U.S., that’s when the barriers in their minds against change start to break down. That’s how we’ve made progress against homophobia – getting to know some gay people, basically. Here’s another suggestion: a way to subtly shift the conversation dynamic. When a poc speaks up in class about another viewpoint than what the white folk are arguing about, after they’ve done that throw in your 2 cents and start with, “I agree with…” and then offer your point. Deliberately take the supporting role and make them front and center.

      Also keep in mind that you can’t always tell who is a poc and who isn’t. “Ethnicity” isn’t nearly as hard and fast or clearly defined and some people like to think it is. When I saw photos of George Zimmerman, he looked more hispanic than white to my ignorant eyes, but he definitely acted like he thought he was the white man delivering vigilante justice to the black punk getting away with something, so what I think his “ethnicity” is by looking at him, does not, in the end, matter.

      Good luck! Don’t give up. You’re asking good question. Ask the “poc” students what they think. You will learn a lot.

      • To Jennifer– that can be problematic too, though. It’s possible the person doesn’t want to speak, and explicitly asking one person be the “spokesperson” for an entire group is no good.

        Another option, in response to Mephistia’s original question, is to “name” what you see happening, point out the dynamic in an attempt to get everyone thinking critically about it. It’s not a magic key, but there is no magic key. Just a few thoughts.

      • I agree with Guante – often when people with experience are not engaging, it’s an intentional decision. Recently in a class I was taking, a classmate made some really offensive and hurtful comments about low-income mothers: of which I am one. The conversation that it spurred with the rest of my classmates was also incredibly insensitive. I spent much of the class period silently trying to maintain my composure and keep from crying or just getting up and leaving the room, then emailed my professor later that evening to ask her to speak with the classmate in question because the issue felt too personal for me to get into an argument with a near-stranger about. If one of my classmates had piped up and said “Hey, you have a kid and you’re broke, what do you think?” I would have absolutely lost it. I’ve spoken pretty candidly about both of those things in the past, but there was no way I was going to open up about it in an aggressive situation. Racism is deeply painful and personal for lots of people of color and they need to be allowed to make their own decisions about when it feels safe to speak about it.

  30. I do not accept your premise.

    Because you cannot blame “people of color” (read: anyone considered by you to be not white), you have to find some other reason. “White privilege” is the new explanation. Explanation of what, exactly?

    After the elimination of chattel slavery (in a war fought by white Northerners – not that I have to remind you or Miss McKenzie); repeal of de jure segregation; the enactment of civil rights laws; more than 40 years of Great Society programs, race preferences in academia and employment, the effective destruction of the Ku Klux Klan – you should be attacking your own racism that instructs you (and apparently that of Miss McKenzie) to believe that black people (or “people of color”) are not moral agents, capable of making decisions and accepting responsibility for both their behavior and its consequences, and are somehow prevented in doing so by that amorphous mass of generic white people.

    If you’re going to tar “white people” with having “white privilege”, you will have to then admit to the inference of “black privilege” or “people of color privilege” immunity from any criticism of their behavior. That, Mr. Myhre, is fundamentally racist, as it infantilizes and absolves non-whites of responsibility for their behavior.

    Fun Fact: if you’re going to quote from a blog, you’d better see if they are consistent in their “non-racist” beliefs:

    “A few weeks ago, the South Asian cultural organization at my school hosted a party with our campus Israel Alliance with no mention or regard for the Palestinian struggle against the colonial Israeli state. That shit is unacceptable—if we’re able to engage with our cultures or anyone else’s with no mention of politics it’s symptomatic of gross levels of privilege. Seems it’s time to be more direct.”
    (I’m the ‘Safe Kind of Brown’: Challenging the Assimilation of the South Asian Diaspora, posted June 20, 2013, by “Janani”.)

    The “colonial Israeli state”. Seriously?

    I exercise my white male privilege by climbing telephone poles at 20 below zero. How do you exercise your – somewhat – white privilege?

    • You think institutional racism is a “premise” and refuse to accept it as truth. Since this essay is for people who know that institutional racism still exists today, you’re not ready have a real conversation about Guante’s essay.

      Have a great day exercising your white privilege. Be safe climbing up that telephone pole.

    • The obvious fact that people of color have moral agency does not detract at all from the notion that there are systems of privilege and oppression that affect people of color in more nefarious ways than other groupings.

      Furthermore, your post is a case-in-point for the argument that white people’s feelings disrupt social justice initiatives by taking away focus from actual issues in favor of listening to white people blabber on about how hard it is to be white.

      Fun fact: if want to pose as a white supremacist intellectual, then you should make sure that your racism is at least topical.

      • Madison wrote:

        “You think institutional racism is a “premise” and refuse to accept it as truth.”

        When Mr. Myhre, you, or anyone makes an assertion, it is their burden to prove their assertion – in this case, it is “institutional racism”. I reserve the right to ask the author or any participant in the argument for proof of such an assertion.

        “Since this essay is for people who know that institutional racism still exists today, you’re not ready have a real conversation about Guante’s essay.”

        Mr. Myhre posted this on an open blog site on the public internet, and the blog owners are allowing the public to comment. If the blog owners wanted to restrict viewing to only identity multiculturalists they would have done so. Either the author of the commentary or the editor has allowed my counterargument to be heard, so if this offends you, take it up with them.

        Note the condescension: that I am “not ready” to speak about this issue, as if I, one of the Benighted, cannot be deemed worthy enough to be able to express an opinion, or to be recognized. This is overtly exclusionary and is contrary to what I understand about the alleged tolerance of the multiculturalist left.

        “Have a great day exercising your white privilege. Be safe climbing up that telephone pole..”

        You didn’t get the irony. No matter: I use a body belt, strap the ladder, and check for AC induction. Got it covered.

        Almut Weidenprinzessin wrote:

        “…you are probably too deep in white supremacist propaganda to get any of this.”

        Rhetoric. Adds nothing to the discussion or your credibility.

        chikkenbacon wrote:

        “…there are systems of privilege and oppression that affect people of color in more nefarious ways than other groupings.”

        Which “people of color”? American blacks, Hispanics, Chinese, Japanese, Uyghurs, Marsh Arabs, Hutus? Which systems of privilege and oppression? In which countries? In which context? Perpetrated by whom?

        “Furthermore, your post is a case-in-point for the argument that white people’s feelings disrupt social justice initiatives by taking away focus from actual issues in favor of listening to white people blabber on about how hard it is to be white.”

        I expressed an opinion, a counterargument addressing Mr. Myhre’s assertions. If you believe that I am disrupting your racial utopia, I do not sympathize, and I will certainly not shut up, which is your implication. Your claim that I “blabber on about how hard it is to be white” is a straw man.

        “…if want to pose as a white supremacist intellectual…”

        Ad hominem attack. Useless.

        Not one of my counter arguments were addressed by these three respondents. Not one.

    • I stand by my point that you aren’t ready to talk about Guante’s essay, in which he asks, “When the conversation has such a laser focus around educating white people and carrying their emotional baggage, what potential voices, perspectives or frameworks are missing?” And yet, this is what we’re doing in the comments section of this very essay, educating you, because you won’t do your homework. The passing of the civil rights acts and the other events that you named did not magically result in equity for everybody. There are tons of books and websites where you can learn about why the work isn’t done yet.

      I’m guessing that’s why Guante commented that no one here “owes” you a response. Here, let me try to be more inclusive today, lest you think even worse of us on the “multiculturalist left”! In your words, “black people (or “people of color”) are not moral agents, capable of making decisions and accepting responsibility for both their behavior and its consequences, and are somehow prevented in doing so by that amorphous mass of generic white people.”

      This sounds like you believe that white privilege doesn’t exist because there are working class white people in this country, such as yourself. Here’s the thing – white privilege doesn’t mean that every single white person has it easy. It’s not an amorphous mass of generic white people that is the barrier. The barriers are the actual systems and institutional structures in place that disproportionately harm people of color in this country and prevent them from having the same chances that white people do. In general. There are always going to be some individual exceptions to the rule.

      There are lots of resources out there that talk about examples of institutional racism. This article from the Washington Post has links to several examples, including voter disenfranchisement, gun violence, housing and predatory lending, mass incarceration, etc.:

      • Madison wrote:

        “…this is what we’re doing in the comments section of this very essay, educating you, because you won’t do your homework.”

        This is condescension. Your reason for existence is to “educate” white people, regardless of ethnicity, because we are the uneducated, unknowing of the Truth and aware of our inborn guilt – regardless of Mr. Tran Myhre’s admonition to find “what potential voices, perspectives or frameworks are missing”.

        Here I am. I’m one of those “voices, perspectives” that’s missing from your world, and this poses a real challenge to you and the other – for the lack of a better description – identity multiculturalists.

        After the author advised me that I didn’t understand his post and that I was off topic, I asked a friend if she would read his column and let me know what, if anything, I missed. I’m happy to report I’m not the only one that’s confused. She reported that she “read through it twice and still don’t get what [he was] trying to say”.

        Madison wrote:

        “In your words, “black people (or “people of color”) are not moral agents…”

        On the contrary, I stated that *you* “should be attacking your own racism that instructs you (and apparently that of Miss McKenzie) to believe that black people (or “people of color”) are not moral agents…” I however, believe that black people *are* moral agents capable of accepting responsibility for their behavior.

        You stand corrected.

        Madison wrote:

        “There are lots of resources out there that talk about examples of institutional racism…”

        Barack Hussein Obama, President of the United States; Eric Holder, Attorney General of the United States; Clarence Thomas, Justice of the United States Supreme Court; Condeleeza Rice, (former) Secretary of State of the United States; General Colin Powell (retired), former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and (former) Secretary of State.

        When I think of an institutionally racist country, I think of National Socialist Germany. The United States, Madison, is obviously *not* an institutionally racist country.

    • Seriously, you think the statement ”colonial Israeli state” is ridiculous? What do you call the mass displacement of millions of Palestinians and the expropriation of their land? The ongoing destruction of Palestinian villages (sometimes the same village, multiple times) to make way for Jewish-only Israeli settlements? Israel is absolutely a colonial, apartheid state. Watch this movie, please. No, but seriously, watch it. It’s a good film and also comes from a standpoint that recognizes Jewish people have had to deal with enormous atrocities in the past and looks at the complex ways that feeds into the creation and continuation of the state of Israel.

      Your privilege as a white man has nothing to do with the fact that you climb telephone polls in 20 below zero. You probably work really hard and have had to deal with a lot of shit and potentially real hardship in your life. Just because you have white privilege or male privilege doesn’t mean you have absolute privilege or that you’re a bad guy or that whatever hardship you’ve dealt with is somehow illegitimate. It’s totally legitimate. But, having white male privilege means that you probably don’t have to deal with racism and sexism and the things that come with that. Do you walk down the street at night with the fear of being raped? Are you more likely to be hassled by the cops because of the colour of your skin?

  31. Um, did you write this on “opposite day?” This has to be satire. If not, wow you are delusional. It’s so racist too. Actually this is the advice I would give to many black people I know, not white: “Read books. Listen. Suppress the urge to always get DEFENSIVE about everything. Never rely on someone else to do the emotional dirty work for you, or hold your hand while you do it.” Your words, just wrong context. It is the black community that brings up race constantly, day to day, it’s on your minds.. not on the minds of the white community. Be colorblind man! Your man up speech was great but you are dead wrong on, what do you call it?.. whiteness? Just, wow.

    • Egads, you are absolutely right. It’s not on the minds of the white community, because as long as you can be colorblind, you don’t have to acknowledge how you benefit from your whiteness.

      Here, I’m helping you out and giving you some stuff to read. You’re welcome! Enjoy!

    • Colourblindness is a luxury only the racially privileged can afford, and not something extended to non-whites. It’s also largely a myth predicated on the cognitive dissonance of white people who claim liberal and progressive views (and may even believe this honestly) yet due to the blinkers of privilege, are entirely incapable of understanding, let alone participating in the discourse of identity politics. Racism (among many other bad -isms) is rooted in its incontrovertible historicity and is also largely experiential: you need to have actually experienced it in the same way, in the same context, with the exact same power dynamic and differential… oh, screw it, just watch this:

      • I’m replying here because the feed didn’t offer the ability to reply above (where you replied to my comment.) I wanted to say thank you for taking the time to explain your point of view to me. I’m still digesting a lot of what it written here.

        One thing you said above, was that there are tons of spaces where white people can discuss these issues, but I’m not sure that is true. Maybe I’m just not looking in the right places, but I haven’t been able to find a lot of places online or otherwise where ONLY white people are having these conversations.

        When I googled “white skin privilege” and “racism”, the top links seemed to be POC spaces. So…. top links…. I went there.

        I’d also like to suggest a book for all of us, regardless of our level of privilege (a word that I’m still not sure I think is useful – when I switch it from white privilege to male privilege (being female) I still shy away from it because it seems counterproductive to the ultimate goal of equality) – the book is Being Wrong; Adventures In The Margin Of Error… I suggest it, because I’ve learned a lot about my own tendencies to dig in my heels when accused of being wrong on any level…. The book is about the science of changing hears and minds– and by extension – behaviors.

        Although I don’t agree with all of the theories in play here, I do, deeply, care about creating a radically egalitarian world for all beings.

        Seems like if we can agree on the destination to start with, we might all be easier on each other in our discussions of how to get there.

        Thanks again for taking the time to discuss.


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