April 08, 2007

Poor, helpless white people

The helplessness of white people

The problem:Recently I attended a workshop about race and racism primarily attended by white people. And I was really struck by the expressions of helplessness with regard to dealing with racism: “We can’t do it by ourselves,” “We need people of color to help us,” “How can we make friends with people of color who can help us?” “We have no way of understanding race and racism.”

It was stunning to hear a bunch of well-educated people make so many statements about their inability to deal with the subject on their own. And it occurred to me that racism is still portrayed as the problem of people of color, to be solved by people of color. If white people are to work on anti-racism, we must carry them on our backs. Then we are expected to be grateful that they did any work at all. Yet this replicates long-held patterns of privileged behavior and denies primary responsibility.
The solution:Why don’t white people have the responsibility to educate other white people about racism? White people are also able to confer visibility on problems of racism in a way that people of color often can’t. Nothing says “objective, rational opinion” like the voice of a white person. If you have privilege, use your privilege to your advantage. Yeah, this is going to be painful and uncomfortable. What do you think being the recipient of racism feels like? And you’re afraid to speak against it? It would be better if people of color simply suffered it quietly?Comment:  Educating other white people about racism is just what I'm doing, thanks.

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