This article is a rebuttal to another article, In Defense of the Term “White Privilege” by our Editor Ryan Lindsey, which can be viewed here.
Unless you’re an unfeeling bowl of oatmeal living under a rock, you probably feel somewhat strongly one way or the other about this issue already. For the sake of creating a new perspective, allow me to make a comparison that is far less upsetting.
Think of a phenomenon like the water going higher up on the beach at night. You could say the tides are rising. Or you could say the land is sinking. While both attempt to identify a true event, only one of these statements is true; the tides are rising, the land is not sinking.
As a casual observer, the error might not matter as one strolled by on the shore. But let’s say you were building a harbor. If you believed the land was sinking, you might create your docks so that they rose when the land sank. Of course, you would realize your mistake when your docks would submerge, elevate, and break. If your docks were built to compensate rising water, your calculations would be affirmed and the ships there would anchor properly.
This is where the term “White Privilege” goes astray. It is inaccurate verbiage. By definition, privilege is “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.” The allegation when using the word is that white people have rights they should not have. It is specifically stating that minorities don’t need more rights, advantages, or immunities, but that white people need less.
It is vital to note that the term is attempting to describe a reality in America. White people are treated as humans much of the time. Racial minorities are treated as sub-humans and tokens much of the time. White privilege is a good attempt to say what’s wrong, but it’s time to update the language to convey what is actually occurring. At one time, thinking the sun revolved around the earth was good enough for simple farm work, but as we extend our grasp into the cosmos, it becomes necessary to let go of old views and exchange them for better ones. If we care to grasp the facts of the universe so that we can navigate nature more accurately, we must trade out the old observations for the new ones. We appropriately forgive a child’s mispronunciations for a while, but at a certain age, there comes a time to issue corrections. America is well past that deadline.
Much like our doomed harbor, “White Privilege” has had some very practical failures due to bad analysis. If the intent was to fill a critical vacuum with crusaders seeking to give minorities the same rights as white people, it has failed miserably. The term has become weaponized by corporate media and elitist censors to silence dissenting opinions from white people. The focus has become how they should have to deal with these same atrocities that the marginalized members of society deal with daily before being permitted to speak. In more radical circles, it is a phrase used to ask how they should be forced to pay some kind of compulsory penalty for the crimes of their ancestors and the color of their skin.
Indeed, it becomes “reverse racism.” Or, other other words, just racism. And it flies in the face of history. Various kinds of restitution have been paid in this country and it has not even moderately alleviated our situation. No amount of monetary or hedonist benefit can replace a destroyed culture, a pillaged history, and a decimated community. We must move the crosshairs off of rights that white people have and onto the rights that others do not have. The goal isn’t to live in a country where white joggers and black joggers are gunned down equally. It is to have no joggers gunned down. And this is a terrain “White Privilege” cannot traverse. It is ill-equipped because it is ill-conceived.
Sometimes actual racists are angered by the phrase. I have absolutely no sympathy for them. But it also angers potential allies. Creating discomfort for people who agree with you or who are open to your message is a bad method of advancing the goal of equality. Using an inaccurate term that brings white people down is not just bad literary technique, it’s a terrible tactic. You lose people that want to see minorities prosper on equal footing.
Yes, some people are needlessly worried that the greater movement is trying to gain ground by tearing down the existence of white people and shaming them. This is something I personally witnessed in debates and on college campuses. Those rogue voices silencing me for my skin color did not feel like a simple minority assault at the time. It wasn’t until I got much older when I realized the loudest voices weren’t representative of all of the voices. But I was an enemy of equality for much longer than I should have because the elitist “White Privilege” goons marked me as an enemy ripe for deserving guilt.
It’s easy to make fun of my discomfort; it’s nowhere close to the oppression a minority person experiences in either magnitude or frequency. But isn’t the point to end oppression and not to shift it? I was an awfully open-minded person searching for answers to this problem and “White Privilege” scared me off. If it scared away someone like me, how many other alliances does it also sever?
Those who use the words “White Privilege” have every right to do so. A person who has been attacked can employ any means necessary for self-defense. I refuse to blame the victims for choosing a few arbitrary words incorrectly. We should be able to see past this mistake and recognize the need to aid in the defense; fixing the problem instead of overreacting to an innocent blunder in language (a blunder that fixing the problem will render negligible). We should bring all people up to a point where we all have maximum rights. But if we want to be successful in this self-defense, it’s time to cast the concept of “White Privilege” aside so we can begin to repair the bridges that it burned down.