I am a white male. I grew up in the suburbs, went to Catholic school for almost all of my primary/secondary educational career. As such I eat, sleep, and breathe white privilege. I walk and talk white privilege. I ooze white privilege out of every pore of my being. This should sit me down and shut me up in any discussion of race relations, as I have no possible way of identifying with the struggles faced by other minorities and specifically African-Americans.
But I am a blogger. As such it is part and parcel of my vocation in life to offer my unsolicited opinion on subjects about which I know nothing and about which I would be well-served to just shut the hell up.
Here is what I would like to say:
Once upon a time the accepted method of argumentation, specifically in the college classroom, was “I believe A, and here are my reasons.” But things have changed and now the accepted method of argumentation is “I am X, and as such it offends me that you claim B.” This was starting to happen in many places back when I was in college. Now it is all over the place.
Ironically, those of different races who use this method of argumentation undercut the very understanding that they seek, or claim to seek at least. It is as if they are saying “I need you to understand me. But you can’t understand me.” Faced with that, many just walk away and abandon the project before they even start.
As stated above, I eat, sleep, and breathe white privilege. I ooze white privilege out of every pore of my being. This blinds me to an awful lot. I get that.
White privilege is real. For too long the white narrative has been the dominant one in our culture, and it has shaped our culture such that there are many opportunities open to me that are just not open to those who are not white like me. I get that.
But is it really true that I have nothing whatsoever to say, nothing of value whatsoever to offer a trans woman in Sri Lanka? Or a black man on the southside of town? Does the color of our skin really preclude the possibility of speaking to anyone outside of our own race and life circumstances and whatever other categories we have been assigned, or have assigned ourselves? If that’s all there is then hey, let’s all live atomized and balkanized in our own separate worlds where we can understand others and be understood by them.
This is one of the great lies of modernity, that there can be no understanding outside of whatever racial/social/cultural niche we inhabit. That our race, our socioeconomic status, our gender, our sexual orientation, our disability or lack thereof, or any other such characteristic that you care to mention, define us so completely and totally that our capacity to understand and be understood is limited to those who are exactly like us and there is no possibility of understanding or being understood by anyone who looks different.
Am I truly defined by the white privilege that oozes out of every pore of my being? I refuse to accept that, and I think you all know better as well. The most important things we can possibly know about people, we learn by living in community with them. By seeing how they respond to adversity, by learning who are the greatest influences and what are the defining experiences in their lives, by seeing how all these things shape their character and form their deepest values. These are the deepest and most important things we can know about others, and they are not determined by the color of one’s skin.