Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Tim Wise on White Privilege


Assumptions I encounter among white folks like me

1. We know best. When we fight for justice, for, say, animal rights, we are quick to condemn those other human cultures (you know, the ones we have colonized and are exploiting and destroying) because they, allegedly, "don't get it" that animals are not inferior to us. Never mind that this view doesn't inhere in Western Philosophy, in our Civilizations at all. Our religions, laws, and customs place men above women, (some) humans above animals, (some) men above the Earth, as a ruler, as a dominator. Never mind that most white folks, disproportionately men, are or have been barbarians and savages (currently often by proxy). Never mind that any notions of animals being like us, not being inferior, being spirited and sentient, comes from the cultures we oppress, not from our own.

2. We behave, without acknowledging it as reprehensible and wrong, as if white folks were adults, and people of color are children. We will actually argue (not in so many words, necessarily) that because some people of color participate in the systems which disproportionately harm them and benefit us, that they are not equipped to lead a struggle against oppression.

3. We actually believe that because not all Indigenous cultures were/are [fill in the blank: respectful of women, respectful of animals, peaceful, sustainable] that we ought to decide who owns the land, as if it is ethically ours to begin with. (It isn't: we stole it, and ought to give it back "without reservation.")

4. We think we are the experts on everything that isn't about us, while being profoundly ignorant about how and what we do that is so harmful and oppressive to others. We call our oppression of others "good", "moral", and "right".

5. We don't think we are raced: we actually believe that "those people" are a race of some kind, and we are, well, just people. We refuse to acknowledge that in any social space, we are white supremacists. Whether we behave like white supremacists has a lot to do with what we recognize in ourselves as racist actions. There are exceptions to this belief: white liberals think we are white, but that race should just be invisible, meaning we should all act like white people. White Nationalists do believe in a white race, and that it is in danger, or must be "pure" as if that was ever the case, or as if creating "purity" involves anything other than bigotry and violence against people of color. White Nationalists, the ones I've heard speak out, believe that race is natural, inevitable, not political and cultural. White Nationalists believe in genocide against non-white people, even if they don't promote it publicly. Such white folks, it may be concluded, aim to be purely evil.

6. We argue there is such as thing as "reverse racism" and reverse ethnic bigotry. We carry around a ridiculous belief that we either have been living in, do live in, or will soon be living in, an Indigenist Supremacist, Asian Supremacist, Latina/o Supremacist, Arab Supremacist, Jewish Supremacist, Muslim Supremacist, or Black Supremacist society. Never mind who still controls every political institution and economy in this country and other white-dominated countries. (The answer is white Christian men.)