Monday, 20 June 2011

on white privilege

there is something that has been bothering me about some of the things that were happening on the blog last week. i've left posting about it because i thought an apology from me was much more important, but i don't want to leave it unsaid.

this post is not an attack on any particular person, because i felt that there have been several people who have made this mistake, and not just in the last week. let me spell out the problem clearly: i think it's unacceptable to generically criticise all the writers of this blog (or the blog as a whole) as having white privilege. let me tell you why it's wrong: i am not white.

so when you accuse the group of having white privilege (or imply such), or being a bunch of white feminists, there are three possibilities:

1. you haven't even considered the possibility that one or more of us aren't white. that's plainly racist, regardless of what race you might be.
2. you have considered the possibility but couldn't be bothered to take the trouble to find out (by asking, for example), what is the make-up of our team here. that's still racist, but it's also lazy.
3. you actually know that not all of us are white, but you don't care, you're going to ignore that and label us anyways. that is quite plainly racist, with a huge degree of extra nastiness piled on top.

there is another aspect. if you're a white person criticising the writers of this blog (as a collective) for having white privilege, when the issue you're taking up with them doesn't even involve race, that is damaging to people of colour. what you are doing is appropriating the arguments of racism, the arguments needed by people of colour to fight institutionalised inequality, and misusing them. in effect, you devalue those arguments.

if you, as a white person, are going to accuse another white person of white privilege, please at least make sure that you are talking about issues of race. don't just use it as another tool to bludgeon people with, to try to add more weight to the thing that you are actually upset about. when you do that, you are not being an ally to people of colour. if that's not important to you, then you shouldn't be talking about white privilege at all.

now, many of the writers at this blog are white. and there are times when they may clearly show their white privilege. i'm not saying that you shouldn't point that out when it happens. i know that i will. but at least then, you will be dealing with a specific issue of racism, and you will be directing it towards the person concerned, and not randomly lashing out at everyone who writes here.

that is all.


Scar said...

By the same token, Stargazer, I was disconcerted when you used "Brown Woman's Tears" on your blog in relation to QoT pointing out that the "White Woman's Tears" derailment was basically what George was doing in that infamous thread - except that in this instance, it was "Cis Womans Tears".

Why you needed to turn "Cis Woman's Tears" into "Brown Woman's Tears" I cannot quite fathom. I feel that it does relate to this part of your post though:

if you, as a white person, are going to accuse another white person of white privilege, please at least make sure that you are talking about issues of race

Not exactly the same; in this instance, you erased the fact that the issue was actually about transgender people by inserting your skin colour instead of acknowledging your cis privilege.

That being said, I've been wanting to write a blog post about my white privilege for a while now, so thanks for the timely reminder :-)

stargazer said...

well, i guess it didn't occur to me to write "cis-women's tears" (yes, privilege again) and it would have been silly to to write "white women's tears" so i changed it to the identity i felt closest to at that moment. i totally accept what you say on that point.

on your second point i'm going to disgree. racism isn't excusable just because we're talking about a trans* issues, and i did feel the need to make that clear. i can't ignore it or pretend it didn't happen. if you feel it took attention away from the main point, then i'm sorry about that but i really think it was important to speak.

looking forward to your post.

Julie said...

I've started a comment on this several times and not quite got there. So I may stuff this one up, but it seems better than saying nothing at all and looking like I haven't even read it and thought about it.

Anjum, I appreciate you writing this.

I'm not sure there is a hierarchy of privilege/lack of privilege. It's all so dependent on circumstances, and factors we simply can't know from online interactions. E.g. for someone in a Pakeha-dominated country clearly there is white privilege, and probably most of us writing and reading here could see that and agree. But if a Pakeha goes to China do they still have white privilege? Probably some form of it, but it might manifest quite differently and there might be a whole other form of privilege that accrues to being Chinese in China that more closely mirrors the privilege of those who are Pakeha in NZ.

Anjum raises the issue here of racism and assumptions, and being erased from a blog that is as much her space as any other writers here when people broadly refer to the bloggers here as "white". I think that's worth at least a little consideration.

In terms of the issue of cis privilege which is not really the topic of this post, I have a question I'm going to pose to you over at your own place Scar, would be really interested in your thoughts.

stargazer said...

thanx for your comment julie & i appreciate that it's a difficult issue to deal with.

re your question about a white person in china - actually you probably still will have white privilege. it's a result of cultural dominance, particularly in the global age & the international presumption, even in developing countries, that "west is best". that the seat of innovation and prosperity lies in the west. which is not to say that in places some people might look down at you for being white, but my experience is that the opposite is true.

let me give a couple of examples. i remember travelling on air india many years (i'm talking a couple of decades), and it was quite clear that the white passengers were getting a different and better level of service than the indian passengers, even though the airline staff were indian. in the middle east, if you hold an american or british passport, you will get preferential treatment for a whole range of things than if you hold an asian or african one.

let me reiterate what i said: this is not universal and i know that anecdote doesn't equal data. i know there are groups of people that are vehemently anti-western, for example. but chances are that they will know a lot more about your culture than you know about theirs, that they will speak more of your language than you speak of theirs.

i completely agree with you that there is no hierarchy of privilege - i hope nothing i said in the post or comment above implied that.

Brett Dale said...

The same thing can be said about good looking people, they get better service on airlines, restaurants, retail stores and life in general.

Its all about that guy.

stargazer said...

you know brett, i'm tired of your whole "racism doesn't even exist" schtick & i'm not prepared to tolerate it on this thread. so kindly go somewhere else to have that discussion.

Maia said...

Hey I just wanted to say that I really appreciate this post.

I'm sad, but not surprised, that you haven't had more of a response (and the responses you have had haven't really been engaging with what you said).

I was watching the difference between your apology thread and Julie's - and I don't think it's suprising that she got more support and engagement than you did. I do think it's a shame.

I'm really glad that you post here - I know that you face particular kinds of hatred that I do not.

stargazer said...

thanx maia, i really appreciate your support. i'd also like to thank the people who have emailed me with positive comments.

DPF:TLDR said...

I've got to agree with you on the white-privilege-outside-the-white-world Stargazer. All the time I've spent in non-white countries I've definitely felt a sense of privilege over the inhabitants even in countries where the average wage is higher than it is in New Zealand! People who try to equate their experience as a pakeha in Asia or the Middle East to those of a Maori or Muslim person in New Zealand just don't get it. It's not that being white in a non-white culture isn't difficult but those difficulties don't come from racism, just unfamiliarity.

(And re: what you said about people with anti-western attitudes, 90% of the time those attitudes aren't racism but perfectly rational scepticism about imperialism and colonialism, and anyway, those people are almost never in a position of power over any white people).