It seems that there is not a day that goes by that I don’t encounter another clueless white women defending her response to a racial incident. The latest concerned the stunning ad by H&M showing a young black boy wearing a green sweatshirt that said “coolest monkey in the jungle.” This particular women (in a Facebook group) proclaimed how wrong it was and then tagged a friend so he could buy them for his little boys because he called them ‘monkeys.’
Words never fail me, but my nice button does as I find it sometimes helps to just call it as I see it and in this case ‘racist asshole’ would have sufficed.
But I took the time and pointed out that her response was evidence of her un-examined privilege. Of course she protested and didn’t see the harm in having her friend buy them…She defended her motives by saying that she could legitimately call the ad out while she suggested someone else buy the very same sweatshirt from the H&M. Having the company benefit from a racist ad didn’t bother her at all. When pressed, she defended her position by citing all the wonderful things she did for people of color, especially kids. You know the, but I can’t be racist because I have a Black friend, kind of thinking.
Ah, the privilege that liberals enjoy. They pound their chests with their good works and extol their virtuous opinions. Rarely do they take the time to listen to people of color. Rarely do they do the work that needs to be done to understand the undeniable privilege that every white person lives with in this society. Explanations abound about how they aren’t privileged because they don’t have lots of money or the, ”but I didn’t have it easy growing up.” They whine about the hardship their kids face when getting into college.
In another Facebook group a I recently read a post from a white woman who was complaining about her son not getting into certain colleges suggesting that it would be easier if he had a a “sob” story to tell or if he were “ethnic.” Admittedly, many of the women picked up on the racist diatribe and were appalled. Many others however completely ignored the embedded white privileged attitude it demonstrated and merely gave her suggestions on how he could up his game in order to get into college.
Yesterday, I read a conversation in another group where a moderator made it clear that those who weren’t willing to listen, to examine and speak to their privilege weren’t welcome. She was a Black women and was adamant that it wouldn’t be tolerated. I sat outside of the conversation and watched as several women took exception as to being told what to do. They didn’t want to learn.
They didn’t want to truly grasp the consequences of being white, the difference that it makes to have your life devalued in a society that constantly, consistently embraces it whiteness at the expense of Black lives.
No one was going to tell them to be quiet. No one. It was the epitome of white privilege at work. These women weren’t and aren’t allies. They claim to be liberal, their hearts bleed for the disadvantaged and they honestly believe that they aren’t racist. And while they aren’t the garden variety Trump racist, they are racist in ways that are much more subtle, and much more difficult to admit. It is the same racist essence that pervades our institutions, our educational systems that steadfastly remain oppressive to people of color.
It isn’t hyperbole. It is a demonstrable fact that the fabric of this nation, one built on the backs of Black people is actively harming Black Americans at every station of life. For instance, young Black girls are suspended at a much higher rate than their white peers in all 50 states for no reason than they are Black. Do white mothers and fathers have to worry about their child being deprived of a safe and positive educational environment just because of the color of their skin? No.
To not acknowledge that people of color experience an entirely different America than white people means you don’t know our history.
It means that you are blind to the historical damage of slavery and its consequences that are still being played on our streets and institutions every day.
It means that you don’t know of the doll study where little Black children as young as five already knew that the black dolls were bad and the white ones good. It means that you don’t know the fear that Black parents feel each and every day as their child goes out into the world. They have to live with a very real threat that you will never know - unless of course you love a Black person. They know that their lives aren’t valued by too many police officers and our justice system. To be out in the world means to be vulnerable to hate in a very real ways. It is the price one pays for not being white.
For those, like Bernie Sanders who suggest that economic equality will address racism, they too are clueless. Money is not the great equalizer. It just feels better, but the risk remains. And for those that suggest that the Democrats should extend their hand to disenfranchised white voters I say this. Time and time again Black people have shown us the way. They gave us Barack Obama. The voted for Hillary Clinton. They just elected Doug Jones in Alabama. Who did we give this nation? Donald Trump.
It is time to stop being afraid to deny white people their rights to their bigotry and to start listening, supporting and advancing the voices of Black people. It’s their turn.
Jan Harrison is co-founder of Garnet News and founder of Aliiez.com