Dealing with that "white privilege" conversation with humor

One of the things that many right-wing Americans are fond of saying, and there are variations in the wording, is that there are a bunch of “professional black people” stirring up trouble between black and white people. By “professional black people,” I don’t mean black people who are doctors and lawyers and the like. Rather, their profession is BEING a black person. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are ALWAYS cited, and Barack HUSSEIN Obama has been recently added to the mix.

The general narrative is that, racially, things are FINE in America, that we have a post-racial society. I mean, we have a President who’s black! What more proof does one need? Well, none for the Supreme Court, which decides to gut the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action.

Every suggestion that things are NOT hunky dory has a pushback. Difference in unemployment, wealth and health care? That’s black laziness, and it’s self-victimization to even discuss it. Trayvon Martin’s shooting? He was a thug. Etc, etc.

In the last forty or fifty years, I’ve been to a number of talks, workshops, etc., in which the notion of “white privilege” shows up, and almost invariably, the air goes out of the room. White privilege, the Wikipedia says, “refers to the set of alleged societal privileges that white people benefit from beyond those commonly experienced by people of color in the same social, political, or economic spaces (nation, community, workplace, income, etc.). The term denotes both obvious and less obvious unspoken advantages that white individuals may not recognize they have, which distinguishes it from overt bias or prejudice. These include cultural affirmations of one’s own worth; greater presumed social status; and freedom to move, buy, work, play, and speak freely. The concept of white privilege also implies the right to assume the universality of one’s own experiences, marking others as different or exceptional while perceiving oneself as normal.” You can find a whole category on the topic in the Huffington Post.

The reason it sucks the air out of a room, particularly early on, is that it has led to either a rejection of the notion altogether or a wallowing of white guilt with nowhere to go with that. Here’s a decent list about privilege (and no, it’s not just racial).

A popular trope out there is that the (non-monolithic) black community, or Muslim community, is need of Rising Up and Keeping Its Folks in Line. Even black people, such as Bill Cosby, say it. But the great thing about white privilege is that no one would be ridiculous enough to say that about white people.

Until now.

If you’ve heard too much about the “pathology” of black people, you might appreciate Cord Jefferson of showing this Video of Violent, Rioting Surfers Shows White Culture of Lawlessness. But it was astonishing when Jefferson is interviewed on an episode of All In With Chris Hayes on MSNBC to discuss that video. They play it straight, like any other “talking heads” interview on the news programs. It works on multiple levels for me.

These are examples of showing, in a satirical way, how white privilege is so ingrained. As Hayes points out at the end, if you had substituted “black” for “white”, it would sound like normal American media chitchat.

Related: I was touched by this story: I have experienced what it is like to be a “sort-of white” person because of my racial background, my upbringing, and the way I look.

9 thoughts on “Dealing with that "white privilege" conversation with humor”

  1. The thing that bothers me about older white men talking about how racism doesn’t exist is that they can’t even conceive of it. Anyone can certainly point out that black people aren’t being lynched or that we have a black president and say that’s proof that we’re a post-racial society, but whenever I read stuff by minorities (usually black people, but not always), they speak of nothing overt, just the feelings they have. How can I understand the way black people are scrutinized when they walk into a store? How can I understand the feeling an American Indian gets when thousands of fans start doing the Tomahawk Chop? How can I understand the way a man stares at a woman’s breasts instead of listening to her? I can’t. That’s why I get annoyed with white commentators talking about this, because whether the racism is overt or not (and often it’s not), they can’t understand this way of living, and that’s not really their fault. The fault comes when they simply try to dismiss it. We white men ought to listen more and rant less when it comes to things like this.


  2. Greg- I’m a white man in my late 50s, and the older I get I have become more aware of my privileges as a white man, most of which are very subtle. I get away with a lot of things that my black neighbors could never dream of doing without worrying about consequences. So from time to time I consider, what can I do to show that I deserve these privileges?

    So what really bothers me is that white men with with lots of MONEY have more privileges than I do. But we’re not allowed to talk about class in America, even when it is closely tied to race and gender.


  3. Admittedly few people are wiling to say ‘yes I’m special and privileged’ any more than ‘I’m a racist and proud of it.’


  4. It means that white people do not have to deal with institutionalized, systemic racism in addition to their everyday problems . It means institutionalized, systemic racism does not cause white people’s everyday problems.It means when white people go home and turn on their TVs after a long, hard day at work, they can rest assured knowing that they will not only be guaranteed to see people who look like them on the screen, but they will never have to actively search to find a positive depiction of people who look like them. It means even when white people buy their groceries with food stamps, they don’t have to worry that they’ll be followed around the supermarket for “no reason.” You think you have no white privilege because you’re poor? Think again. You think your white privilege disappears because you’re not a cisgendered heterosexual? Think again. You think your white privilege disappears because you’re disabled? Think again. It means that all problems white people face are not exclusive to white people. People of colour face those same problems, too. But in addition to any problem white people face, people of colour must also bear the burden of dealing with an entire social, cultural, political, economic climate that works against us each and every single day. And here’s the thing about the effect of racism on PoC’s everyday lives: it’s not like adding one more little thing. This isn’t simple math. Racism isn’t just a “minus 1” on our radar. It informs, guides, and shapes the way every other problem is handled. Think about it. When white people are pulled over by the cops, their biggest fear is jail time. When black people are pulled over by the cops, our biggest fear is that they’ll kill us and we won’t even get 30 seconds on the 5:00 news.


  5. I think my black roommate in college summed it up nicely. This was a period of the “Shaft” and “Superfly” movies that came out. He turned to me one day and said ” why can’t we just be people?”


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