White Privilege, part 12872342.

Our friend* Jeremy at Social Science Lite writes about being an anti-white privilege activist…with privilege.

See, when I launch into a tirade against inequality in the criminal justice system or discriminatory land-use policies, my audience doesn’t really feel uncomfortable or scared. I can be loud without being threatening. When I get into my rants, my audience probably just thinks I’m passionate. As long as I’m not yelling, and my message is clear, people will listen. No one will write me off, make any negative assumptions about my background, or fear physical harm just because my tone was forceful or condemnatory.

Yet a person of color is not afforded the same privilege. Indeed, a black man with similar credentials and intellect would undoubtedly be viewed differently if he spoke in a domineering tone. Even if they are among friends, there is a fear—a fear I do not share—of being labeled “angry” and fulfilling centuries-old stereotypes of black masculinity. I will never suspect that people are afraid of me as a person; the thought won’t even cross my mind. As whites, we’re far less likely to be labeled “erratic,” “crazy,” or “out of control” than folks of color who relay the very same messages in the very same powerful tone. I never worry about fulfilling stereotypes of being loud, angry, or “ghetto”—stereotypes that might cause my audience to misinterpret or ignore my message. And that’s white privilege.

*And no, I’m not just posting this because he quoted me.

6 thoughts on “White Privilege, part 12872342.

  1. Jeremy June 16, 2009 at 5:36 pm Reply

    ps – That’s a direct quote from G-Chat. When you wrote it, I copied and pasted into a Word document, knowing that I would (undoubtedly) want to refer back to it at some point.

  2. Molly June 18, 2009 at 1:23 pm Reply

    HAHAHHAHAHAH, NOT!!!!! Maybe it is different for white women then? Because I get pegged as over imaginative, oversensitive, or–most insultingly–a woman with some sort of fetishistic interest in the success of men of color (e.g., when defending Obama against racially-based attacks during the elections, I got a lot of feedback that insinuated I was interested in him sexually). I have nothing more articulate to say than that, but be careful of those kinds of generalizations…

    • the black scientist June 18, 2009 at 5:57 pm Reply

      i don’t want to speak for the author but i interpreted the post as referring specifically to the concern of being labeled angry or out of control as a result of one’s race. it’s not that people of different races, genders, etc don’t experience their own issues with stereotypes, but that, as a visibly white man the author has the privilege of getting loud about things he believes in without the worry or even the thought that he will be pegged as angry because of his race.

      • Jeremy June 18, 2009 at 7:03 pm Reply

        Thanks black scientist–you picked up on what I meant. Maybe I should have prefaced my post by saying “controlling for gender, socioeconomic status, region, etc etc” so as to point to the fact that I was isolating race. For the purpose of an 800 word post, I focused mainly on being a white man compared to a black man; gender intricacies and race/class/gender intersectionality got left by the wayside. Sorry Molly.

        For what it’s worth, my co-blogger Tony weighed in on this issue today, discussing multiple identities and privilege(s), pointing to his experience as a black man. (Oh, and he specifically references gender issues Molly): http://socialsciencelite.blogspot.com/2009/06/reflections-on-privilege-guilt-and.html

        • Molly June 19, 2009 at 11:28 am Reply

          Thank you for the link, Jeremy 🙂

  3. Susana June 19, 2009 at 11:41 am Reply

    Amen, Jeremy.

    The power of white allies on race issues is frickin’ amazing. I had this transformative moment many years ago watching a white male friend (bearded, glasses, very stereotypically professorial) give a series of job talks on American history. In the first lecture, he spoke about his dissertation on 19th century government experiments in the Indian Health Service for the treatment of glaucoma – which resulted in Native Americans losing all or partial vision (to which the government response was, ‘Indians aren’t interested in healthcare’). The second was a simple lecture on the American family – big families, industrialization, yadda yadda yadda. But the differeence was that he constantly decentered whiteness in the talk, talking about dominant white family norms, class differences, postslavery AfrAm families, immigrant families – all the while making clear that all were “American history”. It was a phenomenal talk that was substantive, diverse, grounded, and delivered by someone who was not in the least threatening to the predominantly white audience.

    I still think about that talk when I get frustrated with well-intentioned white liberals….


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