This country is in serious trouble in regards to its race relations and depending on your political ideology, we seem to place blame with either Donald Trump or Barack Obama as being the cause of this discord. However, these issues have been with us long before the elections of 2016 or 2008. In fact, race relations have been an issue of contention since the inception of the country. I can’t help but feel that right now however we are in a particularly negative time which is only being made worse by rhetoric on both sides of the political spectrum.
During a time when actual White Supremacists feel emboldened to march around an American city, we should be joining together to fight this evil, but instead our national conversation has become an argument of two extremes where some people on the left claim everyone is a white supremacist and some on the right refuse to acknowledge that anyone is a white supremacist.
Both sides feel wholly justified in their anger, frustration and vitriol but this politicization of race is doing exponentially more harm than good. I think I will scream if I hear anything else about black on black crime, reverse racism or white privilege. Not because I don’t think they are important and necessary conversations worth having, but because each side is throwing around these labels as a way of shutting down perceived opponents in a proverbial drop the mike moment. Not only is the intent not to find common ground, unity or equality, it is meant to further separate and divide an already fractured populous.
Of course, racism still exists, and there are challenges that African-Americans face in this country that are purely based on our race. The unfortunate truth is that we do have to work twice as hard to get half as far. There are obstacles that I have to face as an African-American woman that are significantly different than my white counterparts, but does screaming white privilege at every person who you have some type of disagreement with really solve any injustice or in any way fight inequality and prejudice? I’m a lifelong Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton, but I am tired of seeing my community suffer and not move forward. Whether someone uses politically correct language or not is irrelevant if they also don’t work to address our issues.
My objection to how the term “white privilege” is being used is that it is not intended to try and educate white people about real injustices that we have historically faced and continue to face currently, but instead it is intended to shame them for their whiteness which is problematic. The problem isn’t whiteness. The problem is racism and racists. People can’t help being born white any more than I can help being born black. Judging people based upon their race and assuming negative characteristics because of a person’s race is racism, regardless of who is doing the judging. I know there are people who don’t believe that black people can be racist and granted, we are not part of a history of racial oppression, but can’t we be honest that sometimes the white guy you disagree with on social media or in class isn’t a player in the oppression of black Americans, but is just someone who you disagree with?
The term “white privilege” has become a weapon used by too many of us on the Left to shut down those who disagree with us. If you haven’t noticed, it is also causing fear even among some of our allies that they are going to do or say the wrong thing which will cause them to be labeled a racist as well. We have made racial perfection the litmus test, and the result is those of good will are seen as the enemy. I know that many blacks in this country are just expressing their fear, anger and trauma related to how we have been treated, but it sometimes comes across as anti-white instead of pro-equality. This is making our movement less credible. If we truly want to see the death of racism as we say we do, we will need the help of the majority of Americans to be invested in solving this issue.
The weaponization of the term has caused us to not be able to have honest conversations about race. We spend so much time policing what people can say about race in this country that we never get to what people really believe and why they believe it. We do not allow a safe space for people who have genuine curiosity and interest in our community and culture to ask questions or take part in our trends because we rise up in anger screaming about cultural appropriation. We get angrier about a Kardashian wearing braids or SheaMoisture using white models in their ads than we do about the fact that too many black and brown children are in failing schools and living in communities that are lacking vital resources that they need to become their best selves.
While we are on the subject, can we be honest that we are not completely consistent in how we react to racially questionable behavior? We’re more likely to go full bore into white people that seem to be aligned with Republicans and Conservatives, while giving most White Liberals a pass. Liberalism has become an ideology that blames racism only on White Conservative Republicans while allowing White Liberals to employ the same arguments of privilege when challenged about their commitment to actual equal opportunity.
If you disagree with me about my characterization of Liberalism, then show me where blacks who live in liberal cities live in more integrated neighborhoods, have better educational attainment, lower rates of incarceration, higher net worth or access to better schools than blacks who live in conservative run cities? The political arguments around race are a red herring that haven’t led to improvements in our communities that can be attributed to either party.
I'm just unwilling to give my side of the aisle a pass anymore on how we talk about race. All the sympathetic social media posts and Hate Has No Home Here signs don't fix the issues related to racism. People who apologize for their “white privilege or being born white” without any corresponding behavior change are just virtue signaling. The problem isn't just hate, but apathy and silence from too many Americans regardless of their political affiliation. We can't change what we don't acknowledge. Our party speaks of tearing down statues, but are silent about tearing down the educational, institutional and cultural barriers that continue to keep too many in Black America trapped in a cycle of poverty unable to care for themselves in the same way you are able to care for your family. The news media and Hollywood speak about the racism of Donald Trump and his supporters while ignoring the decades of negative portrayals of African-Americans that they themselves promoted which have fed the narrative of us being lazy, uneducated and violent to those very same people.
My last objection to the “white privilege” conversation is that it teaches the message to our young people that we need white people to give up something for black people to achieve. That if we work hard and make good life decisions it still won’t matter because we are black. I wholeheartedly disagree with this characterization which is incredibly patronizing and harmful. My grandmother used to tell me that I wouldn’t always get what I deserved, but I would get what I earned. She told me that life wasn’t fair and she acknowledged that it would be more difficult as a poor black girl in America. She also told me that if I worked hard and got a good education that I could have a life that was beyond my imagination. She told me this after I got off the bus at age ten after having lived on the streets with my mother and younger brother for several months. I am now a lawyer in Philadelphia. There are millions of kids in the community who are smart, talented and gifted, but instead of focusing on improving their lives and nurturing them to exceed expectations and achieve, we spend too much time worrying about every real or imagined slight made against us by white Americans.
I genuinely believe that we are a country that is full of well-meaning people who attempt to treat everyone with respect, but the bulk of the challenge is that we do not genuinely understand each other. We have much work to do on race to break down those barriers. However, that work is not being done when we merely spew racial rhetoric against each other. So while everyone else is focusing on talking about “white privilege”, I will be focusing on helping the young people I know to achieve “black excellence”.