Why Should Skin Color Make a Difference? The Uncomfortable Burden of White Privilege

fleshHaving both lived in the South all of my life and being into punk rock for over a decade now, I’ve had the sad misfortune of running into people who are racists. From the pine scrub woods of Florida, to the Appalachian mountains, the lowlands of Georgia and now to the bayous of Louisiana, I’ve met them all along the way.

These haven’t always been your “white power” boneheads with a creepy Hitler fetish. In fact, I can think of a half-black chef that I used to work with who repeatedly talked about how much he hated white people as well as others who just did not like me simply because I didn’t look like them.

Racism, no matter who practices it, is wrong and it is stupid. Yet there are people who continue to rationalize it or apologize for it even in this day and age. The ones that anger me the most are those who attempt to create a false equivalency between some instances of discrimination against “white” people versus the centuries of exploitation under colonialism and all of its horrors practiced by white Europeans against everyone else in the world.

For a long time, the small island of Britain controlled a significant portion of the world. As their influence began to wane, another set of superpowers slowly rose to fill the vacuum, one of which was our United States of America. For almost 90 years after our independence was declared from Britain, we allowed slavery to remain legal. It took almost another 100 years after that for the descendants of those slaves to gain equal rights under the law throughout our country and be able to eat at the same lunch counters as the descendants of those who once owned their ancestors.

Despite what you’ll hear from apologists for white racism, pointing out the injustices of other societies throughout history doesn’t make the racism that still exists today any less wrong. The actions of the Japanese against the Chinese during World War II or the Rwandan genocide and others like these do not excuse what white Europeans and their descendants have done from the Crusades on to this very day.

It is not excusable to point to what someone else has done and use that as a reason to look the other way while injustices continue to happen in this day and age. It is not acceptable, nor can we allow politicians and pundits to claim that the concerted voter suppression that is going on right now is comparable to a few scary-looking black men standing outside a single urban voting precinct in Philadelphia in one election.

And then there are the people who want to claim that there’s no difference between “black pride” and people who claim they’re “proud to be white.” If there wasn’t a long history of violence, lynchings, bombings and centuries of oppression by people of European descent, then I could see their point, but this is a completely disingenuous equivalency that is being attempted in that case. No other “race” in the history of the human race has a worse track record of mistreating others than white Europeans. In addition to that, “white pride” is different than “black pride.” For the descendants of slaves, we erased their family trees. Other than the color of their skin and perhaps a few generations of family history, that’s all they have.

I can trace my ancestors back over many centuries — that’s one of the privileges that comes from a family tree which has been mostly uninterrupted by war, genocide (except for some of my Jewish family members in WWII) or forced slavery. That’s something to be thankful for, but not proud of.

It’s not something to be proud of when you’re less likely to be pulled over by the cops just because of the color of your skin, and more likely to receive a shorter prison sentence for similar crimes. It’s not something to be proud of when you’re 4 times less likely to be arrested for marijuana possession just because you have a lower melanin count than somebody else. It’s not something to be proud of, and it’s certainly not something I’m comfortable with. Especially in the year 2013. 


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  • gem1313

    Manny, very well said. I agree with you. Thanks.

  • Kallie

    It’s funny, I took a class this last year just before I graduated called “valuing human diversity” and our professor made all the white students in the class (just a little less than half of the class) stand up and say out loud “I’m proud to be white.” Obviously we had a really difficult time with it because, as people who elected to take a diversity class, we’re hyper aware of our privilege and how we play a part in the oppression of other people.

    Our professor’s outlook on it was that just because we’re a part of the majority and because people of our race are the oppressors doesn’t mean we should miss out on appreciating who we are. While I definitely see where he’s coming from, I just don’t feel that way. I can’t make myself be proud of something.
    I’m not proud to be white. I’m guilty, and I hate what other people have done. A lot of things need to change before people can begin to say they’re proud to be white… and I can’t see that happening any time soon.

    The only thing I do appreciate about being white is the power it gives me. If I want to make a change and devote my life to combatting oppression, I have more of a voice because of my race. It’s pretty shitty that that’s true, but I plan to take full advantage of that privilege.

    I don’t know. This is a very interesting issue.

    • Anthony Buzzin

      Actually there’s nothing funny about it. “A lot of things need to change before people can begin to say they’re proud to be white… and I can’t see that happening any time soon.”
      Who are you to tell other people that they cannot be proud to be white. I’m damn proud of my Italian background, and if that makes me “white” in your black and white world then so be it. I didn’t do anything wrong, I have no guilty conscience. An thoughtful and respectful black man deserves every bit of respect as a thoughtful and respectful white man, end of story.

      • Kallie

        I think maybe you misunderstood me. I’m not trying to tell anyone what they can and can not be proud of. I may have worded that sentence a little awkwardly when I said that a lot of things need to change. What I mean is, a lot of things need to change before white people collectively will feel okay with being proud to be white. It is a generalization to say that all white people feel that way, but I think it’s safe to say that the majority do.

        I said I understand where my professor was coming from, and agree that ideally everyone should be able to be proud of their race/ethnicity. I’m happy for the people that are.

        This was more of a personal account of my own problems with this issue. Obviously in an ideal world everyone would be equal and we could appreciate each others’ differences and be proud of who we are. I’m saying that we are far from that happening.

  • Astryn

    You know, as much as I dislike racism, I have to say it does go both ways. My own husband was once attacked by a large African-American guy simply because my husband is white. That’s the only reason. The attacker didn’t take anything, didn’t try to actually kill him and was screaming obscenities like “The war ain’t over whitey” (and that’s one of the more tame ones he yelled as he tried to beat the love of my life to a bloody pulp). If you want to rid the country, or the world for that matter, of racism then you need to stop labeling based on race. Take out the race question or ethnicity questions from surveys, stop making it all about “us versus them”. Just. Stop.

    Also, I’d like to point out that it’s just as bad to be made to feel guilty for being born with a certain skin tone as it is to be made to feel inferior for being born with a certain skin tone. Being blonde I get a little of both. I’m not supposed to be proud to have my Irish heritage because that means I’m proud to be white (or so people tell me). At the same time though I’m often faced with the issue of people assuming I’m going to be a blathering idiot because I’m white, I’m blonde and I’m a woman. The white part is because some people assume because I’m white means I listen to Faux News or something like that, the blonde is due to the overwhelming number of dumb blondes that Hollyweird likes to put into the media, and the woman is because of the misogynistic culture/rape culture we live in.

    In college we had a forum about this subject and I tried to point out that it can go both ways. They were defining racism as using your power over another because of race or ethnic differences. When I told them it can be a person of color being racist against someone of caucasian decent, they argued saying that wasn’t possible. So I asked, what about the time I got passed for a promotion because the boss was an African American woman who put her friend in the position instead of me even though I was more experienced? What about the attack on my husband? What about the times when I’m just shopping and I get glared at by anyone who is a minority just for walking by them and smiling in greeting? You can’t justify this saying their behavior is ok but I have to watch what I do, what I say and act like I’m walking on eggshells constantly just to appease their sense of justice for things that happened a long time ago. And if we’re going to use history as a reason to hate a group of people then technically shouldn’t I hate all British people for enslaving the Irish centuries ago? But guess what? I don’t hate them. I don’t judge them. I don’t want to. That cycle just keeps going the more you feed it and I just would rather not feed the hate. I’d rather just acknowledge people based on their individual merit and leave it at that. You could be passion pink with purple polka dots for all I care and as long as you’re a decent human being, I couldn’t care less.

    • Jade

      Thank you for that. I know and lived what you are talking about. I’m biracial and I can clearly see that racism and hate is on both sides. and I am part Irish And German along with being an Arab. I’ve faced people who told me I’m a monster for loving my light skin color instead of trying to burn my skin to look like others. I’ve also been told that I am not white enough to be white. I take pride in all that I am. I do not carry the guilt of my ancestors and will not apologize for it. I am here, now. I will only apologize for my OWN doings.

    • “this is a completely disingenuous equivalency that is being attempted in that case.”

      • You missed the point of the article, too! White Privilege is the invisible system of our society! You can’t compare you one or two experiences to what the FHA did to blacks, the discriminatory practices of the armed forces after WW1 did to blacks and how blacks were cheated out of their GI bill money!

      • Potter

        No you can’t compare the two and the problem of this article is that it mingles the two. The two types of racial tensions in America today are personal ( her point) and institutional (your point). We have to compare AND contrast these two differing issues or we will never be able to have a conversation about race that helps solve the problem. ( of course they come together with racist cops, judges, etc., but they MUST be kept separate for general conversation and identified as such. ) “White guilt” or white shame” IS personal and that is why it is not a good tool in trying to explain “white privilege” which is institutional.

    • “though I was more experienced?” How do you know this? Did you see her resume?

    • Emily

      Oppressed people cannot oppress their oppressors. Minority people cannot be racist against white people. They can, however, be prejudiced, bigoted, etc, as that man was to your husband. It is a terrible thing that had happened and I’m not excusing the man.

  • csharpe90

    Why should I feel guilty for the color of my skin? Why should I have to bear the weight of sins others with my skin color have committed? That sort of guilt-tripping is just racism in another coat. If you really want to eliminate racism, then recognize that it DOES go both ways.

    • Have you done anything to change what is happening now! If you saw discrimination at your work place, would you speak out about it?

      • Natty

        I would and have. Based on race, gender, and sexual orientation. I lost my job for it and faced financial ruin and was much happier struggling and not knowing where my next penny would come from than I was working for someone who made sweeping generalizations about anyone.

      • Lie!

      • Tiffany

        As a white woman of Irish, Italian, and Cherokee descent, I can honestly say I am proud of my heritage. My Irish forefathers came here and were horribly discriminated against by their English counterparts and were not allowed to settle in the British colonies and instead settled in the Appalachian mountains. They were told they weren’t allowed to work, nobody could hire them, they were given “Irish only” water fountains, and bars and restaurants…they may not have been slaves, but they were treated very similarily to those of African descent during the Civil Rights movement. And let’s not even start with my Cherokee forefathers and their treatment…am I proud of what other people with my skin color have done to others? HELL NO. Do I condone it? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Have I done things to change it? YES. I cannot change the past..however, I am an activist and I constantly fight for equal human rights for ALL people, including those of various faiths, backgrounds, races, gender, and especially the LGBT communities. I have been continually discriminated against (actually, I’ve lost my job, had my life threatened, had my car and home vandalized, and been spit on) by people of all races and religions and backgrounds. Does that stop me from fighting for them? No. So may I ask you….are YOU proud of your background? Are you proud when a person of your race does the hateful discriminating things? And if not, what have YOU done to change their minds?

  • lester

    “The ones that anger me the most are those who attempt to create a false equivalency between some instances of discrimination against “white” people versus the centuries of exploitation under colonialism and all of its horrors practiced by white Europeans against everyone else in the world.”

    This is the typical loony left racism against whites. “White people
    can’t experience racism or discrimination!” Racism, is defined as “The belief that certain characteristics or abilities are defined by race”. In creating one set of standards for one race and another set of standards for every other, you are making a definitively racist statement. Only being a True Believer
    in nonsensical dogma could obscure the fact that the above quote is
    prima facie racism. Before “white Europeans” colonized the world, they
    colonized Europe, subjecting the majority of white Europeans to the same
    horrors they then inflicted on the darker races. However, the
    neo-liberal racist can’t acknowledge that, they have to lump every white
    face into the same homogenous leviathan in order for their fiction of
    whitey against the world to have a foundation just as nonsensical as the
    rest of it.

    Neo-Liberal racism is the racism created by the attempt at globalization under Western systems. After WW2, America attained a global empire, and in order to fully exploit the massive amounts of labor, the former European model of racism, which held the “white race” as the standard, had to be scrapped so that other races and nationalities could be employable in a wider range of occupations. Like any racism, this wasn’t done for the benefit of the darker races, it was done simply to increase the number of potential employees for every job opening in order to drive down wages.

    Neo-Liberal racism views the entire planet as slaves of a capitalist system to be a good thing. That’s the only goal they have, and they display blatant racism towards the white race because they view them as the impediment for that enforced global slavery.

    “White” people like this moron that penned this article ought to look a little more closely at the horrors of racism before they resign themselves to self-hatred and condemn their grandchildren to be the victims of racism.

    • Bruce Veasey

      Neo-liberal huh? The only ones I see exploited government rules and cheap labor are the so-called conservatives. Keep your political rants to your self, or on the proper boards.

    • Thumbs down!

  • Grumpmaster_Zz

    Racism isn’t only a black-white-brown-yellow problem, it is a white-white problem, a black-black problem, a brown-brown problem, and a yellow-yellow problem – it is a human problem. Everyone hates anyone who is different – or even the same – in some slight way. English and Irish hate each other and are genetically identical, Hutus hate Tutsis, Malays hate Chinese. Those suffering from white guilt often forget that the African slaves were sold by their own chieftains, or chieftains of tribes who captured them. Focusing on racism is the surest way to ensure that racism endures. Just, as those wise men once said, “be excellent to each to other”

  • Anthony Buzzin

    You are perpetuating the problem. If you want to bring awareness to racism, instead of traveling the south you should write about how politicians use Racism to push their slanted view on White America.

  • Stanley Fritz From LYVBH

    Racism is an ugly sickness that plagues too many of us. Black white green, yellow or Patriots fan. We’re all brothers and sisters one way or another. We all want to be happy and have an impact on this world. As a black male I’m faced with prejudice all the time. Sometimes outright, sometimes subtly. There is nothing more frustrating (Except for maybe my checking account) than watching people cross the street when they see me because they think I’m going to rob or attack them. Things don’t have to be this way, and pieces like this are a good start. Let’s have the conversation, an open and honest conversation.

  • “this is a completely disingenuous equivalency that is being attempted in that case.” That is what most of you are posting!”

    The question is not about the past, but are you guys doing something to change the invisible system of White Privilege?

    Of course not!

    • Natty

      So you are going to assume to know anything about me based on the color of my skin? How very racist of you.

  • Detroit Mike

    I sure would like to know why my comment about associating punk rock with racism was deleted.

  • Sam Brosenberg

    A minority group cannot practice racism against the majority, because racism is inherently defined as the INSTITUTIONALIZED PRACTICES of creating seperate classes of citizens for people of different races. Any person can be predjudiced against other people, for any number of reasons, but predjudice and racism are not the same thing. When I was in 6th grade, I was the only white kid in my entire school, and I got beat up pretty often for that reason. That was not racism, that was predjudice.

    Now, I don’t think I deserved that beacuse of what peope of my color have done in the past to other colors (although, when you get technical, the Jews have been one of the most repressed and victimized groups of people in this planet’s history), however I also recognize that the actions taken against me were the actions of individuals. I still had every societal protection aginst them, my parents, teachers, and even the police on one occasion.

    Everyone is capable of predjudice, and if you want to get really honest, ALL of us have inborn prejudices against other groups of people, conscious or not. I can admit that I sometimes get nervous if I’m walking alone at night, and a group of black men are the only other people on the street. I don’t consciously choose to feel that, but it’s part of the societal pressure that creates this narrative of black men as criminals and killers. We are convinced from a young age that that’s what they all are, and because so many opportunities are limited from the majority holding that view, many young black men DO wind up becoming criminals simply out of a lack of any other options by which to support themselves.

    It’s a repugnant yet self-fulfilling cycle that will never be broken until we, as a society and as individuals, can change the way we think about human beings that look differently than we do.

    • Potter

      the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

      Perhaps we must make sure we are all using the words we are discussing have the same meaning for those of us discussing them. Racism is ideas about people based on “race”. Not all of these have to be hateful ( ex. black people make the best athletes.) Racism does not have to be conscious.

      Prejudice is when you ACT negatively on some preconceived ideas. They could be racist, sexist, political, religious, etc. Not all prejudice is conscious.

      Bigotry is when you have negative or hateful feelings about a group because of preconceived ideas. These also could be racist, sexist, political, religious, etc. Bigotry is conscious.

      Racism can be personal and/ or institutional.

  • Potter

    Perhaps I am very different than most people. I am not proud to be white, or proud to be American Indian. Both are my genetics. I have no pride or it’s negative twin, shame, for the color or lack of color in my skin. I share the dream of Dr. King, that one day we will all be judged only by the content of our character. I do recognize that too many people do not share my dream and are either too angry, shamed or both to help fix the problem. May you all find peace.

  • natsera

    Agree with your message. But are you so ignorant of the anti-Semitism practiced by white Europeans that you don’t know of the continuing expulsions, pogroms, synagogue burnings, ghettoizations, taxes just for being Jewish, etc. that occurred pretty much everywhere in Christian Europe and the Muslim world for almost 2 millennia BEFORE Hitler? I don’t have more than 3 generations of genealogy available to me, either, because Hitler wiped out all the non-American records. I have all the empathy in the world for non-whites; it’s just that I don’t consider MYSELF a European white for the reasons cited above. If you added in the word “Christian” (heaven forbid), then the essay would be much more accurate. And if you don’t believe me, then research it.

  • Timothy D Little

    Or Class racism.