An Open Letter to White People by a Recovering White Person
Yes. You are.
You are privileged.
White privilege is a new thing. Don't get me wrong, white people creating oppressive systems that benefit themselves at the cost of untold suffering born on the backs of *black people is a story as old as spit. White Privilege as a term came about in academia in the 60's but #WhitePrivilege that is new and it has allowed for a public discourse on the subject via social media, creating a colloquial meaning as it is lived and understood by the non-academic masses. AND YET this monumental happening sure to benefit the human race seems to be going down like hot vomit with the caucazoids. It is difficult to understand why that is when it is the core issue to so many other issues that get em all fired up! Saving the Whales? You're not saving the whales from indigenous people that hunt what, 1 whale a year? You are saving them from off-shore drilling, commercial fishing…basically the industrial use of the ocean as a giant toilet and those things are made possible by the global capitalist cancer built on colonial ethics of which white privilege is the by-product. You still here? Good, now let us go deeper down the rabbit hole…..
The very nature of white privilege is elusive to white people and so you may be led to believe that if you aren't a white male corporate CEO that it doesn't apply to you. Sorry you have to find out this way but…if you are white, then it applies, its been applying to you your whole life. Think of your whiteness as a backstage pass, it has been granting you access to things that not everybody gets access to. Allow me to demonstrate.
I recently went to a public hospital to visit a friend. I walked through the busy lobby and up the elevator to the 4th floor ward she was in. We chatted for quite some time when her sister, a black woman, joined us. She asked how I got in so quickly, I told her I just walked right in. Did you come through the front door? Ya. Wasn't the lobby full of people? Ya. That was the waiting room. No one stopped you from getting in the elevator because they assumed you were a doctor, I've been stuck down there this whole time. Sure enough on my exit I saw, for the first time, a security guard taking names of the people arriving and putting them on a waiting list and granting them elevator access one by one. On average, they were waiting half an hour or more out of their visitor's hour in the lobby. I had walked right through, assuming none of the cacophony of the place applied to me, I was just going to go see my friend upstairs. Presto alakazam, white privilege backstage pass.
Yes. You are.
You are racist and there is no reverse racism.
As a white person living in a capitalist country, you have inherited the **colonial mindset and all the perks that come with it whether you asked for it or not. Now this is not your Grandpappy's racism, that style of racism got shoo'd behind the rainbow nation flag and is now pretending to be colourblind (What's that colour there? Blue. Congratulations, you are not colourblind). Today's racism is just blatantly systemic. It prefers to stay inside and count all of the money. Even still, it can't resist a good game of Cultural Appropriation. For those amongst you still clinging to your naiveté security blanket; cultural appropriation is what happens when members of a majority culture adopt and regurgitate out of context, the creative content of a minority culture. The #zumamustfall campaign being a perfect illustration. This - double dose of the fingerquotes- "campaign" played out locally with a very sad, very white "march" on parliament by a handful of middle aged wealthy white people, calling for the fall of the president. All those things are within their democratic right to do BUT they went ahead in full smugness and misappropriated the hashtag #rhodesmustfall from the recently successful students movement to remove the statue of Cecil John Rhodes (Captain Colonisation) from the university campus to do it. And if that wasn't enough smug, all 12 of them got together in one of their luxuriously furnished Camps Bay lounges with maids in the kitchen rolling their eyes and decided to fund a large #zumamustfall billboard and put it up in the middle of town because access to capital because white privilege.
As for white people claiming reverse racism, I know it hurts our whittle white feewings to hear black people protesting generalized white people behaviour because " I'm white and I don't act that way". If its behaviour you don't condone then its only the whiteness that you identify with and take personally ya? Well white as a race is a social invention, learn more about it and you can choose whether its something that describes you and how personally you want to take it. In the meantime, this:
Yes. You are.
You are not listening.
Being listened to is a skill that white people are trained in from birth because we have a say. Constitutions are written by us for us and the subtext is so white it doesn't even show up on the page. So when nations founded on open immigration policies are faced with a surge of black would-be immigrants, the rules change. Think; Ethiopian jews' struggle to claim the Right of Return in Israel, Syrian refugees denied access to Canada, eugenic racial profiling at Ellis Island in the US, to name so few from a list as long as the majority members of parliament in these places are white.
The first obstacle to listening is difficult for the privileged white because it involves not talking. Then it requires hearing the words as they are spoken by the other person and not putting your own meaning on it. It was #Rhodesmustfall not #FelicityJonesof22SawkinsRdYOUmustfall. Hearing it that way is not listening, its taking things not meant for you and running away with it... which sounds a lot like colonialism don't it? The Colonial worldview was such that wherever a colonialist stood, that was the centre of the universe and they could do what they liked because they planted a flag there. Not anything useful like a tree, or a flower, nope just a stick. And though you may not have been there when it happened, you live in a system built from those values. If that remains unexamined in your life then your mind stays colonized and your actions and choices perpetuate that thinking at the cost of having an open mind with a capacity for listening.
Of course white people have struggles too. No one is discounting personal pain but all too often in this conversation a white person, when hearing about the pain of living as a black person on planet Earth, speaks over them (internally, blocking their capacity to empathize while remaining outwardly attentive because no one wants to be racist- correction, no one wants to appear racist) with "well what about my pain?!" Another person speaking to truth of their experience is not a hidden accusation that your experience is not relevant. To listen to someone else and feel their pain does not dismiss your pain, it moves to heal it. Because we are all suffering in this system born of the European colonial mindset, no one is winning so it feels strange to be seen as a winner when you feel lost and losing. If I could suggest however, that instead of moving to defend yourself and your pain, try imagining how much WORSE it would be to have inherited this system of pain and be barred from the opiates that allow it to be tolerated if only barely ie. capital and the sense of false power and distraction it provides.
Yes. You are.
You are white.
You can not unwhite yourself because your whiteness will be upheld by the system. In the story we are given, Eminem was a white trash kid with mommy issues who could battle rap bester than all the rest. But unlike any of the poor black kids from 8 mile who battled him and won (no MC in the history of street corner cyphers has ever won EVERY battle) he went on to make 8 studio albums over 14 years with total sales over 172 000 000. As an African American and leader of the same Hip-Hop sub-culture to which Eminem is a devotee, Dr. Dre (whose own career, including his NWA and Wrecking Cru projects, spanned 31 years of effort and only sold 22 920 000 albums) knew all too well that he could only go so far because this little culture of HipHop exists within a greater culture of white privilege and without that white privilege back stage pass he would need a white puppet to get in.
So go ahead and know the lyrics to Jay-Z's entire discography but if you must sing along, that word? You know the one. That one is not for you because in his very specific cultural context it is a powerful reclamation, in yours it is racist. And maybe his context does look way cooler than yours (thanks to white privilege media) but systemic poverty is anything but cool and if you love the music, respect the reality don't perpetuate the sensationalised and covertly racist version you've been silver spoon fed. If you are uncertain if something you are saying or doing is racist, ask a friend because some of your best friend's really are black by now…surely…right? Please say they are and let them be authentic friendships that can weather some honest conversations about race. If not, ask this guy.
As for me I hope that I will continue to be called out on my ignorances because I will always be a recovering white person and my whiteness brings whiteness with me wherever I go. I have no prescriptive solution here, I'm just trying to stay open, to track the neuropaths of colonial brainwashing in my mind and busy myself with ideas and behaviours that leave those synapses to atrophy from lack of use. Ideas like creating new systems that use the bullshit of this system as fertilizer in growing food for humanity's evolution; nothing less than a main stage Apocalypse (no backstage required).
* using the term "black" to describe all people of colour in line with Bantu Stephen Biko's 1971 SASO Leadership paper that states:
"We have defined blacks as those who are by law or tradition politically, economically and socially discriminated against as a group in the South African society and identifying themselves as a unit in the struggle towards the realization of their aspirations.
This definition illustrates to us a number of things:
Being black is not a matter of pigmentation - being black is a reflection of a mental attitude.
Merely by describing yourself as black you have started on a road towards emancipation, you have committed yourself to fight against all forces that seek to use your blackness as a stamp that marks you out as a subservient being."
credit to Leila Khan for directing me to the contents of this paper
**I use colonial as opposed to neo-colonial because although there are systemic symptoms specific to modern era colonialism, I feel it is the same old shit with new tricks.
A Recipe Ode to An Open Letter
for white's only
1m² of the Earth's surface
durham wheat seeds
-Sit on your 1m² of Earth for an entire year, observing all the nuances and transitions of the natural world around you, then approach it with the humility it deserves as the source of all life on the planet of which yours is but one.
-Consider that you are a guest here and act accordingly.
-Let the sadness of your soul fall out your eyes in gushing waves but don't get too carried away now, keep in mind you need to squirt those tears into the jars lest all that crying would come to no utility for humanity.
-Plant your seeds at the time you observed nature planting its seeds.
-Collect rain water in the rainy season
-Let the growth of these simple plants replace your sadness with hope then harvest them in the prime of their fruiting youth- grind the harvested grains between the stones you find in the earth of your 1m².
-Mix with the rain water you've collected until a doughlike consistency then roll out into thin noodles.
-Boil in your salty tears to al dente
-Serve with a solid dose of humility and garnish with thyme.