Why Talking About “White Privilege” Is Anti-White Racism
A Clear and Simple Explanation for Those Who Still Don’t Get It
by Alexander Zubatov
I have, in the past, lampooned the portentous shadow cast upon all white people by the overbroad umbrella that goes by the name of “white privilege” by inventing an equally overbroad and stereotypical list of 50 generalizations describing a bunch of things black people can take for granted that others, such as whites, have to struggle with. I named this phenomenon “black entitlement.” I clearly stated that the purpose of creating a racist list like that is not to have white people going around crowing about “black entitlement” the way black people and others have been going around crowing about “white privilege,” but rather, to use the device of satire to make a point. I received a great deal of positive feedback publicly and privately, but I also, as expected, received some push-back from those who’d wished I’d made my point more clearly and directly. So, with that in mind, what I’d like to do is stop beating around the bush and make a more straightforward and simple argument for my position that talking about “white privilege” is racism, pure and simple. There are many things in this world of conversations about race that are nuanced and complicated. This, however, isn’t one of them. Indulge me. Allow me the few minutes it’ll take me to explain.
Let’s assume for the sake of this discussion that every single one of the “privileges” supposedly enjoyed by white people in our society that gets included under the “white privilege” umbrella is statistically justified. In other words, I don’t want to argue here, as I have done elsewhere, that at least some of those “privileges,” such as the privilege to be free from the prospect of being unjustly killed by police, for example, are based on faulty and repeatedly discredited social science, or that some of the privileges itemized on Peggy McIntosh’s original 1988 list have become more true of blacks than of whites nowadays (see, e.g., #30 on the list: “If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn’t a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have”). If you have reservations that any of the alleged privileges that have been part of the public discussion of “white privilege” are really out there, I want you to put those reservations on hold for the time being. For now, let’s just take it on faith that they’re all real.
Here’s the problem: even if they’re real, they’re still stereotypical generalizations, right? They’re certainly not true of all white people. If, for example, white people, unlike black people, generally get to move into a neighborhood without having to be concerned that they are unwanted, that doesn’t mean all white people enjoy any such privilege. A poor white pot-smoking pickup-truck driving American-flag waving Donald-Trump-supporting redneck who wins the lottery and tries to move into an exclusive white neighborhood where he wants to lounge around shirtless in a lawn chair, fly his flag, smoke his weed and display his “Make America Great Again!” placard on his doorstep might become the focal point of a hostile “Make This Neighborhood Great Again!” campaign to send him back to the boonies. A young white yuppie gentrifier moving into a traditionally black neighborhood might find himself about as welcome as a Nazi general marching into Poland. An observant white Muslim couple or a large white Orthodox Jewish family trying to settle in America’s heartland might be not-so-unintentionally skipped over when it’s time to hand out the invitations to the local block party. And there are many places a white homosexual would still find him- or herself persona non grata.
We can apply the same logic to any number of such privileges. It is not difficult to think of particular white people or even large categories of white people who could or would constitute exceptions for virtually every “white privilege” you can muster.
“So what?” you protest. “That’s kind of like saying that there are some black people who’ve never been the victims of racism, so racism doesn’t exist.” Not exactly. Here’s what it’s kind of like: we’ve all observed — and I could adduce statistics or studies to back these things up, but that’s besides the point — that black people are disproportionately likely to commit crimes in the U.S., that black people are more likely to be less educated than whites or that black people are more likely to be emotionally expressive and ostentatious in their dress, speech or mannerisms. Let’s name these things “black criminality,” “black ignorance” and “black vulgarity.” And let’s start speaking about these things widely in public and accusing black people of displaying them and telling them to “check your ignorance” or “check your vulgarity” when we feel it’s appropriate to do so. What would that be called? I think it would be called RACISM, no? Note that the fact that these generalizations may be true doesn’t make them any less racist. The issue isn’t truth or falsehood. The issue is that we’ve taken something that’s statistically true, given it a pernicious label that ties it to a person’s race and then deployed that label to cast blame. (Of course, there will be those who say, “No, it’s not to cast blame. It’s to address real problems within the black community.” But we know better, don’t we?)
If you see why this is racist, then you’ll understand why the very same thing is true of the various patterns described under the loaded label of “white privilege.” (If you’re going to take the tired, old line that racism against white people simply can’t exist because racism = prejudice + power, and white people have all the power in this country, then I’ll say, no, this isn’t the actual definition of “racism,” and it also reflects a very simplistic and Manichean view of power and refer you to this article for a fuller explanation and a thorough debunking of this absurd idea.) “White privilege” is racist because, like “black criminality,” it ties a set of complex social phenomena that we judge negatively to the skin color of a group of people and then makes liberal use of that label to blame, accuse, ridicule, demean and castigate that entire group of people on account of their race. As anyone who lived through the Civil Rights Era can tell you, making negative judgments about people based on the color of their skin is the very essence of racism.
In thinking through this issue, it is also important to understand what I am not saying: I am not saying that “white privilege” doesn’t exist. It exists. And so do “black criminality,” “black ignorance” and “black vulgarity” … and a bunch of the 50 items of “black entitlement” on my racist list. There are some things that exist but are still racist to talk about, or least racist to talk about in certain ways. Just as we can discuss the real problem of crime within the black community without resorting to demeaning and overbroad labels like “black criminality,” we can talk about the ways in which aspects of our society need to be addressed because they are still racist against blacks without resorting to demeaning and overbroad labels like “white privilege.” Or “white frustration.” Or “white fragility.” Or even “whiteness” itself.
A conversation about race that demonizes and alienates a group you’d like to have listen and participate in a constructive dialogue is not a conversation but, at best, a one-sided lecture and, at worst, a hostile harangue. You know what happens during lectures? Lots of people tend to turn off and fall asleep. You know what happens during harangues? Lots of people tend to get angry and lash out. None of that is what we want. Or, at least, none of that is what we want if what we want is progress.
(If you liked this article, please do me a huge favor by sharing it and/or clicking on the green “recommend” heart below. I very much appreciate it!)
— — — — — — — — — — — -
Alexander Zubatov is a practicing attorney specializing in general commercial litigation. He is also a practicing writer specializing in general non-commercial poetry, fiction, drama, essays and polemics. In the words of one of his intellectual heroes, José Ortega y Gasset, biography is “a system in which the contradictions of a human life are unified.”
Some of his articles have appeared in Acculturated, PopMatters, The Hedgehog Review, The Montreal Review, The Fortnightly Review, New English Review, Culture Wars and nthposition.