How to productively accept your privilege

Focusing less on white guilt, and more on helping people of colour

In the age of a reinvented conservative shift, it’s no wonder that new and creative ways to be racist are created each day. From the emergence of colorblind racism to the widespread worship of stars that spray-tan their ways to cultural appropriation, it’s a confusing time to be a person of colour (POC).

This is why the last thing we need is to hear about is #whitepeopleproblems, or the misguided idea that white people are being discriminated against by society at large.

The argument inherent in #whitepeopleproblems is that not all white people are bad, but somehow they all have to ‘pay’ for racism.

This creates white guilt: the anxiety associated with feeling responsible for the oppression of POC, even when you don’t feel that you’ve been directly involved in enforcing it.  

I get it. Confronting your privilege is awkward and uncomfortable. But fixating on white guilt instead of on the structural inequalities that exist in Canada and here at Queen’s can upstage the very real institutional racism that POC have to grapple with.

In the hopes of driving the conversation toward more productive places, I’m here today with some tips and tricks to help you accept your privilege and cope with your white guilt. 

Whiteness exists, and you inhabit it

I get it. All those jokes about bad dancing must strike a chord—but let’s not get it twisted, you’re still white if society sees you as white and accords you the privileges that go with that categorization. People of colour see right through you when you try to claim you’re anything else, and we’re pretty sick of it.

There are so many ways that white people confuse nationality or origin with the construct of race. Regardless of your experiences with ancestry.com, whiteness is a social construct. If you and your parents would be considered white by any passerby, if a potential employer reading your resume would picture a white face after reading your name, and if your language patterns align with white middle-class norms of speech, you’re white. Society is treating you as white, and you’re benefitting from white privilege.

Please save us some time by acknowledging it, and don’t pull a Rachel Dolezal or an Ariana Grande by pretending otherwise.

Being called racist might hurt, but racism hurts more

I understand the defensive reaction to being called racist. It’s hard to confront the idea that you might contribute to evil power structures.

But the next time someone insinuates that you’re a racist, stop and think: Am I?

If you’re being called out for racism, you’re probably racist at least some of the time. You might clutch your wallet at the sight of a Black man. You might turn your nose up at the influx of Chinese international students. You probably let out a groan when you see another article about racism at Queen’s.

Most people—whether they’re white or not—hold instincts and ideologies that can make them a little bit racist. Defending yourself as a white person doesn’t make this any less true, but trying to improve yourself can go a long way in supporting POC in your community.

No matter how many times you’re called racist, it’ll never compare to experiencing actual racism. You will make a full recovery, but POC don’t get that luxury.

Acknowledge that part of your success is due to your whiteness

It’s hard to be called racist, but even more difficult to confront the insinuation that your accomplishments may be attributed to something besides your own merit.

It’s not that you don’t deserve to be at Queen’s. However, there a few hundred thousand Black and brown kids across Ontario who deserve to be here as well, and they would be, if they were given the same opportunities you were.

The structures in place that allow for your success disproportionately benefit white Canadians. Our school systems are replete with anti-Blackness, Indigenous communities still don’t have consistent access to basic necessities, and income inequality continues to plague populations along racial lines.

You’re here because you’re talented, but this institution is not predominately white because white people are just more talented than everyone else. It’s because some of the most talented young Canadians out there have to put their survival ahead of harnessing their potential.

Let’s face it: it’s also much easier to accept an offer to Queen’s (if you ever get that far) when you can afford the tuition and living costs, and most Canadians who are able to spend upwards of $20,000 a year to do so are white.

If you want us to stop complaining, complain with us

As POC, the vast majority of us can feel you checking out of conversations about race, or wishing that we would stop ‘playing the discrimination card.’

We know that you’re getting sick of hearing about our experiences, but what you probably don’t know is that we’re just as sick of it as you are.

I don’t really want to talk about race all the time. 

I don’t want to correct professors who have decided to teach an unnecessary racist history lesson, or explain to my peers why they should stop talking about my “caramel skin.” I don’t actually want to be angry all the time.

However, the truth is that no one else is going to talk about racism but us, and because very few white people listen, POC have to keep telling their stories until something sticks.

But there’s a positive to that privilege: Even as an individual, you have the power to relieve some of the pressure so that we can take a breath. As a white student here, people listen to you. When I write another article about the plight of brown women, I’m annoying. But if you did it as a white person, you’d be ‘woke.’

We want to stop complaining. So let’s work towards this common goal and speed up the progress, because I want to be able to enjoy things too.

Start small. Tell your friends to stop singing the n-word every time a Drake song comes on. Ask your elders why they insist we respect their ‘opinions’, when their racist opinions disrespect my very existence. Question why the namesake of our law building has to be a white supremacist, and why we refuse to change that. 

If you want us to stop complaining one day, then start complaining with us. Erode that white guilt, and tune out my shrill voice in the process.

 

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