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White privilege and what can white people do?

White privilege and what can white people do?

One of the questions many white people are asking these days is what can we do to combat racism? What steps can we take to understand and change systems? Yesterday Bishop Gene Robinson spoke about listening. Here are 2 other authors offering their views:

Rage Against the MiniVan blog:

White privileged (sic) is a difficult concept. It can cause a lot of confusion and defensiveness. In the diversity class I teach to graduate students, this topic is more heated than any other topic we touch on. Similarly, this week I’ve seen people pushing back against the idea of white privilege as if it’s an indictment that they are a racist (it’s not.) I even watched a blogger (who is white) criticize my friend Kelly (who is black) for her suggestion that people confront their white privilege. The blogger suggested that Kelly called white people “white supremacists” . . . as if “white privilege” and “white supremacists” were interchangeable terms (they’re not.) Confusion abounds when we talk about white privilege, and I think it’s confusion that often leads to offense at the term.

Simply put, privilege refers to an unearned advantage. It usually refers to something inherent . . . something you were born with rather than something you worked for. There are many types of privilege: economic privilege, gender privilege, heterosexual privilege, and of course . . . racial privilege.

Here are some of the questions I often hear asked about white privilege:

I had a hard time growing up, too. We’ve all had hardships.

I have a black friend who was raised with way more privilege so how can I be the privileged one?

What do they want me to do?

Am I supposed to feel guilt for stuff I didn’t do?

To learn more about white privilege, I really recommend reading this insightful checklist from Peggy McIntosh about “Unpacking the Invisible Backpack”.

Read more at the blog.

Mia McKenzie writing at Black Girl Dangerous says:

Racism is, in reality, a huge, systemic, deeply-rooted plague that exists everywhere and affects everything, that degrades and starves and rapes and murders people without losing its breath. It is built on hundreds of years of oppression and genocide. It is in our government, in our entertainment, in our literature, in our corporations, in our language. This entire country was built on it. It is everywhere, and it is insidious and subtle just as often as it is open and obvious. It is not that crazy dude over there.

I see the appeal to white folks in thinking about racism this way. The “whack job” approach allows people to separate racist thinking and behavior from themselves. It’s that crazy screaming dude over there who’s racist. It’s your drunk uncles. It’s your he-was-so-quiet-and-seemed-so-normal-before-he-walked-into-the-mall-and-started-shooting-people neighbors. All of whom you can shake your heads at with furrowed brows while proclaiming that you’re “not like that.” But you are. White people, you need to get this: you are racist. The first step is admitting that you are part of the problem.

I am not going to tell you why or how you are racist. I’m not here for your education. If you want to understand, read a book. Read a hundred books. Take a workshop. Read as many books and take as many workshops as you need to be able to stop pretending it’s other white people and not you.

The Episcopal Church offers anti-racism training now focusing on our ministries (lay and ordained) in a diverse world. Ask your diocese to put on a training near you. Here is the info from the Diocese of Oregon’s Diverse Church Training: Course I: Foundations for Faithful Ministry in a Diverse World


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Ceryle Alcyon

If someone wants to call me a racist based solely on my skin color, I can’t stop them from doing so. I really don’t care. It’s kind of a distraction when used in that context, especially when Faux News commentators and other obnoxious types are screeching to the high heavens about being called racist for saying, well, racist things that in any other, saner culture would be worse than the term “racist.”

However I take the whole idea of “white privilege” pretty seriously, and I’m well aware that, were I black, a lot of things would be different for which affirmative action policies couldn’t easily compensate. The “Invisible Backpack” essay linked above hits the nail on the head, although perhaps the checklist could use a little updating here and there.

Richard Edward Helmer


My underlying point about semantics is only that that we must use freighted terms with a willingness to define what we mean when we say them. Pulling out a dictionary is one thing. Defining terms at the beginning of a conversation and what we mean in that context is quite another.

I completely agree with your point about expanding beyond black-white relations when talking about racism in this country. This was a significant evolutionary piece of the church anti-racism trainings in the past decade.

In my context in California, for example, we cannot explore racism without discussing the experiences of the large and diverse Latino population, numerous Asian immigrant communities, the history of the building of the western railroads, Japanese internment during World War II, Alien Land laws, etc., or the history and plight of Native Americans. And, as you allude to, new immigrant groups are always bringing a new dimension to the conversation. White privilege, however, impacts all of these communities significantly.

Additionally, the significantly complexifying factors of gender, language, cultural, and sexual orientation bias need to always be taken into account.

Chris H.

First, “It’s semantics.” My dictionary has three meanings for “racism”, only one is related to governments and social systems. The other two are “Hatred towards other races, tribes, etc.” and “the belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement or worth”. It is a personal character flaw and I was using it in two of it’s accepted meanings. Just say that you are focused on one definition, “the system of discrimination” and focus on rules and laws, not conversations. Conversation is personal.(I said I was an ESL teacher, definitions are fundamental.)

Second, since the opening paragraph referred to another piece about listening and talking, I assumed this piece was also about communicating, not just “the system”. Mia is not only talking about systems. She is very personal in her attacks. I know others who think the same and how do you expect to have a conversation with them? I don’t believe the two blogger examples above would be able to discuss this without a fight. JCF, I did say “for some” at the beginning of my comment. Forgive me for not repeating it at the beginning of “Blacks don’t believe it.” You’re right, it’s not all.

Third, I was trying to expand the idea of racism beyond just blacks, because they aren’t the only minority that matters, and the church will do much more by not having the focus only on them. The “average” black here is military, so they have many privileges, many that the landless Native American next door can only dream of. How do we change the system for all, when IT IS sometimes a zero sum game? Money spent on Natives is money not spent on blacks. Programs for the inner city, won’t apply or work on rural reservations. The white Hutterite kid can’t go to college on money reserved for racial minorities, but he’s still discriminated against and blocked from education.

Chris Harwood

Kurt Wiesner

I added my thoughts on the subject the other day on my blogpost, entitled

“To my fellow white, heterosexual men: Stop talking (for now) and listen…:”


“Blacks don’t believe it”



JC Fisher

…no wait, I’m not going to end this w/ a zinger.

Chris H, DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND what you just wrote? “Blacks don’t believe it”: SRSLY? Because you personally spoke to all ~35 million African-Americans about this?

I honestly don’t care that you wrote this. I *do* care that this “THEY [ethnic/gender/orientation group] are all alike” mentality still persists in TEC.

Do I ever think this way? Of course. And then, God help me, I confess that particular sin.

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