Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a few interactions with folks who swear up and down that they’re not racists but who can’t admit that things just aren’t what they seem.
One of the most frustrating things, as a working-class woman of color, is to hear from people you care about that you’re “overreacting” when expressing feelings about issues regarding race and/or class privilege. The common theme is that I’m just looking for something to fight about, or that I have severely misjudged the person/institution and that I’m making a mountain out of a molehill.
Statements such as those are immediately privileged, because they (a) say that my concerns aren’t important; and (b) the same courtesy that would be afforded to someone else (i.e.; politely listening instead of refuting) can’t be offered to me because of the topic.
Even though I was raised as a Latina by immigrant parents, I do have some experience navigating in an Anglo world. My understanding of “conventional” courtesy is when someone is talking about an issue that is troubling, the listener waits patiently, perhaps offers some words of consolation or empathy but doesn’t try to shame the speaker into admitting that he or she is totally wrong. That would be considered rude and possibly confrontational in the dominant culture, right? So why is it that when many people of color broach topics relating to privilege, we’re automatically overreacting?
I think privilege itself causes normally kind and gentle people to circle their wagons around their own.
But what is this thing called privilege? And how is it different from racism? I’ll give my own perspective here. Privilege is benefiting from systems designed to support your success. For example, take the “it’s who you know” approach to networking for jobs. Because non-minorities are already in positions of influence within companies, people in their circles can take advantage of those relationships. If you’re not in that person’s circle, you can’t.
The biggest challenge we’re going to have in any policy arena, be it public education, economics or anything else, is for those who have the privilege of not worrying about inequity to be humble enough to allow the voices of those who suffer inequity to speak and be heard. Non-minorities, to a great extent, need to learn how to be allies.
Here are some resources, although some might be hard to stomach. Suck it up and learn.