As a white male, I've grown up with a level of privilege and entitlement in this world which had led me to rarely question my advantages, but worse, sometimes question the plight of those who mostly experience disadvantage and discrimination -- the total opposite of privilege and entitlement. As a person who, above all, strives to serve the greatest good of others and the greatest good of all, this is an unacceptable state. Fortunately, after being in a long-term relationship with a person of color, I've had the blessing to be able to gain a better understanding of how the dichotomy of skin color separates us in subtle ways, and how we still to this day create unfair advantages for ourselves, even in states of ignorance when we are trying to help. In this blog, I explore various ways that we, as white people, create these disadvantages, as well as how we can transcend beyond the lip service we give to people of color as we all try to erase separation and truly treat each other as equals.
It's Never a Black Person's Duty to Explain it To You
First an foremost, as a philosopher, I am often one to go deep into discussion about various concepts. The topic of race is no different. When I first met my girlfriend and was comfortable to talk about race, I don't know how many times I asked her to walk me through how people of color were treated with micro-aggressions too subtle for a white outsider to perceive or understand. It took a while for me to realize that this very act of "forcing her to explain it" was in and of itself another micro-aggression. On the surface, it feels to a white person that we are doing some kind of "helpful thing" to gain an understanding of our own shortcomings with an intention to transcend them by engaging in a dialog with a person of color and having them walk us through it. In reality, we are creating another imposition of oppression by refusing to accept our shortcomings until they are clearly enunciated to us. This creates an opportunity to dismiss the issue, with the sad excuse that, "if a black person can't convince me that I'm performing a micro-aggression, then there's no micro-aggression," thus creating another layer of bypassing.
It's Not Black People "Living Out Bad Karma" That made them be Black, It's White People "Creating Bad Karma" To Be White
Now we're getting into a section where white folks are going to start dropping off (if they haven't already). I don't know how many times I've heard a white dude who doesn't want to face the problem of racial inequality play the "karma" card and say something along the lines of, "racism is just a symptom of black people living out their bad karma." This is a clear example of spiritual bypassing, and it forgets to mention the other side of the coin. Since, like energy, karma can neither be created nor destroyed, as black people make up good karma by living in a cruel world of oppression, the oppressors are creating bad karma in every negative action bestowed upon a person of color through ignorance and discrimination. When it comes to karma, you're either part of the problem or part of the solution.
Gratitude For Being White Creates Bad Karma
Realizing my white privilege to not be excessively screened in airports on a regular basis, followed around in merchandise stores by suspicious security guards, or tailed by bald white cops because of the color of my skin, I had no idea what to do with that privilege other than "be grateful" that I'm white and don't have to deal with these problems. I even touched on this in a chapter of my book, Spin the World Around after noticing the ease of travel that simply being white gave me. It seemed enough to just recognize and acknowlege my privilege and have gratitude, but this is not enough for someone whose destiny is to make the world a better place. Lama Rod Owens, a "buddhist famous" speaker on radical dharma said it best in a recent talk when he stated, "Your enjoyment of your privilege creates a problem for me." As a white male, it therefore becomes my duty to not be "satisfied" or "grateful" that I happen to be on the forgiving side of discrimination, but rather, I must be an active contributor to eradicate the suffering of others by not creating it, and, when possible, alleviate it for others. This doesn't mean I should be ashamed of being white, but rather, that I must use the advantage of my white privilege to help others who don't have that privilege. Otherwise, I'm just perpetuating the problem.
It's Ok For People of Color to Create Exclusive Groups
Until white people truly "get it," it is imperative that people of color are allowed to create safe support systems that exclude white people. It's easy to say "slavery ended a while ago, can't you get over it and move on?" but this is another form of bypassing. It's not up to the oppressors to decide whether discrimination exists, it's up to the oppressed. Until we truly "get it," there will always be systems to oppress and reject people of color built in to the fabric of society. We must not formulate "white fragility" and cry when black people unite to support each other. Slavery is something that existed legally for centuries, and even after being technically abolished, slavery was tolerated for decades until it migrated into legal segregation. As a nation, it's only been about 50 years where we have publicly decided to treat everyone as equals, and we all know that many of us in power are still not yet putting our money where our mouth is. The majority has to take the lead on inclusion, and then give the minority the option to follow our lead out of free will, instead of from a place of yet more forced oppression. Not to mention, when a group of black people excludes us, it's a great opportunity to experience what people of color experience on a day-to-day basis in the regular world! Then, we can take this feeling to lead the way into creating an environment of radical inclusion to nurture a space where segregation based on color might truly become irrelevant.
Reverse Psychology Tricks We play On Ourselves
I recently heard a most laughable statement that a white person made along the lines of, "I feel disadvantaged because I've never been able to experience disadvantage." Ahh, to be able to have your cake and eat it too! On the one hand, we have people angry about being passed over for things like college admission or jobs because of race quotas and affirmative action, but what we don't often realize is that the hole has been dug so deep that we need to artificially create ways to get out of it. Making an effort to include more diversity in our schools and workspaces is the only way to unravel and reverse the systems in place which suppress people of color. White people don't realize the inordinate amount of 'extra work' that people of color have to put into every effort in order to be on the same level as a white person because of the nature of our ignorance. In many ways, forcibly including them into the "world of whitey" is a service to white people so that we may truly discover our own white supremacy and therefore actively see ways we can reverse it. This doesn't come through forcing black people to explain it to us, having gratitude for being white, expecting black people to 'get over' centuries of oppression, or forcing inclusion into their circles. Instead, it comes through doing our own inner work and simple day to day things like befriending a black person, or smiling to a stranger instead of crossing the street to avoid them. And, if you are someday wronged by a person of color, look at is an opportunity for you to discover the same advice you might give a black person to "figure out how you created your reality" or how you are able to "repay your karmic debt to the universe." As a person of privilege in the majority, we must be the ones to break the cycle instead of perpetuate it!
Copyright (c) 2015 Russell Eric Dobda