White Privilege and How To Use it, part 2
Updated: Jul 3, 2020
White Silence is Violence versus Virtue Signalling.
The previous blog post considered what white privilege is and how it affects white people’s lives. Hopefully, now you can acknowledge your white privilege. The next job is to think about what you can do with it.
We live in a world full of media that centres whiteness as the default and everything else as other. We exist in a space where black people are often shown as criminals, promiscuous, violent, anti-establishment, drug addicts or drug dealers, lazy and stupid. Intellectually, we know this is bullshit. These portrayals of black people date back to the slave trade (as we’ll look at in a later post) and have been used to justify the human trafficking of people and their sale as property.
Most of us can name black people who we deeply admire for their intelligence, strength and commitment
but the background noise of the media exists on an emotional level, and just like porn affects our feelings towards sex and women, so this constant battery of negative images, jokes, news reels, and anecdotes affects how we see people with different skin colour than our own.
Many people rush to support men accused of sexual assault because we refuse to believe our friends or co-workers could do that to another person. Similarly, we rush to justify the actions of police when they are accused of brutality and search for reasons to excuse them when we cannot ignore the evidence. We tell victims how they should have behaved differently to avoid the violence they received.
I will look at the reasons for, and history of, racism in a later blog post, but for now I’d like to look at what people (mostly white people) are doing now to prevent an overhaul of a system most of us know is deeply racist.
These are the voices that will accuse you of being a
race traitor, an antifa terrorist, or claim you are virtue signalling
when you (as a white person) publicly support the call for black lives to be considered just as valuable, just as precious as your own. It’s common to be asked “why are you so angry?” by the same people who call the protesters disgusting.
You might be told you are betraying your own kind or that it isn’t your fight and you should stay out of it. You might be accused of virtue signalling, in summary, pretending to care in order to score points with a vague and unidentified group of people who hand out trophies to the politically correct. You might be told you’re a snowflake or a social justice warrior, or too angry.
You might (understandably) be afraid of dominating space where your voice does not belong.
Whatever you say in a public space, some people will disagree, and these arguments (as they rarely seem to be objective debates) may be upsetting. The easiest way to deal with any criticism is to understand why you have decided to speak out. There are selfish reasons for joining any mass movement, so
think carefully about how you feel and what you are trying to achieve
before you begin.
Are you using the Black Lives Matter hashtag to promote something you (a white person) are selling? This is absolutely NOT acceptable. Remember this is not about you. This is about people dying. Do you really want to be THAT person?
Are you listening? The experts on this movement are black people themselves, but black people are not a homogeneous group. If a person of colour posts something you think is worth sharing, share it. Amplify the voices that move you, so that other white people will hear and might be moved by them too.
Understand and accept that the All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter hashtags should never be used. These are both calls for more (not less) oppression and murder.
Don’t address your thoughts on Black Lives Matter to people of colour. To do so is whitesplaining (see mansplaining). Black people already know why they’re protesting. As white people our role is to fight the oppressive structures by their side, and bring in more white people as supporters.
What if I’m told to shut up?
There are white people who will attack you for doing it wrong. Only you can decide whether those people are coming from a place of love or hate, and whether their complaint is valid and helpful.
You might want to argue with them, or try to change their minds, this can sometimes bring more white people in as supporters and is worth the effort. At times you might feel as though you are hitting your head against a brick wall. You will find yourself on a rollercoaster of emotions when you recognise how deeply racist some of the people you know are.
Sadly the only way to avoid this is silence, and
white silence is violence.
Other people will hear you and agree.
However upset you might feel try to remember that
this is NOT about you or your feelings.
People of colour have no responsibility to pat you on the back for saying that you don’t want them or their families to be killed. This isn’t about making friends, although you may make some amazing friends. It’s about doing what you know to be right.
You might mess up, and people you respect (and/or are trying to support) might criticise what you’ve posted. Remember this isn’t about you or your feelings. Take the post down and try again. As the great Maya Angelou said -
If you don’t understand what you did wrong, then return to the safer place of amplifying voices of people working in the movement, in particular black people. Read books and watch documentaries to learn more about what is happening and why. Never ask someone else to take the time to educate you.
Discussing any subject you know little about is full of pitfalls. Until you understand the complex 400 year history of what’s happening, you will probably want to keep it simple. Taking everything back to the basics and highlighting it as a human rights issue is very simple. Ask whether you are happy for police to kill unarmed people without facing any serious repercussions. If the answer is NO then you’re ready to support Black Lives Matter.
Terms that might be used to silence you.
Class traitor – if anyone calls you this they are a white supremacist and not worth your time.
Antifa Terrorist – to believe anti-fascism is terrorism is to accept that the system is fascist. Because Trump and the media are repeating this accusation, the person who calls you an antifa terrorist might not be a lost cause. Decide for yourself whether the energy you use to argue with them is worthwhile, and don’t be afraid to walk away (or unfriend) before you burn out.
this term has been banded about a lot. I imagine Trump used it recently. It implies that someone, who isn't black, cannot genuinely fight for black equality, but instead pretends to do so in order to score points. Why are you so angry? is a variation of the same argument.
Humanity is a spectrum, and point scoring may be true of some white people, but I believe the term is actually being used to silence and divide the masses, rather than to expose those engaging in lip service without action.
Promoting Race as difference is an effective tool, because it stops us considering the bigger picture. By creating a narrative that suggests things like Black Lives Matter is a black versus white issue, rather than a black versus oppressive power structures (police brutality, unfair sentencing, mass incarceration, poverty) is a political move. It's intentional. It's a deliberate lie. Governments don't want poor whites to realise they have more in common with poor blacks than with rich whites. If centres of power can pit us against each other, we will do their jobs for them and oppress and silence each other.
If someone accuses your genuine support of Black Live Matter as a performance of virtue signalling, do not take it to heart or let it silence you. It tells you everything about their lack of empathy, and nothing about you. It is very easy for many of us to empathise and care about black people dying, because (I'm paraphrasing Angela Y Davis) -
“If they come for you in the morning, they will come for me in the night.”
If your words of support come from a place of love and respect, and if you are amplifying black voices, then you are doing important work and using your white privilege for good. Keep going!
I have an apt “discussion” to share with you. This happened this morning on a thread about the Colston (slave trader from Bristol, UK) statue being removed by protesters. I’ve removed the name of the person I argued with as she didn’t feel comfortable being outed in a blog post, but as it isn’t just one individual who says these things, I believe it works without the name and shame. For levity, I’ll also include a jokey tweet about the statues removal. These images are all screenshots so I apologise if they are blurred.
And now that conversation on Facebook. I hasten to add that this is a common format and in no way unusual.
My next blog post will include what to do if you’re attending a Black Lives Matter Protest or want to support in another way. In the meantime check out this list of great resources and information. Still to come - reading lists and a brief history of power retention and wealth accumulation by dividing the populous. Heads up – it might get a bit left wing from here. If you hate the idea of socialism you might want to quit while you’re ahead.