Why My White Friends Don’t Live in Post-Racial America: Addressing Privilege and Microaggressions

Perhaps one of the highlights of my 2012 thus far was the explosion that the internet put on the shit certain people say. I’m not speaking of the issues in North Carolina (because there are obviously plenty), nor the conspiracy of the birth of Beyonce and Jay Z’s daughter. What I mean is the avalanche that swept youtube earlier in the year in examining privilege and microaggressions. Famously, “Shit White Girls Say…To Black Girls” Parts 1 and 2 in all of its brilliance caused an explosion of videos, from the frivolous to the righteous, from women of color about the shit white girls say to them as a result of their privilege and unexamined (by them) prejudices. Brilliant Chescaleigh spawned several other brazen and bright feminist videos by other women of color, including but not limited to:

Shit White Girls Say to Latinas, Shit White Girls Say… To Brown (Desi/Indian) Girls, Shit White Girls Say…to Arab Girls, Shit White Girls Say To Asian Girls, and many other stellar vids addressing white girl privilege.

I thought back to this incredible hullabaloo, as I often do, when I spend time with some of my white comrades. While I tend to think of myself as a “one (wo)man wolf pack“, I often find myself spending time as a growing-older twenty-something with young, white professionals that I may have worked with at a certain point. I’ve oft found that since I have experience in such progressive fields, my white friends and I have much in common. For that reason, it baffles me when I hear them say things about people of color that makes me aware of their lack of ownership of their privilege. Of course, this is often the cause for the divide in feminism between white women and women of color.

I think that a rift began in mine and my good friend’s relationship when I was expressing my previous partner’s Haitian-Namibian lineage and she chuckled and mentioned the words ‘voodoo’ and ‘Africans’ in the same sentence, as if she were completely unaware of my brown skin. And there were similar comments, not on the same level or time, but here and there: “I can totally say this next comment, because my relative is (insert ethnicity here)” and “ZOMG I let my boyfriend listen to this song ‘The Motto’ by Drake and showed him a hip-hop dance, but he told me that I wasn’t ghetto enough” and “I listen to hip-hop all the time; everyone tells me I’m Black on the inside.” It exhausts me, and even more exhausting is that I’ve become less of the privilege-and-racism-attacking-machine hotshot that I once was. I used to be quite adept at breaking down these thought patterns, whatever the cost, and I’ve become challenged at it — especially when the subject delivering these microaggressions are current colleagues.

I compare the microaggressions based on social and cultural misguidance and, well..privilege, to objectification in that, while the person delivering the underhanded remarks may not find them to be so, these comments are often an attempt to singularly define an individual or group by some attribute, negative or otherwise. I was once told by a very brilliant friend of mine that he believes objectification to be an irritation; however, while objectification (and these microaggressions that are comprised mainly of words that may not be injurious) is small in comparison to the many other battles we are faced with in our separate and intersecting marginalized communities, we have to find a balance in battling privilege, objectification, and the like because they are detrimental to identity and progress. I’m tired of white girls telling me they’re going to tanning beds because they’re ‘trynabe’ like me. Cut that shit out.

I’m tired of white people throwing ethnic-themed parties with 40s, fried chicken and watermelon. I’m tired of children having to go to school to homework with racially inappropriate questions. And white parents who allow their kid to dress in blackface when he’s in character as Dr. Martin Luther (the) King, Jr.

What says you, readers? What is the most honest way to address privilege short of cursing out colleagues and friends? How do we examine the overlapping oppression among our peer activists who, apparently, are unaware (or unabashed) of the other forms of white privilege they possess?