Edit: I see that this post is still read regularly, and I’ve been thinking and discussing this subject since writing this and come to the conclusion that the use of the word ‘white’ by Americans is still a complete mystery to me. So I want to make clear before you read this that I use the expression ‘white people’ just for the plain meaning of “light-skinned specimens of Homo sapiens” (as we native Europeans are), and the word ‘race’ for a group of humans with the same biological characteristics like skin color, eye form, etc…’ I actually have no concept for the ‘race as a social construct’ idea the way some Americans use it, coming from a continent of native white people myself, where white people have been killing, hating, oppressing, enslaving, and so on for the last thousand years for differences like culture, language, tradition, religion, place of birth or clan-ancestry, and where ‘whiteness’ is not the defining and most relevant issue unlike in our former colonies where it is very important.
North-America has (very simplified) the situation in which 3 groups of white colonists/former slave masters, conquered natives and former slaves are each ‘racially’ very distinct from each other, just as the Mexican immigrants, so the connection of those groups with ‘race’ and using the color as name of the group is relevant over there, but not always in other contexts, like on the native continent of white people where a lot of groups exist that are racially the same and have a lot of other differences that matter much more.
Also, I do not believe (from all the racists and racism I’ve seen here in Belgium) in the relevance any meaningful concept of specifically ‘white privilege’ over here, as Americans use the term. There is no real ‘we-group’ of ‘white people’ against the rest here for most people, the ‘we’-group is much smaller and more specific, and ‘race’ in itself (in any meaningful definition of that word) is not the defining factor. People of other colors can be much more ‘in’ the we-group (example: an adopted black person with Flemish name) than white people that are very unlike us(example: East-European poor immigrant not knowing the language and cultural customs)
We just sometimes have a dicriminating system based ‘native privilege’: This is our country, our language, our culture: the more ‘like us’ you are, the more privilege you get, the more you are different and behave different, the more you will be ‘out’. (In a way, many things called racism over here are more some sort of pseudo-racism which is equally bad: discrimination on being culturally different. I would like to reserve the word ‘racism’ itself for discriminating people because of racial (biologically) difference, discrimination of muslims (who can be of all races) for example is a big problem and injustuce, but not real racism. Using the term too sloppily might make it problematic to confront real racism where it exists and still is a life-destroying problem!)
I’ll blog more about this later.
(Okay, This is where the original post begins:)
…and you become a monster, so the monster will not break you…
(U2, channeling an idea that might come from Nietzsche)
(Note: I am not American nor a real Academic, and I do refuse to take the views of American or other academics, feminist or otherwise, normative for all of the planet. I will listen to you, but if my experience or what I’ve seen completely disagrees with your theory don’t push your worldview onto me please. I also don’t even give one single atom of Hydrogen about political correctness and using the right shibboleths for any side as you will see… Also, this was inspired by several different conversations happening lately, and was not written to attack any person or text specifically. )
Let’s start with saying it flat-out loudly: I’m tired of people who decry sexism and racism and then go bashing white males all the time. No matter what excuse you use, it still is sexist and racist and self-defeating anything you want to accomplish to this outsider of your liberationist tradition!
Yes, I know some of you will say now that racism and sexism come from privilege and that you cannot discriminate against the privileged and bla-bla-bla. But sorry, that won’t convince me, and all those redefinitions will bring us is only a semantic quicksand and more misunderstanding, and maybe even more discrimination.
Firstly, the whole idea of tying ‘racism’ completely to the idea of privilege is a semantic shift that has only happened in certain academic circles, and not one I had ever heard of before entering the blogosphere or discussing about such subject with a certain type of academics. For other people the word ‘racism’ just means negative prejudices based on race (skin color and similar traits) or the hatred and discrimination built on it. And all this bashing of ‘white people’ does definitely fall under the ‘classical’ definition of racism.
Secondly, the idea that racism cannot exist against whites sounds quite dangerous to me actually. It only reminds me of an attempted ‘animal farm revolution’. And completely outside of reality as far as I can say too. Living in a European city with a lot of different people from very different backgrounds I’ve seen racism coming from a lot of sides towards a lot of sides. Including racism (and sexism) against native white Belgians, especially white women even. And most problems here were not really just ‘privilege’, but some are more symptoms a very serious cultural clash. When I lived in a street full of immigrants, my (then) fiancée was afraid to go outside after 8 because a certain kind of men made her uncomfortable because they behaved like just because she was walking outside as a non-veiled white women, which was less than nothing in their eyes, or more some public property they could prey on with their eyes and words (luckily in her case nothing more, but not every woman has been that lucky). I’ve never seen a more severe case of what feminists call ‘rape culture’ in my life actually.
(And to go on in the politically incorrect direction: the thing is, from all nationalities or cultures present only representatives from a few were problematic in this way. Certain cultures and subcultures seem to tend more to xenofobia or woman-unfriendliness while other don’t seem to have such tendencies at all… Some people from elsewhere really seem to be completely denigrating towards Western non-veiled women. Also, a lot of muslim and African cultures are mostly hostile to anything not heterosexual in a way beyond what we Westerners -even ‘homophobic’ ones- can imagine. I once had a boy from an African country tell me how they lynched gays with burning tyres in his homeland as if it was the most logical thing ever. He couldn’t even understand I was surprised by that!)
Something else: The whole way ‘whites’ are described here is quite deterministic to me, and I do not see how it does anything else than keep the gap between ‘whites’ and ‘non-whites’ wide open. Maybe I don’t get what you want to say because I’m not part of certain academic circles and because I don’t read the right books, or am not American, I don’t know, but this repeated use in a blaming way of ‘whites’ only gives me the idea that whatever happens they will always be the fault for some people, most of which are white themselves by the way, but don’t have all of the other point of privilege that matter to their views on privilege (more on that later).
But anyway, ‘reverse’ racism is just as big a problem as racism. I’ve seen this with certain non-Belgians who were quite hateful against the native Belgian (and sometimes against all of Western civilization ) We’ve never had much slaves over here by the way (only genocidal kings with private African colonies in which they unleashed hell for the local people to get themselves and a few mega-industrials richer), so the biggest racism problem here is not really between ‘blacks’ and ‘whites’ (dumb terms, there’s nothing white about me) but between Belgians and certain newcomers from mostly certain muslim countries, who are mostly brownish-skinned indeed, but the problem is not one of skin or appearance, but a serious clash of cultures from both sides.
I don’t think there’s much difference whether it is Belgians looking down on the brownish guys, or the brownish guys looking down on us white Western infidels, or the brownish guys on the black Africans, or… Racism is evil in every instance…
Yes, racism between non-Belgians is not that uncommon either I am afraid, it’s not only white people who are racist, and there can be really strong racism with no white people involved, even in a white European country. I once, while in a working-class job had a North-African co-worker who was as deeply racist against black Africans as a few of his not-so-friendly co-workers were against his people.
(Yes, it’s probably classist and again not very politically correct, but some specimens among those generally not very educated working class people I worked with were quite shocking to me because they were unashamedly racist, sexist and hating on anything homosexual in a way I thought did not exist in our enlightened modern society! It was only later when I heard certain stories from elsewhere -remember the tyres?- that I realised it could be even worse.)
So don’t tell me racism can only come from white people, and never be directed towards white people. That’s just plain nonsense to me, and if you dismiss what I’ve seen and experienced for an academic theory you should not expect me to listen…
Now to get to my point I wanted to bring across: Racism, as all form of hate and discrimination, tends to work according to the principle of the never-ending vicious circle of violence. It always comes back in a new way from the other side. Hate begets hate, violence begets violence, prejudices and racism beget prejudices and racism. That’s how it works. And the hate on the oppressed side is just as destructive as what comes from the oppressor. And even long before the stage of hate and violence the same principle is clear: misunderstanding breeds misunderstanding, prejudices breed more prejudices, etc… This will also work between 2 groups of ‘equal status’ btw. Never forget that racism can be fully operative without any real privilege-imbalance going on between the 2 groups that are racist towards each other.
And no, I have no problem in confronting privilege and opening peoples eyes for it. But please cease the racist-sounding lingo against the privileged. It will only make a lot of people who need the message close their ears. Look for others word or you will create confusion with anyone except for those who know the right lingo and subscribe to the latest academic theories… I must honestly again say that to me all of this calling out of privilege which in the end comes down to bashing white males to me sounds only like a weird attempt at an ‘animal farm revolution’ that does only make the distance and problems bigger and does not in any way bring reconciliation and not at all stop the spiral of racism actually.
The only revolution I can care for as a follower as Jesus is one that tries to free both the oppressor and the oppressed from the system that distorts the image of God in either of them.
Discrimination is a problem, cultural clashes and prejudices are a problem,and privilege is a problem, and these things are sins that should be fought against, made visible and repented of, but this way of framing it is going nowhere, sorry…
One more remark about the whole privilege thing: privilege is never absolute, and it actually can be completely contextual. As for myself, in one situation I have been completely privileged as a native Dutch-speaking male, in another I have been completely the lowest person in rank just for being an introvert, or not been taken seriously in any way just because I’m a religious person (I live in a secular country where being an evangelical gives you the opposite of privilege). Or because I’m a non-academic who does not use the right shibboleths…
Last remark: there are much more ways of institutional discrimination (also very depending on the context) than the usual suspects of sex and race: Introvertpobia (or extravertnormativity) for example can also be institutionalised in certain sectors for example (I’ve experienced that, and might even have been fired for such reasons once), and hippie profiling can also be a strong form of unjust institutional xenophobia. There’s a lot more going on than the few highlighted problems that are battled extensively, and a lot of people who need to be lifted out of the darkness and given a place on the table, and a voice on deciding what we’re going to do. And sometimes we will have to listen and try to understand things that go beyond what we can understand….
(Last politically incorrect parenthesis: don’t ask me what to do with a man in the street who hates all Westerners, sees all non-veiled women as lowly sex objects and wants gays to be executed, but God loves him and even wants us to love him, and if we don’t listen to him first, he will never ever attempt to listen to us. I actually refuse to believe that anyone is beyond redemption, and even he carries the cracked image of God. Which doesn’t mean I would let my wife ever talk to him…)
To close let us pray:
Let us be like Jesus
who loved the least
and went for the most lost ones first
He, who had the privilege
of being God Himself incarnate
and became a lowly baby…
Let us ask for His Spirit
to open our eyes,
and for the upside-down Kingdom
of the Father
to shatter all of this evil
that divides us and destroys us…
Let us love
let us fight hate
let us bring down barriers
and invisible walls
what do you think?