I hate white people.
Looking at this statement (a statement that I say every now and then), I realize that it’s wrong.
“Hate” is a strong word. The truth is that I don’t think I hate anyone, not even people that have hurt me seriously and repetitively. Hate seems like a lot of energy dedicated to the wrong people. Maybe it’s more accurate to say: “I dislike white people.”
While we’re at it, let’s break down the concept of “white people.” With this phrase, I mean to evoke a certain type of attitude more than a skin color. Maybe I have a different concept of race than some because, where I come from, people are mainly segregated along the lines of religion and ethnicity/culture rather than color. The attitude I’m talking about is related to what is known as “white privilege.” I’ll admit, most people with white skin act with white privilege, but I will also acknowledge that a few have successfully countered that status/behavior.
I should also mention that the reverse is also true; that it is possible for non-white people to act as if they have white privilege. For example, when rich non-white people travel to poorer countries or when they interact with poor non-white people, I’ve seen them behave very similarly to white people of the same class. I will go into more detail below about these behaviors, but at its core, these behaviors make an appearance in situations where privilege meets under privilege. For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to persons behaving in this privileged manner as “white people” throughout this article, because they are the majority of people acting this way and those with the true power in this dynamic.
I have noticed that there are at least two separate groups whose behaviors are both based on white privilege but manifest in different ways. One group I will label as “bad white people”; those whom take advantage of their privileges without shame or care for the less-privileged. They own up to their status and act in a logical fashion for their class; for this reason, I can understand them.
The second group are “good white people”; those who want to help others less-fortunate but who refuse to acknowledge and challenge their privilege. This group wants to “fight the man” but fails to see that they themselves are part of “the man”; they cannot break away from their own stereotypes of POC or break their racist, patronizing behaviors. The people in this group act in contradictory and hypocritical ways; for this reason, I cannot understand them. I see these people trying to fight the same type of behavior that they themselves take part in (although in a less obvious form). In this article, I will refer more to “good white people” than “bad white people” because it is already clear to our society what is wrong with “bad white people.”
A ton of articles and books have been written about white privilege. Instead of beating a dead horse, I’m going to try and write something about the manifestations of white privilege that piss me off the most because I believe we can all benefit from recognizing these faults in ourselves and trying to work on them.
The thing that I dislike the most is the “know-it-all” attitude.
First of all, let me say that many of the world’s disenfranchised and forgotten poor are grateful to white people who, with more resources at their disposal, go out of their way to give charity to people they do not even know. Their efforts are valiant and should be celebrated. However, there is a danger (and a tendency) for decent people who have this intent to fall into the trap of a “know-it-all” attitude and thus to exhibit traits of “good white people.” Let me explain…
People who know how to be effective and truly helpful towards the less-privileged come into the situation with a clear head and willingness to listen to the people they are helping. They have the humility to admit that they probably don’t know everything about the situation in that place, and that they might never fully comprehend it. Most of all, they have the ability to challenge their prejudices and preconceived notions, and accept that they might be completely wrong about how to solve the problem, and/or what the people want and need.
Unfortunately, many folks who “just want to help” are unwilling to do the above and end up contributing more to problems than solving them. I’m talking about your common aid workers, mission trip volunteers, and even NGO professionals. These groups, more often than not (although usually unintentionally), try to force their “enlightened” solutions on others. It is okay to have your opinions, they are valuable and important, but it doesn’t mean they are right. The people with the problem most likely know better than you about how to solve it. At the least, they have the experience that will be essential to solving the problem.
Most obviously guilty of this “know-it-all” behavior are politicians and governments, especially the government of the United States. Just look at what every United States administration has done in meddling in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict; the invasions in Iraq; the support of cruel dictators all over the world, but most notably, in South America; the drone strikes in Pakistan; and every other war crime perpetrated under the slogan of “spreading freedom and democracy.” Sadly, through the last few years, we have seen that the US government can even turn its first black president “white” by this logic. That’s right, I said it, Obama is one of the whitest people I know.
Another thing I dislike is elitism. This one hits very close to home from me.
I was born and raised in a middle-class family in “the ghetto.” The neighborhood was given that reputation because it was the poorest, most neglected area in town and was mainly home for non-whites. Still, I never realized that I lived in “the ghetto” until I noticed that my more privileged classmates were too scared to visit me at home. This confused me as a kid; in my opinion, it is a pretty nice neighborhood. The people are friendly and I always felt safe. When I think of “the ghetto,” I am reminded of the inner-city slums in the US where people are murdered regularly in drive-by shootings, or of the notorious favelas in Brazil riddled with drug trafficking; not of my home.
Now, when I hear people talking about similar, poor neighborhoods, saying things like, “I wouldn’t raise my kids in that kind of place,” I’m skeptical whether this is a legitimate fear or just an attitude stemming from ignorance and privilege. Sure, living in a less affluent neighborhood is a different way of life than living in a rich suburb, but I never felt that I was lacking anything growing up and I’m proud of my roots. Each environment has its positives and negatives. For example, where my neighborhood lacks in “quiet,” it surpasses others in “a sense of community.” I do not agree with the notion that one way of life is superior to another because it has more wealth.
This kind of elitism can have wider repercussions. White people who judge others by where they come from (i.e. a poor neighborhood) tend to take those people less seriously and view them with pity instead of respect. Again, it is very hard to help someone whom you cannot respect or think of as equal.
You can see extreme cases of elitism in mostly-white groups like “hipsters” and preachy vegans. They consider others “sell-outs” when they cannot afford to be picky about which products they buy or which jobs they take. The members of these privileged groups forget that they can be so particular only because they have surplus money and resources. I’ve even seen leftist activists act exactly in the same snobby way; by looking down on poorer people who are too busy making a living and trying to survive to be active on a larger political level.
One more habit that disturbs me is fetishism.
“Fetishism” (negative) can be mistaken for “appreciation”(positive), so it is important to distinguish between the two. Appreciation is when you put effort into studying a culture and you can see it as a living, growing and changing thing, with all of its pros and cons. You can recognize that not everyone in that culture group strictly complies with cultural norms. Essentially, you appreciate a culture when you see it as equally valid to your own and thus recognize all its nuances and gray areas. It is not a monolithic whole that can be easily categorized or stereotyped.
On the other hand, “fetishism” is when people come to think of cultures that are different from their own as “exotic.” Due to the phenomenon of white elitism, many whites never take the time and effort to learn about non-white cultures but instead revert to convenient stereotypes. These stereotypes are usually exciting and provoking. The “exotification” of culture leads to a surface-level understanding at best. Some examples of fetishism that I’ve seen myself are: foreign tourists in my country who try to sleep with Israeli soldiers, and foreign tourists who make photo-shoots by posing in front of destroyed Palestinian houses.
Fetishism is sometimes called “positive racism.” For example, in the US, many whites believe “all Asians are good at math” or “all Blacks have big cocks.” This attitude reduces groups of diverse individuals into a single generalization and reduces complex cultures into simple packages for consumption.
One example of positive racism that I’ve noticed is prevalent these days is the overwhelming love white liberals have for Barack Obama. These folks, instead of looking at Obama’s policies, defend him to the death and support him passionately just because he is black. I can understand the fervor that black citizens of the US must have felt the day Obama was elected; it was hard proof that some things can be achieved. As for the liberal whites, I only see the attempt to assuage white guilt and encourage the false appearance of equality. If liberals were truly looking at Obama as equal, they would not be ashamed to critique his especially imperialist and cruel policies abroad (i.e. drones, anyone?)
Lastly, there is the tendency of privileged people to police others’ identity politics. This means refusing to let people define themselves as they choose to be defined.
I have a Dutch friend, born and raised in Amsterdam, whose family is from Suriname. When people ask him where he is from, and he answers, “Amsterdam,” he usually gets the follow-up question, “but where are you originally from?” This behavior alienates people who don’t look “typically” of a certain place, even if they were born and raised there. The follow-up question essentially tells the person asked, “I refuse to believe that someone who looks like you could be a part of a certain culture or environment.” Some may disagree with me and say that the follow-up question is posed out of innocent curiosity, but let’s think how often this question is asked to white Dutch citizens.
It seems to me that white people have a need to sort and divide non-white peoples into neat little boxes so they know how to handle them. This is some mechanic of control; when privileged groups treat others in specific ways that align with specific labels, the non-privileged groups begins to form behaviors and alliances around those labels. This is also a form of disenfranchisement because it takes away power from non-white groups to decide where (and to what) they belong. Because white people hold the highest power in many places, this policing of identities can, and has had, led to serious repercussions, For example, the “divide and conquer” tactic of inventing new identities by emphasizing minute differences within native populations was a key part of British colonialist strategy in the 20th century.
These are the main forms of white privilege that bother me. I’m sure there are others that I’m forgetting as well. The important thing is that any of these behaviors can be avoided with a little bit of introspection and self-criticism (myself included).