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Addressing White Privilege: Should Whites Talk About Race?

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This post is part of a series about white privilege, in which I discuss my views on the topic and how it affects our greater community.  Click here to read the entire series.

White Privilege: Should Whites Talk About Race?

I’m white, and I know I ain’t right.  Even though I’m very involved in the race discussion and I would consider myself aware, I know that some will always question my “whiteness” and my privilege, and that’s fine.  We whites need to be questioned.  But having white skin doesn’t make me the enemy.  I’ve gotten criticism over the years for talking about racism.  Mostly from whites, but also some from people of color.  It seems there are some individuals who don’t think white people are qualified to talk about racism, can’t possibly be anti-racist and shouldn’t be involved in the conversation.  Well, even though I don’t believe any of this, I will give haters some credit…they’re right to be suspicious.

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Even for being as involved as I am, there are still some things that my white privilege may make difficult for me to comprehend at times.  Just like a foreign language student studying abroad, for many whites, they may feel like they’re navigating through a foreign land, since race-talk is not often their first language.  We may stumble here and there or miss the meanings of important discussions, but remember, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do.  For many whites, we’re raised in families that don’t believe in talking about race and even if we’re lucky enough to be exposed to diversity, we may still be lacking understanding about the stories of people of color.  The important thing for me, is to keep learning.  Not understanding a certain topic isn’t a reason to avoid it, it’s an opportunity to educate yourself.  I do plenty of research online, I consult with my husband, with friends, with fellow racism bloggers, but one thing I won’t do, is sit idly on my questions or misunderstandings.  The true path to understanding is obviously learning, and that’s something that we should never stop doing.  Ultimately, we have to join the conversation and grow our knowledge on the topic if we ever expect to bring change.  But we also have to be aware of our privilege and take that into account every time we hear a new perspective.

How about you?  How do you address your white privilege?  How do you keep yourself in check and push yourself to join the conversations?  If you’re a person of color, how do you address whites who may not be out and out racists, but still offend with lack of understanding or assumptions?  How do you handle those situations?

 

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  • Adriana Iris
    August 4, 2011 at 12:06 am

    wow it’s all I can say… you blow my mind.

    • Chantilly Patiño
      August 4, 2011 at 12:13 am

      Adriana, we have got to chat!  I really want to hear more of your thoughts and I know you’ve got something to share.  I’ll hit you up on Facebook.  ;)  Thanks for the comment amiga!

  • 1Awesome_mama
    August 3, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    White is a race too. There's no reason we can't discuss it. I discuss culture.. Race… All of it & how racism made me much of who I am today (witnessing it). Don't ever shy away from it. People who say you shouldn't have some issues of their own.

    • Chantilly Pati&ntild
      August 4, 2011 at 1:42 am

      Thank you for the comment.  I really appreciate hearing others' thoughts on touchy topics like this.  <3

  • Zoie @ TouchstoneZ
    August 4, 2011 at 1:33 am

    I don't always feel comfortable. I can understand it from thinking about a man trying to discuss walking alone at night somewhere. There's most likely a fundamental difference in worldview. But, that's not to say that without conscious work, empathy and discussion can't happen. And I dislike making the sweeping generalization that all men don't go out the door with the same protective worldview as women, but it might be disempowering for women at a certain point if a man is fully enmeshed in the conversation. Does this make sense?

    • Chantilly Pati&ntild
      August 4, 2011 at 1:50 am

      Yes, definitely.  That's a really interesting analogy.  I definitely agree that men joining in the conversation can often disempower women by preventing them from feeling comfortable expressing themselves fully.  This is also true in race discussions.  On the flip side, I think it's also important to open up the discussions so that eventually, races or genders can co-exist in these convos without muting each other.  Obviously the discussions have to intermingle in order for this to happen, but I think you're right, that there is a need to some degree, for forums where we can be sure that we're safe to open up on certain topics.  I know that everyone is not comfortable with me listening in on their convos about race, but I think that one amazing thing about the blogosphere, is that those who are comfortable, can choose to share their experiences on their blogs…and in turn, I share my experiences on my blog and we're able to learn something about each other…we're able to find common ground.  I absolutely love that. <3

  • Glenn Robinson
    August 5, 2011 at 3:20 am

    How do you address your white privilege?  I take notice of my European-American privilege and often wonder how people would treat me if I was of a different phenotype. 

    How do you keep yourself in check and push yourself to join the conversations?  
    At work I keep my mouth shut. With family I thought I could talk about inter-ethnic dating, bilingual education and immigration – but each of those topics have lead me into confrontations with my family.

    If you’re a person of color, how do you address whites who may not be racist, but still offend with ignorance?  
    When I was young I chickened out in confronting racists. Now I confront anyone – and I've lost family due to my judgmental attitude. 

    How do you handle those situations?
    I don't handle my situations very well, but I'm working on a more peaceful approach. 

    • Chantilly Pati&ntild
      August 8, 2011 at 12:12 pm

      Ha!  Glenn, you always have an interesting answer.  ;)  I think confrontations are a must, but I try to go about them peacefully…you can't control people's reactions though.  I've been judgmental on this topic too, which makes sense…it's extremely sensitive, it's about our families and what these people are arguing is flat out ridiculous.  Win over the ones you can and pass on the ones you can't.  Just hope that your example will be enough for them to wake up one day and realize how completely wrong they've been.  <3

  • Beth O
    August 8, 2011 at 10:35 am

    I totally relate. When a loved one, co-worker or customer makes a whispered comment which is so racist it makes your skin crawl, you can't stay silent and live with yourself, yet you feel you can't speak up and still be welcome with them (and like it or not, they ARE your home people, you only actually get one heritage). It's a very delicate balance but I try to go gentle. People are more open when they aren't simply rejecting you outright as some loony hippie freak. I hope that a collection of mild rejections of the bad attitudes (from me and hopefully, some other people) will have some effect. Similar to how comments over the years from a few very kind teachers growing up helped me understand there was a different type of life possible not like the dysfunction, the only thing I knew at home. It's tricky because "working within the system" has been a rationalization for a lot of people doing a lot of bad stuff over the years. But if you look there are also lots of examples in history of people doing it successfully. Just look at racial slavery in the USA– before the Civil War erupted how many millions of small situations were there that somebody planted a seed in somebody's mind? Things do change. I have ancestors who actually held slaves (in the North) and later, other ancestors who died fighting to free slaves in the South. Fortunately I've never been in what I would call a Schindler's List situation, something so desperate that there was matter of physical harm happening that I could prevent. If that were the case I think even my family would have to take a backseat to doing what you know is right. It's lucky that it's never gotten to that extreme in my own surroundings.

  • Chantilly Pati&ntild
    August 8, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Thanks Martha, I really appreciate it.  It's not easy to talk about race, but it gets more comfortable with experience.  Talking about it and understanding it is definitely a step in overcoming our privilege.  One of the privileges of white families? …not having to talk about race…the convenience of not being inconvenienced.  If we can break beyond that barrier, it brings us one step closer to understanding.  <3

  • Deb
    August 8, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    Interesting post..so controversial and so forgotten……….but racism still exist and even for the white race…….

  • rednhl
    March 18, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    How is being ashamed of your skin color going to cross racial divides? Is not this attitude actually promoting racial discrimination? I started out much like many underprivileged minority children in this country. Poor, raised by one parent, with that parent on welfare. Also, I went to a predominantly black school where I as a white female was mercilessly picked on. I never bothered any of those children in that school, I was very quiet and shy. But because I was smart and white I was called names and even attacked physically. It was truly horrible. I grew up, I had many difficulties in life. Eventually I went back to school and I am now able to support my family. There was no "white privelege" involved with my being able to do that. I did not know anyone who would give me special favors, nor was I treated special because of my skin color. Actually, the teachers in the program that I graduated from treated me with contempt, along with many of the other white students in the program. To say that there is no reverse racism is saying that it is ok. Minorities have biases just like most of us do. If there is to be true equality in society then everyone's biases needs to be addressed, not just white people. How hard is it, to try to understand that making a race ashamed of their skin color is wrong? Surely, any person who is a minority can understand that.

    • Chantilly Patiño
      Chantilly Pati&ntild
      March 20, 2013 at 6:40 am

      Rednhl, I don't think it's about being ashamed of your race. I'm not ashamed that I'm white, I'm disgusted at what has been done in the name of whiteness, Christianity and money. I went to all black schools too. I was hated for being smart…even though I was poor just like them. I was suspected and not everyone trusted me or would socialize with me. I know what that feels like and I get that, but I also get why they didn't trust and why they felt I might have a "holier than thou" mentality. It did hurt at the time. I was bullied. But ultimately, I know that it's because of the establishment that has been built by white folks that makes people of color feel inferior and expendable.

      To me, this reaction by the Black community, or Latino communities or Asian, is not racism. It's a "reaction". I know that, and I do what I can to bridge those hurt feelings and let people see that being white doesn't make me a colonizer or superior to them. I also want to remind white folks too…who don't realize how they may be coming off or what privileges they have.

      Regardless of whether African Americans favor us, I will tell you this…white people do. White people favor other white people. They give them jobs first…especially white males. They reward whiteness and devalue blackness. That's just reality. And it isn't any one person. It's a cumulative and systemic act by a society that was built upon a caste system that established the inequalities we currently suffer under. There is a reason why it's so bad to be black, brown or poor in this country.

      If people really knew how much racism was planned and contrived, they wouldn't see it in such simple terms. It's not simply a matter of not liking someone for skin color…it's so much bigger than that.

      • Denise @The Soul Ste
        March 20, 2013 at 6:47 am

        I don't think you could have put this any better! Thank you for your candor and your insight.

        • Chantilly Patiño
          Chantilly Pati&ntild
          March 21, 2013 at 2:11 pm

          Thanks for commenting Denise. First time seeing your new blog…very cute! I hadn't see the new look yet. Congrats! :)

  • Leticia Egea McClain
    March 20, 2013 at 8:08 am

    I think it is a beautiful thing for anyone of any race or culture to open the lines of communication. I believe we have become in some ways over sensitive to this issue. Where Minorities forbid whites to be part of their community simply based on skin color.

    I believe we all have the right to choose who we want to be, who we are, how we identify as women/men/trans, straight/gay/bi, white/black/latino etc

    It kills me that because I have raised my children right, to not see color but to see people and community, they have struggled with bullying, teasing and discrimination.

    Mostly with their own peers. I am a proud 2nd Generation NY Puerto Rican. My children are part of who I am, and part who they choose to be. My oldest is 75%Puerto Rican and 25% Italian/Polish but if you ask her she will tell u she is at least 10% Asian. Because she loves their culture and has spend a good 7yrs immersing her self in it because of that love. My Oldest son is 50%Puerto Rican 50%Jewish (his father comes from a family of Ethiopian jews) He fights on a daily basis with his Peers who tell him his Black. He dreams of a day where being American is simply enough. Now my youngest is 50%PR and 50% Irish, his bronze tan skin and fiery red hair instantly let you know this kid is not Ordinary. He and his brother are constantly questioned at school about being siblings. They hate when people call them Half Brothers. They now say hey look someone is either your Brother or they are not and we are brothers.

    My point is we are a Multi Cultural Family Proud of who we are, infused with blood of the Native Spirit, the Spanish Passion, the Jewish Struggle and the Irish Pride and love just being who we are. Why is that not simply enough.

    So thank you for being catlusit for change and starting this conversation. Each of use has right, black or white. A right to be in the fight. A right to be in the conversation. A right to make a Better world for our children.

    FYI: Chantilly I often forget that you are White your are a strong women, doing the good fight, that is what I see.

    • Chantilly Patiño
      Chantilly Pati&ntild
      March 21, 2013 at 2:19 pm

      Wow…thank you for sharing part of your beautiful family with us Leticia. :) Definitely a mix to be proud of. There is so much insight in growing up in a multicultural family. Your kids are light years ahead of their peers, I'm sure. ;)

      I've struggled with telling my daughter about race and harsh realities. I wish that I didn't have to, but there is absolutely no way around it. People are already quick to point out her differences and it worries me. I do my best to raise her confidently and with other multiracial/biracial friends who "get" her and don't require explanations in order to communicate with her. Luckily she's still young, but I get nervous about what is to come.

      Wishing you all kinds of luck with your little ones. And thank you for the vote of confidence…you put a smile on my face. ♥