Hopeless in Portland: Analyzing ‘Privilege Speak’

By Maxjulian

March 27, 2005

Category: Uncategorized


“My ex-girlfriend, who is white, hates white people because she’s obsessed with the concept of white privelege. Wouldn’t she and you both do more good if you had some good things to say about everyone?”

In an online discussion of race and racism, a young white guy uttered the above. To break it down, his ex girlfriend hates white people because she is obsessed with white privilege. His conclusion, that “she hates white people because she’s obsessed with white privilege” is one of the more AMAZING comments I’ve ever seen.

Because she, I’m guessing, is opposed to/aware of, OR, anti-white privilege and TALKS about it, this causes alarm and discomfort in this young white man. He perceives her not being on board with white privilege as being anti-white or hating whites, though, she is white herself. Because I was critical of white privilege in the conversation, I assume he believes I hate white people or wish to do them harm. This is confirmed in his next sentence:

Wouldn’t she and you both do more good if you had some good things to say about everyone?

Now doing good, NOT talking about or being obsessed with white privilege, or simply saying good things about everyone (meaning white people), are synonymous, at least implicitly. Condemning racism and white supremacy would logically be bad. I was never good in logic, so would someone please explain that to me?!

It hurts me to be considered inherently racist just because I’m white, man. That’s not going to help the cause.
And I don’t have a great deal of understanding of the “white privelege” concept but it also sucks to hear people say that everything i’ve worked to become is based on social privelege rather than on my own efforts.

Dude, it hurts me to be strung up by the neck and thrown off a bridge and hear my neck snap like Cap’n Crunch. It hurts to be racially profiled, everyday, pulled over, followed in department stores, sold cocaine that black folks don’t fly over from Columbia. It hurts to be taught that you have no history, that civilization began in Europe when your people had been on the earth thousands of years before there was a Europe. It hurts to have ones people erased like a turd in a toilet bowl and then be told this country was founded by the white Pilgrims who did the flushing. But I digress…

This is a call for help. I need someone to explain to me where I have gone astray. I thought racism was a system. I thought it was a system that permeates, to paraphrase Neely Fuller, all eight or nine areas of people activity: labor, law, education, sports, entertainment, politics…and I’m spacing on the others. It is a global system, or so I believed, causing untold suffering to millions of non-white people.

But I could be wrong. This young white man believes that we live in a world where our own efforts define our trajectory, where speaking well of each other is the answer to the ills in the world, where having limited knowledge of certain concepts, like for example – white privilege – should not deter anyone (white) from speaking with authority.

Somebody teach me

7 Responses to “Hopeless in Portland: Analyzing ‘Privilege Speak’”

  1. White privilege rules this world and it’s disgusting. More and more I’ve become more aware of the reality of how the rich are just gettin’ richer off the backs of the poor, the vulnerable and people of color.

    How can we have these conversations in a way that doesn’t seem like an attack on an individual? I believe we are all trying to do the best with what we have been given. And no one likes the feeling of being marginalized. It doesn’t feel good to hear that everything one has worked for – was really about coming from a place of privilege. That statement discounts the efforts that individuals has made to make a better life for themselves. At the same time, coming from a place of white privilege does mean that people of color are being disadvantaged.

    Both statements are true and hold validity. One’s efforts to better their circumstance runs parallel with the reality of white privilege. It isn’t one or the other. Both parties are coming from a place of feeling marginalized and discounted. So how can we honor an individual’s journey and efforts and stand together against the monstrosities of white privilege and racism? I want to be a part of that.

  2. “It doesn’t feel good to hear that everything one has worked for – was really about coming from a place of privilege. That statement discounts the efforts that individuals has made to make a better life for themselves”

    I never made this statement, you did and its a complete distortion. Also, it seeks to equate a critique of white privilege and its beneficiaries with actual discriminatory/oppressive action directed against people of color. My words versus your system that places white folks 50 yards ahead in a 100 yard sprint. Is that fair? I’m trying to stop a system that is eating up people of color, KILLING us; and you are concerned about feeling verbally attacked, while the black body, the red body, the brown body are being attacked by the system that supports YOU! We are dying from white America – what are you going to do about it? I’m sorry your feelings are being hurt, but when there’s a fire in a theater, you don’t care how shrill the cry is; you simply want to let the patrons know there’s a fire. There’s a fire, damnit!

  3. Julian,

    Just to clarify: I didn’t write this anonymous comment.

  4. Self hate is never constructive, feeds and stems from guilt, and cannot propagate a loving world, which is the ONLY solution to ending the power, privilege and oppression dynamic. Pressing people to challenge themselve is necessary, but I have yet to see someone do this effectively who hates themselves, is wrapped up in anger over their history (white or not) and who does not have a solid grounding of who they are and their own ethnic heritage.

  5. Oh, and by the way, I am NOT white. I just have not found guilt-ridden white folks to be the best allies, as they often misstep, being tied up with anger and pain.

  6. That self-hate/definition thing allows one to commit increasingly atrocious things. Thanks, Tonyo. I think your comments are the essence of the disease.

    Funny how we feel compelled to identify our color to the reader, as it affects their understanding of the text. “coloring our judgment”
    In fact, it’s hard not to. So then, of course, the reader looks for clues so they can…., etc.

  7. to avoid any confusion, Tonyo, I should’ve said, “your comments speak to the essence of the disease”.

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