White Privilege in Discussions of Racism

White people’s lack of experience of racism is a privilege of whiteness. Yet this inexperience does not override people of colour’s accounts of racism and academic studies on race.

Too often on social media, when a person of colour discuses issues of race and racism, White people feel compelled to share personal opinions and feelings, thereby centring their experience as a White person. This is draining for people of colour, as it shifts the focus from insitutional discrimination and reproduces racism.

For example, White people are fond of jumping into discussions of racism to compare race-related exchange to something that a White person sees might be similar. This erases the context of racial oppression experienced by  people of colour. When their white privilege is checked, a White person will often ask to be educated. They often say things like:

  • “Show me more evidence”
  • “This isn’t as bad as [genocide / some other historical example]”
  • “Things are getting better though!”
  • “This is just one individual, not all White people are like this!”
  • “That can’t be right because I haven’t noticed this”
  • “I didn’t meant it that way,”
  • “Can you point me to some readings about this?”
  • “I didn’t mean to cause offence and I want to learn for next time.”

The world is full of free resources that explain and analyse race relations (like my blog). There are also excellent books and courses that White people can use to become better educated. Asking individuals to perform one-on-one tutorials amplifies inequality.

Generally speaking, at any given time of day, people of colour have experienced several instances of racism. Being asked to engage with racism online simply adds to this load.  Individual people of colour shouldn’t be expected to validate White people’s understanding of that racism. Public discussions of race aren’t for the edification and consumption of White people. It’s telling that White people think otherwise, which leads to them bulldozing people of colour with subjective impressions.

Racism is structural.  Women of colour have gender and racial inequality to deal with online as well as offline; plus for other racial minorities experience further discrimination if they are queer, disabled, and transgender. It’s exhausting to constantly be asked to look after and improve White people’s ignorance. Anti-racism isn’t an individual effort. It must be systemic change, with individuals doing their part to educate themselves and change themselves, their organisations and services they work within.

Educating White on anti-racism is tough. The emotional labour of this work should never fall to people of colour. The expectation that people of colour should remain in servitude to change racism one racist at a time is unhelpful, and a product of White supremacy.

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