A Look at The Subtlety of White Privilige in Literature and World Culture

A while back I was having a conversation about good books. I was telling this woman how I didn't quite dig the opening for this excellent collection of short stories by Mexican Authors, most of which had never been published in English. I mentioned that he said some things that made it feel like he didn't really have a connection to the culture, these authors, their works or genre. She asked if it was because he was racist. I answered "maybe?". 

I don't think I would have talked about it in that way, but she kind of assumed how I might talk about an issue like this. Unfortunate, because without closing me off in that way and putting me in a box, we actually could have had a much more meaningful conversation...

Anyway, she said that white people almost have to try harder to prove themselves in situations like that, and while I agree that there needs to be some forethought to what you're saying as a white man introducing stories of a genre and culture with which you obviously do not participate in, I don't think there's an "unfairness" in that, as she was implying. 

I think that you need to be thoughtful, sensitive and probably learn a good deal about what you're talking about, before talking like an expert about something that's still new to you. Is that something that people of other traditions have to do to contribute to White American culture? Hell yes. Are the people of color expected to bend over backwards and assimilate to White American culture just to fit in? If you could bet on it 24/7 you would be the richest of the 1% (wait a minute...there might be something to that). Are people of color and alternate traditions so easily allowed to assume expertise about things that are new to us? Hell no. Is it a privilege that, as a white, mainstream American, someone can assume and impose an interpretation on a culture or its traditions? I'm afraid so.

It's also a privilege to call people who question these things too quick to "pull the race card". To assume that they're wrong. After all, racism is a power dynamic and privilege is one of the outcomes of that dynamic. There is people who hold power over others. Politically, socially, and Econimically. That privilege is asserted every time they get the benefit of the doubt. As in this circumstance, the benefit of the doubt that this man (me) is an angry person of color, hastily pulling the race card because he doesn't like white people - as well as the benefit of the doubt that an unknown white author (I didn't remember his name and she didn't seem to recognize his work) has to work harder than any author of color in that situation (introducing a book by people of color) because of the unfairness of angry, white-people-haters like me.

This is the language of oppression, of privilege, and it has been created as something subtle so that it can survive. If people had to say, "I think you're worng because your brown" and "I have inherited a sense of entitlement because of the way that our racist country has raised me", it would be hard to argue with the truth. Instead, well meaning, everyday people assume they're in the right about things they don't understand because of what we are taught in this country on the most basic level: That some people are better than others. It's in the schools, it's in the neighborhoods and outlet malls. It's on TV and in our books. Most people don't consiusly believe that some people are better than others of course, but they also don't understand it and how these themes play out in the world around them, nor how their ignorance on the issue contributes to it.

The only way to arm yourself against this nefarious subconcious American and Human phenomona, is to learn. There is classes, books and people to talk to all over who are not enraged, white-people-haters, spewing everything they can just to hurt and demean you because they "don't have it good". Talk to these people, learn from these books and courses and make the world that much better.

Thanks and Love for reading and thinking,



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