The Paralysis of “White Privilege”

Note: The piece below was written as a quick response to several folks who’d asked my opinion of the YouTube video in question. I was somewhat flabbergasted that 16,000 people read it within hours and treated it as though it were a treatise on Marx and race, which is why I have posted Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s article on Marx, Race and Class above, an excellent exposition of the question.-Sherry

There’s a troubling YouTube video, “I AM NOT TRAYVON MARTIN,” making the rounds on Facebook that was posted by a young white woman attacking white antiracists who wear “I am Trayvon Martin” t-shirts. Because the 3-minute video expresses so much of what’s paralyzing and wrong-headed about the “white privilege” argument popular among some left activists, it’s worth a comment.

Essentially, her argument amounts to this: 1) social-justice minded white people (all described as middle class) should not and cannot identify with victims of racism like Trayvon; 2) white people, including antiracists, can only identify with homicidal racist maniacs like George Zimmerman; 3) people of color are multifaceted individuals capable of independent thought and action; white people are an undifferentiated mass of privileged racists who must constantly resist the urge to oppress racial minorities — no matter what they do, say or think they think, all whites are racists and benefit from racism.

This is a rather bleak picture of race and class in America. It is also a completely inaccurate description of and response to a rising tide of multiracial unity in the face of Trayvon Martin’s killing, and Troy Davis’s execution before it.

I haven’t the time here to flesh out all my disagreements, but here are my big three.

One, wearing an “I am Trayvon Martin” t-shirt, or chanting it, is an act of solidarity with victims of racism, not an assertion that everyone faces the same oppression because obviously we don’t. Trayvon’s own mother  has called for multiracial crowds of protesters to identify with Trayvon and the fact that thousands have done so is a testament to a growing disgust with racist police, courts and actions.

Wearing these t-shirts and chanting that you are anybody other than who you actually are is a collective means of expressing outrage at the system, sympathy with victims of injustice and unity with others who feel the same way. It’s why it became so popular among abolitionists to wear “I am Troy Davis” t-shirts in the run-up to that innocent Black man’s execution in September 2011, and why his sister Martina Correia insisted everyone wear one. Visual solidarity is powerful.

The video woman argues that white people wearing these t’s must think that they are making Trayvon into a white, middle class person — presumably like themselves — in order to render him sympathetic in the eyes of racists.

Isn’t it possible, even likely, that people protesting racism wearing these t-shirts actually oppose racism and don’t seek to justify it? If not, then everything we do is called into question as possibly its opposite; nothing we do matters, nothing we say or argue has any validity, but must be suspect as meaning its complete opposite. This is possible, I suppose, but it’s a also a recipe for doing nothing, saying nothing, challenging nothing — paralysis.

Two, arguing, as the video woman does, that white people could only wear “I am George Zimmerman” t-shirts exposes the essentially reactionary core of this argument. Like Zimmerman, who is Latino, white people have been indoctrinated in racism and though video woman, according to her account, has managed to escape the worst of its clutches through great parenting, education and critical thinking, she along with all other whites are condemned to only identify with oppressors, never the oppressed. In fact, to identify with the oppressed, she argues, is an act of immaturity. Au contraire!

Racism, according to this thinking, is not the result of a ruling class’s need to structure oppression in order to gain profits and spread crappy ideas that divide the working class majority from itself. The social construction of racism by those in power centuries ago in order to justify slavery is absent in this analysis.

Instead, racism is conceived as a sort of ideological cancer of no clear origin that metastasizes in all white people, regardless of what they do, think or say. And like a dystopic nightmare, there’s no way out.

Third, according to her “white privilege” argument, there are no distinctions between whites in positions of power and the majority without. In fact, there’s no accounting for how a Black president could preside over a racist system in which a Latino man has killed a Black man and was let off by a mostly white police force led by a Black police chief.

She refers to “the system,” but has no class outlook in which to analyze how the system works and in whose interests. Because if all white people benefit— which includes the majority of people on food stamps, on unemployment and living in poverty in the United States — then these benefits are rather illusory, aren’t they?

Of course, on nearly every economic and social gauge, white people on average in this society have it better than Blacks on average. There are clear advantages to being white in a racist society, but that is not the same as arguing that an injury to Blacks is to the benefit of all whites. To assert, as this argument does, that all white people benefit from racism because they don’t experience the same kind of oppression is false and actually lets the real architects and beneficiaries of racism off the hook.

Employers, politicians, landlords, mortgage lenders and others in positions of power have set up these structures and keep them alive to benefit themselves and their class. Most working class people have no say in these matters and the persistence of a racial divide in the U.S. continues to be one of the greatest obstacles to unified resistance to austerity and joblessness to this day. The fact that many whites accept racist ideas is hardly a privilege or to their own advantage.

The Black historian and NAACP founder WEB DuBois captured this dynamic perfectly:

The race element was emphasized in order that property-holders could get the support of the majority of white laborers and make it more possible to exploit Negro labor. But the race philosophy came as a new and terrible thing to make labor unity or labor class-consciousness impossible. So long as the Southern white laborers could be induced to prefer poverty to equality with the Negro, just so long was a labor movement in the South made impossible.

The video ends with an argument for whites — again, all conceived of as middle class in the midst of the worst depression since the worst depression — to jettison racist ideas and use their “privilege” to fight the system. While I certainly agree with challenging racism, the video ideologically disarms any antiracist white person from actually joining the struggle — whites better not show up to Trayvon marches wearing “I am George Zimmerman” t-shirts!

This video reflects a politically confused way of talking about race as if it were simply about bad ideas in people’s heads and not conscious structures of oppression kept in place by the 1% in the interests of the 1%.

Worse, it’s often counter-productive because by reducing racism to bad ideas and telling all whites they’re beneficiaries, the privilege argument demands ordinary white people relinquish privileges that they do not have, rather than unite to win what’s been stolen from all of us.

Perhaps the most telling thing about this “white privilege” argument is that many radicals have had their sights for justice set so low that it has come to be thought of as a privilege not to be gunned down in the night on a snack errand while wearing a hoodie because of the color of your skin. Isn’t that simply a human right?

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88 responses to “The Paralysis of “White Privilege”

  1. Excellently written

    • I haven’t met any anti-racist whites in my entire life, and I’m not so young. Where would I find them — what town?

      • If you honestly mean that, I’d be happy to steer you toward multiracial activists in many cities who are committed antiracists doing fantastic organizing work. You just need to let me know what city you live in.
        In solidarity, Sherry

  2. Garbage. I see lots of white people reacting this way to this video.

  3. Pingback: Sherry Talks Back: The Paralysis of “White Privilege” | Puget Sound Socialists – ISO - The Puget Sound District of the International Socialist Organization

  4. Clearly you are not connected with the reality that many black and brown people face today. It’s a real risk that black and brown youth are profiled as criminals and killed by civilians, police, and off-duty police with no accountability whatsoever and with no imminent threat to killers’ lives present. This is the reality of why this is a racialized situation that is a glaring violation of human rights. But this is the reality of genocide. Recognizing the racial tension and conflict present is exactly what is anti-racist. Then we can work past it.

    There is a lot more to correct and to respond to with your article, but it’s only going to lead to irrelevant discussion. I don’t agree with your analysis but then I don’t agree with the video you’re responding too either.

    • There is a difference between “recognizing the racial tension present” and saying that there is a fundamental impossibility of solidarity across racial divisions. It’s difficult to blame the woman in the video for making that argument, though, because she sort of wants to have it both ways.

      Most dangerously, I think, her basic conclusion is that, once white people recognize their privilege, they can use that privilege to end oppression by convincing other white people that they, too, have privilege, and eventually people of color will be “allowed” access to our “discourses.”

      Racism isn’t caused by white privilege; white privilege is caused by racism. Racism isn’t a problem that resides in the minds of individuals; it is deep in our social institutions. Understanding it this way leads Sherry to different conclusions, and that is what the article suggests…NOT that she doesn’t understand the realities of people of color.

    • Sounds to me like racism has gone from being hate crimes, to people trying to justify What race is opressing the other. Black and Brown people I’m sorry but its 2012 you’ve faced problems your whole life. Hell i’ve known colored men that when a white man looks at him wrong he cries racist. Get over it. and white people. I say this even though I’m white. When your making youtube videos or protesting for something you believe in. Do us a favor and leave racism out of it, The only reason its not a dead topic is becuase no one will let it be. and the video on white privelidge with the old lady listing out things that privelage white people. Is very true all the white people see it every day. black and colored people stop fighting for something that doesnt exist anymore. itd be more beneficial for you to fight alongside white people against an opressive capitalist government then sit there crying becuase someone said they didnt like your skin color. racism is so old its in history books and if you cant handle some hateful words, then your only making yourselves look like the weaker race. So how about u stop worrying about racism and worry about real things at hand. I garuntee a lot of people reading this will point their little fingers and say “he said racism isn’t a problem he said blacks should stop crying over it , he MUST be racist” Well, if you feel like stating that go ahead but at the same time your only proving my point about black people spending more time crying about racism then actually helping other real world problems that arent 5,000 years old and long dead. Yes there are white people that are racist and blacks to. so put them in their own little misfit group and kick em aside and let the big brothers (non racists) fix our government pls.

      • You are a living, breathing parody of yourself and what’s more, you don’t even realize it. If you would only wise up to your own absurdity, your form of social parody could rival yhat of The Onion or Andy Borowitz. Shame.

      • Wow, Way to completely miss the point of BOTH SIDES of this argument.

    • So if you do not agree with the article and you do not agree with the video, what is the point you agree with?

    • I agree. I live in subsidized housing, a far cry from a gated neighborhood certainly, yet my teenage boy is not seen as a threat if he walks to a mini-mart wearing a black hoodie. We need to recognize the bias before we can begin to fight it.

  5. This spoiled child probably does not even know about Troy Davis and how his sister Martina accepted and *embraced* white people in the US AND Europe declaring that they are Troy Davis. This is how Troy David got so much support. On the night of Troy’s execution, Troy’s nephew told Amy Goodman, a white woman, that she was Troy Davis. 13emcha, sorry but I’ll take the word of the Davis family over you any day.

  6. You seem to miss the entire point of the video. She is not saying white’s cannot be anti-racist but cannot identify with the victims of racism because they inherently can never be those victims. No abolitionist would have worn a shirt that says “I am a slave”, no anti-racist in the post-reconstruction south would have work a shirt that says “I am ‘Insert Lynching Victims Name’”, no white school kid in the 50′s appalled at the racial terrorism done by whites would wear an “I am Emmitt TIll” shirt” and no straight person in the late 90′s would wear an “I am Mathew Shepard” shirt. Obviously poor white people benefit from racism just like rich black people benefit from capitalism but still have lower health outcomes than uneducated poor white people because of racism. You’re 1% argument is the exact reason groups like Occupy the Hood have been created in the wake of the occupy movement. People of Color have been going through an economic depression since before the great depression, and now that middle class white folks are getting the short of end the stick it’s all of a sudden a catastrophe.

    Yes whites benefit the most from social welfare programs, but the perception is that they do not that and that is where the racism therein lays.

    If you think she is saying white people who are identifying as Trayvon or Troy aren’t genuinely anti-racist you are missing the point too, she’s not saying that, but she is critiquing that conceded self-identification not white anti-racism as a whole. It’s not bleak. It’s realism and respecting the experience of oppressed people. This young woman is not arguing against Trayvon’s mothers call for mult-racial solidarity at all, just one facet of that supposed solidarity.

    The most ludicrous suggestion you make is that she is denying the historical and structural purpose of racism in the United States. Au contraire! She is affirming it by affirming the fact that racism is still an active oppression in our society that white people of all classes benefit from. Constructing whiteness into law has been a fundamental apart of the American experience, where rights, land and welfare programs were afforded to those appearing white and denied to everyone else. Yes it was done by the ruling class to consolidate power but it benefited all white people none the less. To claim that poor white people do not benefit from racism is insane and denies historical facts about the way wealth has been distributed in this nation. Yes poor whites have voted consistently against their class interests but they still benefit from America’s racial apartheid in very basic ways, like for instance having the privilege not to be profiled by the police or vigilantes solely based on the color of their skin. YES THAT IS A PRIVILEGE. Poor white people do not have to deal with the daily stress of racism. Poor whites still have better social mobility than people of color. White people with criminal records have better chances at employment than black people with no record.

    I know it may be too much for your obsessively Marxist dialectal-materialist brain to comprehend, but class does not trump all other oppressions in every case.

    • “Obviously poor white people benefit from racism… To claim that poor white people do not benefit from racism is insane… I know it may be too much for your obsessively Marxist dialectal-materialist brain to comprehend, but class does not trump all other oppressions in every case.”

      You’re really in no position to be talking about what other people’s brains can comprehend, given that you seem to be proudly incapable of wrapping your head around the other side of the argument (which you call “insane” and “obviously” false).

      What poor or working class white person is better off because Trayvon Martin is dead than if he were alive? What working class white person – aside, arguably, from prison guards – is better off because millions of Black people are in jail or have felony records for bullshit, than if those people were free and contributing all their talents to the world? What poor white person is better off in our crappy society than in a world without racism?

      The reality of racism, and the fact that white people are, on average, much better off than Black people, is not at issue here. What we’re debating is whether working-class white people are acting in their own interests when they support racism, or when they fight racism. And, while I wouldn’t say that anyone who thinks workers are better off supporting racism is insane,* I would say that they are very wrong.

      *partly because I don’t like to debate political questions with language that’s derogatory towards the mentally ill…

      • I’m conflicted on this argument and have a non-rhetorical question (I haven’t read all of the comments yet so apologies if this was already brought up).

        If a poor white man (who looks poor) walks into a store security is probably going to eye them while they are shopping. If a Black man walks in right after the white man the Black man will probably be watched while the white man is forgotten. The white man is benefiting from racism right there. As is the poor white man who does drugs who is either not arrested because he is white, or when arrested gets a lighter sentence. If the police are over-concerned with the population of people of color, they are by definition under-concerned with the white population (in the aggregate). White people, including poor white people, benefiting again. Or not?

      • @LNel – Hey, sorry, was away from a computer for a couple of days. But those are good questions, so I’ll take them up, just in case anyone’s still here.

        I think you have to look at how things balance out in a wider context. I wouldn’t argue that a white person can never benefit from racism even for a moment or in some respect. If you isolate things, it’s possible to construct a scenario in which almost anyone benefits from almost anything. But if you’re trying to come up with a political strategy, you want to capture the fundamental dynamic – do working-class white people benefit from racism overall, as a class?

        Take your examples, which both have to do with the racism of the criminal justice system. Isn’t it the case that the massive scale of that system, the ever-expanding powers of police both private and public, and the persistence of the drug war, have a lot to do with racism? They’d be much harder for their advocates to justify without the ability to appeal to racist ideas about Black criminality, and they wouldn’t be worth the same investment for the ruling class, without the need to suppress and roll back the Black freedom struggle of the 60s.

        A white drug user or suspected shoplifter doesn’t have as much to fear as a Black one. But I think it’s very likely they have more to fear now than they would with a scaled-back police state.

        And that doesn’t even get into whether that white shopper might be better able to afford the goods in the store if he was in a union which united his Black and white coworkers and wasn’t part of a labor movement crippled by its inability to organize the South. And so on.

  7. i call class reductionism on this shit. not getting gunned down on a snack errand is a privilege. duh. whites, even poor ones, enjoy, for example, increased employability and decreased police scrutiny. also, this video responds to a strawman and largely not the video you’ve hyperlinked to.

    • The video itself is constructed around a ridiculous straw man. Who ever said that Trayvon’s death was arbitrary and could happen to anyone, regardless of race? She’s arguing against a position that I’ve never heard anyone assert.

      Also, where’s the class reductionism? Sherry argues that racism is a real force in the lives of African Americans, and that white privilege theory can’t explain how some African Americans in positions of power work to perpetuate white supremacy. Neither of these ideas reduce race to class. The only thing that could be construed as class reductionism is her argument that racism has its roots in the systematic efforts of the ruling class to divide workers. This is not reducing race to class though, as such a position is perfectly compatible with the assertion that racism has its own dynamics, and its own effects on society that aren’t simply the expression of the logic of class struggle.

      Calling class reductionism is really an abuse of language. Actual reductionists, like Richard Dawkins, for example, argue that more basic levels of systems (genes, in his case) provide all the explanatory power one needs to analyze the system. Sherry is arguing that racism is rooted in the class dynamics of capitalism, which is a very different claim from saying all you need to do to understand the situation is look at class (a properly class reductionist position).

      • Furthermore, Sherry’s also argues that capitalism could *not* exist without racism. It’s an actually *dialectical* approach to the question, rather than a knee jerk dogmatic and moralistic reaction. Sherry’s only argument here is that everyone has a real material interest in struggling against racism (rather than being fueled solely by moralistic humanitarian sentiment), and that “privilege theory” provides a bad guide to action for combating oppression. How is it “reductionist” to make the argument that *everyone* should struggle against oppression?

      • I’m sorry but it is reductionism in a sense. To acknowledge how privilege people of color perpetuate white supremacy through capitalist processes, while denying the social, cultural, and personal benefits that White Supremacy endows White folks of ALL classes is reductionism. Her analysis on race is admirable but why do folks get so upset when people of color tell you it isn’t sufficient?

      • Who is denying that white people are better off than Black people under white supremacy? Nothing in Sherry’s essay, as far as I can tell, disputes any of the advantages listed in the classic “Invisibile Knapsack” essay. The question is what conclusions do you draw from their existence. The video suggests that because white people are treated better and grow up in a racist culture that they are all two steps away from becoming klansmen, that this is basically what we should expect from white people, and that the duty of antiracist (which in the video is equated with being middle class and having a liberal arts education) whites is to disrupt racist discourses in their community.

        Now I’m all for calling out racist bullshit, getting up in people’s faces when they’re racist, and all that good stuff. But if our orientation is on tearing down the New Jim Crow, I think this is totally insufficient. We need people in the streets, because mass incarceration isn’t going to fall as a result of politicians having a change of conscience. Our theoretical debates should, it seems to me, be oriented towards achieving this goal. How can we mobilize people? The emphasis in the video on ‘using your privilege,’ ‘critiquing norms,’ and providing access to discourse is, on the contrary, totally demobilizing. It presumes enlightened white activists, standing on the sidelines of struggle, and bearing moral witness against the evil of their racial community. This might make some white folks feel good about themselves, but it isn’t much help in building the kind of movement that is actually capable of smashing white supremacy. I think that is a much more fruitful starting place for our discussion – what kind of movement would it take to dismantle the new Jim Crow?

  8. Bravo, Sherry.

    My name for liberal privilege paralysis is “shut-up politics.” The whole point is to tell radicals to shut up. Not racists, not liberals, not the enemy. It’s literal aim and intention to shut down any solidarity among oppressed people and specifically socialists.

    The family of Trayvon Martin traveled to NYC to speak at Occupied Union Square. And thousands of people marched for justice, mostly black but a thoroughly mixed crowd. To the privileged anti-privilege activist, this is unthinkable. Thankfully: it’s where PEOPLE are at, whatever the activismists think.

    That said, Sherry — the US was constituted as a white democracy and a white republic. Whites were granted land through settlement and the ownership of non-whites. This fundamental fact of our national history means “white privilege” — or more accurately, a system of white supremacy — isn’t a matter of “guilt”, but of legal, social and economic bearing.

    There’s a reason the NRA doesn’t champion Trayvon Martin and suggest he should have stood HIS ground. As with the prison system, mass unemployment, inferior housing, white supremacist national narratives and schooling are quite real forms of “national oppression” suffered by African-Americans, Chicanos, indigenous peoples and others.

    That a black president is viewed as “foreign” by tens of millions of whites isn’t just a matter of confusion, but of what our very national identity is.

  9. unpleased brown person

    This woman is a racist privilege-denying moron.

  10. I wonder why my comment has not been approved? Classy.

  11. I think they have a phrase for that too. It’s called “white guilt”.

  12. Sherry, your argument is largely a strawman. I agree it’s a terrible video, but you barely touch on the real issue.

    For example, you write: “1) social-justice minded white people (all described as middle class) should not and cannot identify with victims of racism like Trayvon;”

    What she actually wrote was:

    I know you wear that shirt to stand in solidarity with Trayvon, Troy, and other victims of injustice. The purpose of those shirts is to humanize these victims of our society, by likening them to the middle class white activist wearing it. And once we’ve humanized the victims, this proves to us the arbitrariness of their deaths and thereby the injustice at play.

    But the fact of the matter is that these men’s deaths are anything but arbitrary.

    And she’s right. They are not arbitrary.

    This young woman’s argument is actually directed largely at liberals (though she doesn’t state this), who don’t see the systemic nature of racism and how it shapes everything in this society, how racism is normal, rather than an aberration.

    The main problem is she substitutes one liberal idea for another, from racism is an aberration to racism is a set of bad ideas in our heads. She’s correct in that all whites are shaped by this system, but she lets the system off the hook, spending all her energy attacking white middle class activists (as if most white people were middle class).

    All the rest of her arguments flow, logically, from this flawed beginning. The only way to overcome these bad ideas is to acknowledge they exist, to acknowledge our privilege, etc. And she doesn’t understand that ideas come from the world, and that they are changed through interacting with it. The struggle against racism changes the ideas in our heads.

  13. “I smell white denial.

    You’re missing the point. You’ve taken the words of this white women and are speaking of it as theory on white privilege. She has some very valid points but by no means are her words the extent of what the theory of white privilege has to offer. Your post is called the paralysis of white privilege. If you had an understanding of the writings and reflections of people who have written on write privilege, you would understand that it is a concept meant to empower and enable instead of paralyze. It is suppose to equip you with an understanding of how white supremacist capitalist culture has informed who you are and a framework in which to begin deconstructing it. The purpose of deconstructing white privilege is to equip you with an understanding of the dynamics of power outside, but not necessarily in the absence of, a class analysis. The reason being is that power is exercised in interpersonal relationships as well as systemic ones. White people are empowered by American culture, the language, the values, the politics, etc etc. This power manifest in how you relate to people. That is power, it is white power. It may be connected to class, but class does not eliminate how you as an individual can have more power and privilege in a space than a person of color. You have the capacity to silence people just like you have the capacity to limit discourse and knowledge building by convincing a lot of other well meaning white socialist/marxist/communist/other people that white privilege is a paralyzing concept. While you criticize the girl for asserting that her white privilege argument lets “the real architects and beneficiaries of racism off the hook” Well we use white privilege to not let privilege denying white folk of ALL classes off the hook. The system that enabled racism may have been capitalism but it is a cultural/epistemological relationship of superiority/inferiority between light and dark skin created by Western culture. Therefore it is not strictly about racism but about a structure of White Supremacy that manifests not only in the capitalist system but within all spheres of socialization. You suggest that to assert that all white people benefit from racism is false. No, you do benefit from racism. You benefit because the White Power structure has enabled YOU to become architects and beneficiaries of racism within your personal lives whether you do it consciously or not. Within any social organization dominated by white people that lacks an analysis of privilege and real relationship to people of color will most certainly have white privilege and therefore carries with it the volatile ingredients that can erupt into racism at any time. I refuse to let you off the hook. Its not just a system of racism or a system of capitalism. It is a White Supremacist-Imperialist-Capitalist-Hetereopatriarchical-Ableist- System. Getting rid of capital or the 1% or the “architects” as you call them will not get rid of the power your culture has enabled you with. It will not get rid of the discomfort you make others film. It will not fill the gaps of your understanding. It will not make equal our cultures or the value of our experiences. That has to happen within yourself and that can’t happen if people keep reducing Racism as a product of capitalism. White privilege tells you to use your privilege when opportune but also check yourself in your relationships with people of color. Quoting Dubois is nice but how about quoting some Critical Race/Ethnic Studies work? I’m sure you’ll find racism is a complex power structure intersecting with other forms of oppression. This article reflects “a politically confused way of talking about race” as if it were strictly the “conscious structures of oppression kept in place by the 1% in the interests of the 1%” and not a complex elaborated by white supremacy that exercises power in various arenas withing the spectrum of private and public.

    Perhaps wearing a I am George Zimmerman shirt isn’t a good idea but perhaps not wearing a I am Trayvon Martin shirt is a good idea. I say that because its not merely about wearing a shirt to show solidarity but acknowledging this political moment. This political moment is certainly about skin and race, distinctions that cost young Trayvon his life. So what better way to start a dialogue than by thinking creatively outside this I am George Zimmerman/I am Trayvon binary than to think of perhaps…I am NOT George Zimmerman shirts for our white allies? You may see the distinction as separatist or breaking the conventions of “I am” t-shirt solidarity but it is a very important to distinction to acknowledge. If it makes you uncomfortable…good, it is supposed to.

    You speak about standards of justice for radicals being so low that it is “thought of as a privilege not to be gunned down in the night on a snack errand while wearing a hoodie because of the color of your skin.” That is exactly where the distinction lies. For white folks, it will only ever be a though. But for me and others it is a reality. It is a human right, but before people who looked like you were talking about human rights, justice for all, and equality. People who looked like me were talking about self-determination, freedom from your rule, occupation, law, economy, and daily violence way before. Your political reality is based in the socioeconomic inequality and the privilege and expose to subversive theory while for us our political reality is based in an intense history of mass rape, genocide, slavery, military occupation, and dispossession. You must acknowledge the historical and contemporary distinctions between you and the people of color you wish to stand in solidarity with. Different cultural and political institutions for historically marginalized people must be view not as a temporary remedy to a social ill but as a permanent fixture of a just society. “

    • Sherry might not have engaged with everything white privilege theory has to offer, but she did engage with its key argument, which you repeat yourself, when you say:

      “You suggest that to assert that all white people benefit from racism is false. No, you do benefit from racism.”

      In our racist society, it’s easier to be white than Black. That doesn’t mean that working-class white people benefit from racism, because it doesn’t mean that they are better off in our racist society than they would be in a world without racism. That’s a theoretically and strategically important distinction. And it would be nice if we could discuss the actual disagreement here – are white people materially better off fighting racism or supporting it? – without accusing anyone who criticizes one particular theory of thereby “limit[ing] discourse”, or condescendingly doling out an entire academic field like Critical Race Theory as a reading assignment, as if a failure to quote certain scholars must reflect ignorance rather than informed disagreement.

  14. Jed, fair enough, but I think Sherry points that out when she says, “Of course, on nearly every economic and social gauge, white people on average in this society have it better than Blacks on average.”

    The point is that there is a common struggle and common cause that the 99% have in fighting and struggling against capitalism and oppression — which “privilege theory” obscures. Further, “privilege theory” suggests that we can understand oppression independent of class exploitation and see oppression as being caused merely by “bad ideas” that individuals need to take responsibility for.

    I don’t think that arguing that all of the 99% has a real material interest in struggling against oppression and exploitation, and that oppression needs to be understood alongside an analysis of class in society, doesn’t ignore things like the obviously racist attacks on Obama, or the ignorance of the NRA, etc. Nor does it ignore the racist history of the founding of the US, etc.

    Rather, I think Sherry’s point does an excellent job at *explaining* that oppression — that not an inch of US society or capitalism can continue to exist without racist oppression, and that, therefore, all of the 99% has a *real* interest in fighting the racism that serves as a foundation for capitalist exploitation.

  15. tiernafeminista

    Interesting, thanks!

    After reading this I have some thoughts and I was wondering what you folks think. Can white folks ever relate to racism? Do white anti-racists benefit from racism? If so, how can they be effective allies? Is pointing out white privilege helpful in any way?

    Just curious about your 2 cents if you have time. If not, thanks again for posting the article! Anyone who wishes to respond is welcome to. I appreciate our time.

  16. “the US was constituted as a white democracy and a white republic. Whites were granted land through settlement and the ownership of non-whites. This fundamental fact of our national history means ‘white privilege’ — or more accurately, a system of white supremacy — isn’t a matter of ‘guilt’, but of legal, social and economic bearing.”

    Jed, fair enough, but I think Sherry speaks to that point just fine when she says, “Of course, on nearly every economic and social gauge, white people on average in this society have it better than Blacks on average.”

    The fundamental point here is that, by suggesting that one can understand and fight racist oppression independent of class exploitation, “privilege theory” obscures the fact that all of the 99% have common cause to struggle against racist oppression–whether or not someone directly faces that oppression or not.

    I don’t think that Sherry’s point here ignores the obviously racist attacks on Obama, or the ignorance of the NRA, etc. Nor does it ignore the racist history of the founding of the US, etc. Rather, I think Sherry’s point does an excellent job at *explaining* that oppression–that not an inch of US society or capitalism can continue to function without racist oppression, and that, therefore, all of the 99% have a *real* interest in fighting the racism that serves as a foundation for capitalist exploitation.

  17. Excellent job. You are not alone. The class first crew is going to put this yuppie faux intellectual crowd in 2nd place. Class is dominant. People have much more in or not in common with one another on the basis of income and what we do for money. The cultural studies hustlers exist in the academy and get good money preaching this stuff precisely because it doesn’t threaten the power system the way that putting people at the bottom together along the lines of what we do for money, rather than who we are as arbitrarily defined (usually defined by elites via the state I might add) as. Here are more links, I took some classes from this guy in grad school and he makes similar points.

    http://www.leftbusinessobserver.com/Antiracism.html

    • “class first crew”

      Oy. Please don’t pretend that you’re speaking for Sherry or socialists, that we’re in your “crew”, when you say “class is dominant” – which is, of course, sometimes true and sometimes false. For Trayvon Martin, his race “dominated” his fate, when he got shot even though he was visiting a relative who actually lived in the same gated community as his killer, right?

      If the people on this thread who are so angry at Sherry were calling you out instead, they’d be much more justified. It’s one thing to say that class is historically prior, or that it provides a basis for uniting the majority in struggle, but it’s another to say that at the level of individual experience (“much more in common or not in common with one another”), you can give oppressions a global ranking and put class first. If you do that, people aren’t wrong to accuse you of denying (the depth of) racism.

  18. While the young woman in the YouTube video in question may have been off the mark in a few places, I think that the harsh criticism she is drawing is unwarranted and narrow-minded coming from educated, experienced adults. This girl is clearly YOUNG, a child still with limited life experience. She is trying to grasp a concept that is far beyond her years, she is not trying to shut the protesters up, she is not trying to silence those wishing to stand in solidarity with the slain men in question. She is trying to draw attention to the fact that while we white anti-racist protesters may well want to combat racism and shift the paradigm in this country, we are *not* Trayvon Martin and we will never endure the scrutiny that any black man endures daily based solely on the color of his skin.

    I would encourage those who find fault with her argument take into account the fact that this is a young woman who is trying to figure out her way and who clearly has the feeling that something is wrong here. Because she hasn’t honed her perspective or lived long enough to understand some of the more subtle aspects of crossculturalism, she has more learning to do…I would suggest that she might be more willing to listen with an open mind and open heart if the people on whose side she is fighting were, oh, I don’t know, a little less assholish about how she’s doing it wrong.

  19. “oh there you go, bringing class into it again”
    “that’s what it’s all about! if only people would listen..”
    “please, please good people, I am in haste. Whose castle is that?”

  20. evaristomarrero

    So much strawman, so little time…

  21. Wow, Sherry. It looks like you care more about your blog than giving this young girl the benefit that she is still experiencing and perceiving things at her young age. I am disgusted at your analysis.

    • shouldnt young people making intellectual and especially political arguments simply expect by taken seriously? which means being strongly criticized if others seriously disagree and especially if their arguments become somewhat prominent? in line with this general view Sherry explains right off the bat that she criticizes this argument because she views it as a good demonstration of a certain type of white privilege argument shared by many activists.

      if anything your attitude that we should be more concerned with the age of the speaker than the content of her speech is dismissive and, moreover, paralyzing, since it means that young people cant really join in serious arguments

  22. This response to the video in question is quite asinine.

    If I told you that the Palestinians are only oppressed/occupied because they are poor, and this conflict has nothing to do with race/ethnic privilege, you’d probably laugh, and I wouldn’t blame you.

    Certainly, race functions on a hierarchy in this system/culture very similar to the way class functions. You can’t deny that fact. I’d argue that her arguments – namely, that middle-class white activists who are treated fairly well in comparison to their comrades of color – are only hurting the struggle against racism when they try to put themselves on the “same level” as those who were victimized by racism/white supremacy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that whites are never victimized by the political/economic system and/or the authoritarian culture, or that white activists need to “shut up”; rather, I’m saying that it shouldn’t escape our minds that the system (bosses, landlords, police, politicians, etc.) will treat us whites much better in many ways than it would treat us if we were black, latin@, etc.

    Sherry claims that the young woman in the video has no idea how the system works. I’d like to know why. Is it because she’s not putting things in the typical marxist-leninist box? Something I wish a lot of white privilege-deniers would understand is, when we acknowledge that white privilege exists we’re not saying, “You have no real problems because you’re white,” or, “You need to STFU because you’re white,” or, “You need to feel guilty because you’re white,” but rather that society has given you a certain *role* based on your race/class/gender/whatever. In other words: no one is trying to guilt-trip whites for things they can’t control. All we’re trying to do is make sure that activists who come from some kind of privileged background (such as myself) understand that there’s far more depth to these issues than just “racism”, but rather a system based entirely on authoritarian and hierarchical relationships used to oppress.

    • ‘If I told you that the Palestinians are only oppressed/occupied because they are poor, and this conflict has nothing to do with race/ethnic privilege, you’d probably laugh’

      Where on earth do you find any comparable statement about black oppression in the blog post?

    • I don’t think we’re living in a world in which “putting things in a typical Marxist-Leninist box” is one of our main worries. I think we’re living in a world in which many soi-disant leftists prefer pop-psychological, petit-bourgeois, liberal reformist, crypto-mystical, and even openly reactionary thinking to the rigor and exhaustiveness of either Marx or Lenin.

      • “putting things in a typical Marxist-Leninist box”

        And the people who claim this do not even know what ML really is. Pop-psych/liberal ideas do not require thinking.

    • Palestinians are oppressed because of Zionism, which, yes, is racism, but is an ideology rooted in creating false claims over land, land which was Palestine, but which Palestinians are now banned from owning or even buying. The occupation has made them poor.

      Palestinians are oppressed because they refuse to cowtow to Zionism, because they still resist Israel. They refuse to give up claim to what was stolen from them. Israel and Israelis hate the people of Palestine because of their refusal to accept Zionism.

      It is about property rights,wealth, and equality. The brown skin of the Palestinian Arabs was not first and foremost in this conflict. The racism came along with the theft and colonization.

      Get a clue.

    • Right, but i would say that poor Jewish Israelis who serve in the IDF and hate Palestinians and support settlement and so on are severely wrong in their understanding of their own interests.

      An example comes from an Israeli friend of mine who worked at a college there in the 70s and the one Arab-Israeli professor was excluded from the college local of the nationwide hypothetically socialist labor union. This made it easier for the dean to discriminate against him in hours.

      Sherrys argument would lead us to conclude that it was in the interest of the Jewish instructors and librarians to stand up for their fellow worker across the ethnic line. Not doing so makes working together for demands for better wages and working conditions impossible

      That in a nutshell was Dubois point about the South. Certainly white wage workers on cotton plantations in the mid 20th century made more money and didnt have to fear getting lynched. But they were much poorer than workers in the north because their own racism prevented them from organizing challenges to their bosses with the blacks who made up half the workforce

      In the same vein, racist Southern Congressmen blocked Social Security from applying to domestic servants and fieldworkers, largely in order to target blacks. But the same oppression obviously applied to tons of poor whites. But those poor whites didnt do anything about it because they were deluded into thinking that the maintenance of white supremacy was in their interest.

  23. It’s interesting. I think my personal opinion lies somewhere between her video and your response.

    On the one hand I agree with her that white privilege is something to be discussed and aware of. It is an institutional problem and a systemic problem, and I applaud her in her youth to be able to understand this.

    On the other hand, I think she’s chosen the wrong platform on which to make her point. I do not agree that a white person wearing such a t-shirt is somehow whitewashing Trayvon Martin to make him more acceptable to society. I agree with you about the powerful visual it invokes, and the physical show of solidarity that is needed in this case.

    I also feel frustrated when people ONLY concentrate on the race factor in this case. Race is most definitely a key issue here, but it’s not the only one. The reason the whole country has taken a stance on this is that it has brought to light the terrifying reality of the Stand Your Ground law, which I have to admit, I knew nothing about. It has called not only the law into question but the origin of the law; the NRA lobbyists buying politicians like Rick Scott so killings like this aren’t prosecuted.

    With this in mind, I think it is important for everyone as an AMERICAN to take a stand. I believe that if the child was white, George Zimmerman would have been arrested, and the Stand Your Ground law is an invitation to killings fueled by racial profiling. BUT I also believe that when people of all races understand that LEGALLY, it could have been anyone, we will be able to abolish these loathsome laws. Until we do, I think the discussion of white privilege is going to act more as a diversion than the important topic I believe it to be.

  24. the “I am” kind of slogan is probably fairly recent, but we did used to have “Wea are all german jews” in France in 1968. It’s not to be taken literally, and I think it’s fair enough to use “I am” slogans carefully. but in the Trayvon case it seems to me that the video women has got it wrong, though she does have the merit of presenting her argument clearly.

  25. I would like to encourage people to look at the work of Theodore W. Allen, an anti-white supremacist working class intellectual/activist who, beginning in 1965, did pioneering research and analysis on “white” privilege and who, in 1994 and 1997, authored the two-volume “The Invention of the White Race” published by Verso. Allen argues that a system of “white race” privileges was created and maintained by the ruling class in their own class interest and that these “white race” privileges are not “benefits” for workers. He argues that these “white race” privileges are against working class interests. This is far different than the position that is being attacked. In particular, I would like to encourage people to look at my article “The Developing Conjuncture and Insights from Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy.” That article and many other pieces by and about Allen can be found at http://www.jeffreybperry.net/_center__font_size__3__b_4__theodore_w__allen_br___with_audio_and_video_links____86151.htm In solidarity – Jeffrey B. Perry

  26. Rational-is-Radical

    Thank you so much for writing this. It’s a relief. I am shocked and appalled at how many people are berating you for stating the obvious! Your logical objections are spot-on, and frankly it terrifies me to see other “progressives” get so ideologically torn up and blinded over this. I am scared for America’s future.
    On the youtube video itself, two things scare me:
    -Self-righteous radicals who think that ideological purity is more important than logical consistency or factual accuracy
    -Self-righteous racists who are Fox News-fed, ignorant and being given all the straw men they need to keep their delusions alive.

    If we think this is progress, if we think this is successful activism, we are failures. I think the left needs to take a hard look at itself.

  27. Prudence Juris

    While I can agree with some of your statements in this article, your #1 disagreement undermines your credibility with me. Wearing the “I am…” t-shirts is for me is a slap in the face on the level of saying “oh I don’t see race.” If that is the first thing you wants to disagree with it makes me think you don’t truly see how white privilege operates, so it becomes very hard to listen to the rest of your arguments. I feel that it IS more honest (which is different than saying it is the TRUTH) to wear a shirt that identifies with the oppressor in the scenario as a way of highlighting how racism works in this country. Is it not valid to say that a working class white person has more “automatic” privilege than an educated wealthy black person. Why do you want to ignore that basic issue? That is the place that triggers my “bs” reflex and I have great difficulty hearing anything else you are saying. If you don’t get the basics how can I trust you will get the more subtle and nuanced issues arise?
    Your quote from DuBois is unpersuasive as “cherry picking” the words that make you feel better about living in your white privilege. Sure there are wealthy coloured folks in this country but they can NEVER have enough “skin privilege” to out run the bullets of a racist’s gun and the money only helps after the fact! George Zimmerman had no idea who Trayvon Martin was, he could have been the son of a billionaire and that makes no difference, because there was no opportunity for that to come out.. What type of threat could Zimmerman have faced with a skinny kid, a bag of candy, and a can of tea?? Fear and racist stereotyping ruled that moment, and no amount of money or class privilege could intervene on that child’s behalf.

  28. Not a "normal" obedient citizen

    I completely agree, I think the basic problem with the argument in the video was the already largely (and thankfully) ancient imaginary of the race as a common defining feature for a certain essentialised, homogeneous and cohesive group – as you clearly point out in this writing, the oppression is always intersectional, and reducing the social marginalization to a simple battle or a simple difference between the some and the others is not going to help us much in understanding the actual complexity of the problem. I also think that the fight against racism is, by its very definition, opposing against reproducing these barriers once again – whether being based on gender, class, race, culture, generation, age etc. This is not saying that the US (or Europe, Australia and many other places for that matter) hadn’t been built on an ideology of a “white well-of hetero-male supremacy”, this is saying not going along with this neoliberal normalization nonsense.

  29. The most difficult part of this whole article is that the racial aspects of this incident has been mostly erased and corrected by the media outlets that reported the incident.

    The fact alone that the only mention of Trayvon’s race was actually when the 911 Operator asked for a description (initially and intentionally edited out by NBC, who has now meagerly apologized) should show that race was artificially inserted into this ordeal. When added to the re-enhancing of the Zimmerman audio yesterday by CNN, which showed that he said “f***ing cold” instead of “f***ing c**n, there is even more growing burden on individuals to show that race was even a factor.

    Aside from race being a factor, the idea in the video is completely erroneous, as the United States is the most diverse nation on the planet. Where I went to school and my U.S. experience cannot possibly be the same environment in which the girl in the video lives. The girl in the video seems to be more accurately describing the environment in which she grew up, which perhaps, was a racist background. The generalizations made by her are inherently dangerous and show the self-centric viewpoint of today’s youth.

    • One of the reasons why race is so difficult for our country is *because* it is so diverse. Sweden, for example, has very little racially motivated crime. Our largest minority population, Latinos, has been subject to a rash of legislation in Arizona and now Louisiana which institutionalize racial profiling.

      I think the argument that race was a factor comes from Zimmerman’s assumption that Trayvon was engaged in criminal activity. Zimmerman says in the tape “these a**holes always get away,” as if he already believes that Trayvon is a burglar.

      The argument then asks: was Zimmerman’s assumption motivated by race? would he have made this assumption if Trayvon was not black? Many people answer, from anecdotal experience, probably not.

  30. God, this is what happens when you engage with a youtube video instead of books. Thanks for your criticism of ridiculous strawmen, Sherry!

  31. And thus, the colorful pendulum of ignorance and prejudice swings to and fro…

  32. You know, it’s true that pieces of the video could be construed as problematic…and yet, its clear to me, as a womyn of color, that she is speaking to a very specific segment of middle-class privileged white anti-racists. She is not intending, I think, to speak to working class white people (or to address issues of heteronormativity). And I don’t think she is suggesting that white anti-racists and multiracial coalitions not work together for justice. I think she is asking for white anti-racists, particularly those with white and class privilege, to consider their own biases. I think she is questioning how and when white people identify without sometimes really thinking about issues of power; she is asking white people to deal with the pain or realizing that on the surface you look like the people who are often (but not always) in charge of a system that is ruinous, not only to people of color, but also to white people; to all of us.

    There are nuances to what she is saying…And I think that your not discussing those nuances – but rather critiquing only what is problematic and not fleshing out what might be interesting or powerful – obscures the fact that she is speaking to a particular generation of middle and upper class privileged white young people, who may want to participate in anti-racism and social justice, but don’t know how to enter. I think you do her a disservice. This could be an opportunity for mentoring – as a self-identified white anti-racist yourself – instead, its turned into a moment when you are chastising and castigating. And I think there’s a real opportunity, instead to dissect and deconstruct what she is saying, by talking about the politics of appropriation by white people of social movements led by POC, to talk about the nuances of what it means to be a white person (not invoking white or class (if you have it) privilege) in spaces in which you are working with multiracial coalitions.

    She is not reducing race…she is trying in a 4 minute youtube video to give an introduction to the issue of race – and issue that has taken centuries to discuss. She is not ignoring slavery or class – that’s not what or whom she is talking to. And lastly, she’s a young person. How about invoking age privilege by discussing her youth as a way to disregard her voice? No she may not speak about class, but guess what, not everyone actually agrees with a Marxist perspective on racism; some people don’t necessarily think racism grew from economic forces. She’s not denying racism, she disagrees with your construction – and overall, still concurs with systemic oppression. Yes, there are points that are confused. It’s not perfect, but the way you’ve framed your argument, I think raises a far deeper problematic dynamic – and I think avoids discussing white privilege in moments when white racism has made itself known.

  33. Actually you can scub this article and most of the comments and just bear in mind this is the day-to-day crazy shiit you have to put up with when firearms are legal.

    Forget the race and class analysis, which is genuine and true, the only way to people being shot – be they black, white, Hispanic, Jewish or Tongan – is to reduce the availability of bullets and guns in a society.

    Only in America could the link between guns and gun-violence be considered so tangibly related.

  34. Thomas "Milton" Friedman

    why do white people have to say “I am Trayvon Martin” to show solidarity? why can’t they just wear hoodies to show solidarity while not risking appropriation or whitewashing?

  35. I was going to type out a response here, but I ended up writing something much longer and posting it separately on my own blog. Here is the link:

    http://faithless-street.blogspot.com/2012/04/who-is-paralyzed-by-white-privilege.html

  36. Pingback: What is White Privilege? Thoughts on “I AM NOT TRAYVON MARTIN” : When Commies Attack

  37. Your argument is elegantly constructed and really well-written. Thank you!

  38. I think Wolf’s interpretation of the relationship between capitalism and white supremacy tends to be a bit too functionalist for my taste — as some have said, perhaps it gives too little attention to how white racism is independently sustained and reproduced through the mundane interactions of everyday life — but that’s neither here nor there.

    Let me identify what I believe is really getting under the skin of some of those who are responding unfavorably to the YouTube video, and more importantly to the currently fashionable variety of “white privilege” politics. But before I do, let me clarify that in no way does my analysis imply dismissal of the idea that white supremacy is non-reducible to capitalist processes.

    I think what really bugs a lot of people about the currently modish variety of “white privilege” politics is its near-exclusive focus on white people examining their own privilege, confessing to it, and (verbally) renouncing it. Such an exercise does not necessarily preclude getting involved with anti-racist organizing, including movements led by oppressed minorities. But given certain durable features of US left political culture — moralistic one-upmanship — and of US capitalist popular culture — therapeutic discourse — the exercise has a way of remaining at the level of self-examination, confession, and renunciation.

    Let me make one additional point, perhaps one that is not shared by many. When left political movements (be they multi-racial or otherwise) get excessively caught up in questions such as “who has the right to speak or act for others?”, with the inquiry hinging on the class/race/sex-gender/age and other sociological characteristics of the speaker/actor and the community he/she purports to represent, certain crucial questions get pushed to the side and perhaps lost altogether. Among them are critical ideological debates that have less, little, or nothing to do with _identity_ questions — such as, what is our vision of the just or good society, and how do we get there? or are we a bunch of anarchists here, or socialists, or what? — and questions where the validity of one’s perspective is not strictly a byproduct of his or her “privilege” (or lack thereof), whatever forms those privileges (and lacks thereof) might take.

  39. In think Sherry seriously misrepresents the left “white privilege” position by equating it with this rightwing racism. Marxism requires racism to be explained by a materialist analysis. I urge comrades to look at this for a better understanding: http://www.nathanielturner.com/tedalleninsights.htm

  40. The cold hard fact is, White American workers do enjoy considerable privileges over their Black and Latino brothers and sisters.

    Better schools for their kids, better neighborhoods to live in, freedom from routine police harassment, better treatment at the hands of the court system and, above all, privileges in the labor market (Whites are the first hired, for the best jobs and the last laid off).

    So, there is a certain amount of self interest in White support of the capitalist class’ racism and support for the police departments that are the last line of defense of those racial privileges.

    The sooner that America’s White socialist groups admit that fact the sooner they’ll be able to come up with an effective strategy for revolution in America.

  41. Thank you so much for posting this.

  42. Pingback: “I am not Trayvon Martin” | New Black Woman

  43. Agreed. Not all are middle class, regardless, we are all human. I’m wearing my hoodie, as I have for the past 5 decades. Am I Trayvon Martin? Maybe not, but I AM angry that this shit continues to happen. And I am willing to stand up against it – with whomever will stand with me.

  44. lecolonelchabert

    She’s just too young to get the reference.

  45. lecolonelchabert

    “people of color are multifaceted individuals capable of independent thought and action; white people are an undifferentiated mass of privileged racists who must constantly resist the urge to oppress racial minorities ”

    This alas is some version of a “reverse racism” complaint. One could complain that some commentators seem to see members of the working class as multifacted individuals and the bourgeoisie as an undifferentiated mass of profit seeking exploiters. This would be pretty accurate – capitalists have something in common that determines a great deal. Ownership of capital strongly influences behaviours and beliefs; whiteness in an imperialist white supremacist world does as well. And as people have different amounts of capital, people have different positions with regard to white privilege (Obama, for example, has some). It is not structly impossible for a capitalist to devote herself to communist revolution (it’s happened); this point is there are tendencies and the result is class. Capitalists are a class about which things can be said even though individual capitalists will always claim their individual special snowgflake uniqueness is being disrespected and unrecognised. The same is the case for the denial of white privilege and its determining powers.

    The young woman who made the video (whose points have been appreciated, to different degrees, by many thoughtful leftists, like Jared Ball) may be misconstruing the gestures here of masses of people who are signalling their desires and allegiances and not describing their conditions, but she is not disrespecting white people and advancing a poc supremacy. By emphasizing the material reality of white privilege – every bit as real as the materiality of proprietor class position – she is raising some important points which (the vast majority of) white people don’t like to hear (because they/we are white).

    It is a privilege to live surrounded by inferiors, by people who are oppressed and made weaker than oneself. Racism is not simply an unfairness that obstructs bourgeois equality and handicaps individuals in competition. Critique of white supremacy is not merely a question of comparing each individual’s power in relation to the common exploiter. There exist relations of power between differently situated sellers of labour power.

    And it is certainly *possible* that whiteness is UNIQUELY obstructive of critical thinking, (a critical look, armed with Marx, at culture product does give a strong impression that this is so); it is possible surely that whiteness is uniquely powerful as a cohesive factor in white supremacy (the capitalist imperialist world system) and uniquely inimical to communist, anti-imperialist politics. The possibility can’t simply be dismissed on the grounds that we’re all self-fashioning individuals.

  46. Pingback: Privilege and Politics « Marxist Marginalia

  47. As someone who is from a poor white family – I can assure you I experience white privilege. White privilege extends beyond obvious economic benefits. (I can ususally find Band-Aids that are the color of my skin and labeled “Flesh”. I can also trace my lineage with little difficulty. I am not looked on with suspicion when I go shopping or go for a walk or get on an elevator. I don’t worry that my natural features (hair in particular) will be deemed “unprofessional” in work settings. I am rarely ever pulled over by the cops and most of the time if I am – I’m let off. My family felt comfortable living in a small town in the rural Midwest in an all white setting – as a result I attended a great public school and got an excellent education despite being poor. Virtually all of the people I was told about in History classes in school where white like me. It is never assumed that when I speak I am speaking for my entire race.)
    I would never say “I am Troy Davis” or “I am Trayvon Martin” because I understand that this is not an even playing field and part of acknowledging my privilege is to also acknowledge that that kind of thing would likely NEVER happen to me. I also don’t live every day with the fear of being racially profiled, stop and frisked, pulled over for nothing, harrassed by law enforcement, wrongfully imprisoned or executed (largely because of my white privilege). However, I do understand that people are upset, grieving and searching for answers and comfort. People are motivated to act because they feel anger and a need to address injustice. That is a positive thing. If people choose to stand up and protest what happened in Sanford, FL that day … or what happens all over this country all the time – that is inspiring and much needed. I hope that people can learn about racism from what happened rather than further embracing damaging “colorblindness”.

  48. Thank You , Sherry!! Excellent article and the re-post of Keeanga’s articl

    Some of the respondents don’t want to admit that Sherry clearly states that people of color and whites are treated differently. Because Sherry rejects White Privilege Theory does not mean she rejects the obvious fact that we live in a racist society , meaning that whites are treated better than people of color. That is a tautology. The most important issue is how to overcome racial ( and gender , and nationality, and sexuality….. ) disparities. How do we achieve equality? If we say that white working class people have privileges implies that they have a stake in the current system. A better way to describe it is that whites are less oppressed than people of color. This means that working class whites are better off than working class people of color but they are still oppressed by and disadvantaged by the racist , sexist, imperialist capitalist system—-that is they would be better off if that system were abolished. Another important point made in one of the previous posts is that even short of abolishing the whole system, working class whites would be better off it racism was undermined and weakened. This means that working class whites benefit from anti-racist struggles. ( Black Reconstruction for example meant better public schools and voting access etc. for poor whites as well as Blacks in the South). This gets to the question of the best basis of an anti-racist movement. If most white people would actually benefit from successful anti-racist struggles, we can appeal to whites to support anti-racism on both a moral AND a material basis. This is a much stronger basis to form a movement than just an appeal to morality. In fact, implying to white workers that they benefit materially from racism will push them away from anti-racist struggle. When life is hard enough, wages are dropping, services are cut, unemployment is rising etc., why should white workers be strongly motivated to fight racism if they think doing so will worsen their material condition. So if White Privilege is the dominant ideology of the anti-racist movement , it weakens the ability of the movement to build a broad base among whites as well as people of color. If the debate stays in the Academy, or even just among currently active anti-racists, it isn’t that big a deal. However, if White Privilege informs our movement building it will be detrimental!

  49. Reblogged this on naomireedable.

  50. Pingback: Sherry Wolf: Who Benefits from “White Privilege?” « Kasama

  51. Pingback: You are not who I thought you were: Race and ‘The Hunger Games’ – - Left FlankLeft Flank

  52. Pingback: On Trayvon Martin and Building Transracial Solidarity « NOMARTYR

  53. Pingback: Who is paralyzed by white privilege? A reply to Sherry Wolf (by A.F.) | The Weekly Ansible

  54. If white people identify with Trayvon, they are seen as inauthentic, naive, privileged, and ultimately racist. If white people distance themselves from Trayvon, they are seen as condescending, elitist, privileged, and racist.

    This contributes to the ideas in our heads that black people are necessarily victims, that white people are necessarily aggressors, and that this scheme cannot be changed but is the fault of whites everywhere. We still wonder why we have racial conflict?

    Or do we? White people are not allowed to say that race doesn’t exist or even that it isn’t significant, because this is ignorant. However, they are also not allowed to acknowledge that it does, because this implies that they believe in it and that they are racist. Hell, if white people even discuss race, they’re only “feeding” it (of course, if black people do, they are speaking up on behalf of an important issue).

  55. The link in my posted submission of April 6, 2012 is not working — here is a re-post with a good link — Thank You

    I would like to encourage people to look at the work of Theodore W. Allen, an anti-white supremacist working class intellectual/activist who, beginning in 1965, did pioneering research and analysis on “white” privilege and who, in 1994 and 1997, authored the two-volume “The Invention of the White Race” published by Verso. Allen argues that a system of “white race” privileges was created and maintained by the ruling class in their own class interest and that these “white race” privileges are not “benefits” for workers. He argues that these “white race” privileges are against working class interests. In particular, I would like to encourage people to look at my article “The Developing Conjuncture and Insights from Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy.” That article and many other pieces by and about Allen can be found at http://www.jeffreybperry.net/_center__font_size__3__font_color__sepia___b_4__theodore_w__allen_br___font_size_86151.htm
    In solidarity – Jeffrey B. Perry

  56. Fantastic blog! Do you have any helpful hints for aspiring writers?
    I’m planning to start my own website soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
    Would you recommend starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for
    a paid option? There are so many options out there that I’m completely confused .. Any ideas? Appreciate it!

    • Thanks. As a total techno-dud, I highly recommend WordPress since it’s sort of idiot proof. The site kind of walks you through the steps. Good luck!
      In solidarity, Sherry

  57. I think for this woman to have made this video. She thinks should could have been Zimmerman? And gone after a kid even after the police told her not to? Thought doing so was justified? It could be that she is “high on ideology” at the moment. But if she really could have thought that she might have gone after a kid and shot him like that or supported Zimmerman for doing so? Or that she could identify with Zimmerman’s actions?

    Than in that case racism would only be half her problem at most. At least as important is the fact that she would have thought vigilantism is OK. Did she really grow up thinking that black men were a threat to her? Or to her “purity”? Or was she just convinced that such “confessions” were the correct thing to do in the circles she operates in? I don’t claim to know the answer to that…………but……..I wonder about these folks.

    The biggest problem I see with it, is that it labels as privileges things that the progressives have spent centuries trying to get identified as human rights.

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