Please go and watch this video of Tim Wise, author of White Like Me: Reflections of Race from a Privileged Son. It is very important. It's long but stick with it.
I grew up in America, poor and white. I now live in Southern Africa, still white but not so poor anymore. Though I could be thrown in the pile of "white liberal" I've always felt slightly uncomfortable. Of course there is guilt and then anger at why I must carry guilt when I got no benefits from racial oppression, my family was poor for generations. But is that true? Of course not. I benefit everyday from my white skin - even just in the fact that mentally I see no blocks ahead of me. I wouldn't be able to think like that if I was black.
I know- both in USA and here in Botswana- I have inherent advantage because of my skin colour. When it is made blatant, I shout about it, I have done it here on this blog. Wise makes so many very important points in this video, but one that I really only now truly understood is that I don't have to carry all white people on my back as people of colour do. My whiteness does not come with a package of racist stereotypes that will be applied to me the second I do anything wrong ("Well she IS white anyway, what would you expect?"). Not like people of colour. That alone makes my journey easier, even without purposefully built racist blocks in my road. This applies for all white people. We ALL benefit from our whiteness. Full stop.
In the video, Wise speaks of the pathology of being white, how it harms white Americans especially but I think something similar can be applied to Southern Africa, a place heavily affected by the politics of race. He explains how when the Europeans first went to America, both blacks and poor whites were indentured labourers. They began to collude against the rich white land owners and rebellions broke out. This was when the concept of whiteness was first established. The rich whites threw the crumbs of whiteness to the poor whites to divide them from the blacks. The rebellion was quelled. Now not only did the poor whites think they were more akin to the rich whites, which of course they weren't as their situation was much nearer to the poor blacks, they were willing to fight to defend their whiteness. They fought in the civil war to maintain slavery- not for themselves- but for the rich whites. Racism was used to destabilise the poor so there could be no rebellion. It worked out dandy for the rich whites- and still does, and does nothing to destabilise the status quo for the rich whites.
This white privileged position allows the whites the privilege of not caring what others think. People of colour must always know what white people are thinking if they are to survive. Whites don't have that burden. But, as Wise points out, that arrogance of disinterest is a pathology that has and will continue to harm the white people themselves. This is happening in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in white suburban schools, in the drug laden anxiety filled minds of white Americans.
Most white people (in America and in Southern Africa) feel no need to change their position of privilege, they don't want to pay a debt they did not make. Wise argues that that is not a smart position to take as the problem must be solved, and the debt must be paid, either now or later, and later he says it will be more difficult. He says it must be solved now- "not because we are guilty- but because we are here".
Watch the video and tell me what you think.