White Privilege at Work in Social Activism

A man of color wearing a black lives matter t-shirt talks passionately into a megaphone, surrounded by other excited protestors.

I want to keep this intro simple and just remind my white readers of a few good practices of allyship: 1. Listen more than you talk. 2. Expect and embrace discomfort as part of your learning process. 3. Remember that the biases that we all have don’t feel like biases and so we have to rely on the people who’s experiences are different from ours to reflect back to us when something we’ve categorized as normal should not be. Now I’m going to hand it over to this week’s guest blogger, an accomplished writer and activist, Dennis R. Upkins, to tell us all about the manifestations of white privilege within the context of activism.

CN: in depth discussion of racism and white supremacy including specific examples of racist behavior; mention of 45, domestic violence, George Zimmerman, the Parkland students, and pedophilia.

The late Toni Morrison eloquently stated, “I’m always annoyed about why Black people have to bear the brunt of everybody else’s contempt. If we are not totally understanding and smiling, suddenly we’re demons.”

Ms. Morrison was an example of how a phenomenal Black woman can recalibrate your entire reality with a few sage words. My Editor was another.

While promoting my debut novel, Hollowstone some years back, my Editor learned of my online presence and “infamy” as an equal rights activist. Let’s just say I have a reputation when it comes to delivering takedowns to bigots. For the life of her, my Editor couldn’t understand how I managed to have garnered so many bitter enemies. After all, according to her, I’ve always been very regal, intelligent and amicable and she couldn’t imagine me being combative. Then she read some of the exchanges.

“Oh I see why they hate you,” she said only a few comments in. “You talk to white people as equals. Actually, you talk down to them. The same way white people usually talk down to minorities. That’s why they hate you. A Black person is never supposed to talk down to white people. A gay Black person at that. That goes against everything we’re taught. You’re essentially defying the laws of thermodynamics.”

Sadly this is not an isolated phenomenon. As previously discussed on this blog, this is textbook privilege. It’s also little wonder why social justice spaces are rife with racism.

A banner ad for Kella's Etsy shop demonstrating social justice themed products: A brown apron covered in little baking illustrations and the words "Bake the world a better place," a sticker with five colorful intersecting circles and the words "The future is intersectional", a pink mug with a pair of ice cream cones making the shape of a heart and the text "you could never be ice cream you're too hot and a person."

White fauxgressives have the luxury of paying lip service to social justice and they will be hailed as saviors whether the title is earned or not. For Blacks and other PoCs, to speak out against systemic oppression will result in anything ranging from erasure to retaliation as illustrated in a few examples:

  • In 2017 Meryl Streep received a standing ovation at the Oscars for denouncing Trump and praising diversity. However, the Roman Polanski defender had recently been in hot water herself for wearing a t-shirt with the emblazoned racist slogan: “I’d Rather Be A Rebel Than A Slave.” This is also the same woman that when called out on the fact that the Berlin International Film Festival lacked in diversity, she flippantly replied, “We’re All Africans.” The same Meryl Streep who recently wore blackface in her latest film, The Laundromat.
  • Yet Jemele Hill was vilified and ultimately fired from ESPN for calling President Trump a white supremacist.

Colin Kaepernick, looking serious, kneels during the national anthem in order to protest police brutality against people of color, while he is surrounded by other men who are standing.

  • Alec Baldwin received an Emmy for his mockery of President Trump on Saturday Night Live. He’s also been praised for his online spats with the president on social media. While on the surface it appears Baldwin is fighting the good fight, in reality, his appearances on SNL, Will & Grace, and spats with Trump are little more than PR makeovers to redeem his image. How soon we forget that this is the same Baldwin who abused and terrorized his ex-wife Kim Basinger and their daughter. Having made enough racist remarks to rival Trump, Baldwin lecturing anyone on bigotry is peak caucacity.
  • Meanwhile, Colin Kaepernick has been blackballed from the NFL for taking the knee and reminding the world that innocent Black people are being murdered en masse by U.S. law enforcement.
  • Lest we forget Bill Maher, the Host of HBO’s Real Time has garnered millions over the years denouncing and mocking conservatives for their racism. Yet Maher is one of the biggest racists on television. When he’s not being called out by Ben Affleck for his Islamophobic attacks, he’s whitesplaining to Wayne Brady why Maher is “blacker” than he is. That’s when Maher isn’t dropping the N-Word on live television.
  • Michelle Obama couldn’t even host a fundraiser for poor Black children in Chicago without being attacked and harassed by event crasher Ellen Sturtz. Because the Former First Lady politely disengaged and attempted to leave, the media vilified her for not taking abuse from the white female racist.
  • Just recently Gabrielle Union was fired from NBC’s America’s Got Talent for reporting racism and sexism on her job. Being unjustly terminated for standing up to mediocre racist white men is an issue I’m all too familiar with.
  • To even speak one’s truth on social media will result in punishment as countless Black Facebook users know all too well.
  • If you’re praising Parkland kids but have been silent about Dream Defenders, you’re probably no better than Nicholas Cruz or George Zimmerman. Ultimately, you are asserting that only white lives are important just as they do. Only difference is you haven’t pulled the trigger….yet.

While it would be easy to place the onus of this problem on white conservatives, the reality is that it’s white liberals who are most guilty of purposely ignoring this issue and other forms of enabling.

White Liberals have hijacked the conversation about diversity, political correctness and what topics we should be outraged about. When a terrorist attack occurs the media and liberals rightly remind us that it’s unfair to judge an entire religion by the actions of a small minority, but I haven’t heard similar unequivocal statements made in the media about the African-American community being unfairly judged by the negative actions of a few. The media lectures about intolerance of the Right, but is the first to show the mugshot of a young black suspect while showing the much more positive yearbook photo of a young white suspect. In fact the criminalization of African-Americans, especially men, has been turned into public policy in large part because of our negative portrayal in the media, which is predominantly filled with white liberal voices.”

-Jiba Molei Anderson

A woman with long curly reddish brown hair speaks into a megaphone to a large crowd of protesters.

The silence and inaction from white fauxgressives when PoCs endure systemic injustice is as enabling as it is premeditated. Because the reality is that most whites refuse to dismantle an unjust system from which they benefit. They’d rather rule in Hell than be equals in Heaven. They’re all for equality as long as it’s conditional. Said system will continue to be their undoing.

The mandate of white supremacy, be it racism, misogyny, ableism, homophobia, antisemitism, anti-blackness, Islamophobia, etc., is that some lives matter more than others. The underlying principle of white supremacy is that in order for one to rise, it must be at the expense of others. Which is why whenever there’s one ism, others are often present.

How many conservative politicians have also been racists, homophobes, and pedophiles? How many mass shooters in the last year have been members of white nationalist groups? So, when we as a society are silent and complicit when it comes to calling out injustice against Blacks, it’s inevitable that whites will also suffer when oppressors target Planned Parenthood or the rights of trans people.

That is the twisted irony and beauty of bigotry. It is as irrational as it is evil and it always comes back to haunt the privileged and the bigoted.

A picture of Dennis R. Upkins, a lean black man with long limbs wearing a well fitted navy and white pinstripe button up shirt. He's wearing black framed glasses and a warm smile, and has a black katana leaning against his shoulder.

About the guest blogger: Dennis R. Upkins is a speculative fiction author, a journalist and an equal rights activist. His first two young adult novels, Hollowstone and West of Sunset, were released through Parker Publishing. Both Upkins and his previous work have been featured in Harvard Political Law, Bitch Media, MTV News, Mental Health Matters, The Nerds of Color, Black Girl Nerds, Geeks OUT, Black Power: The Superhero Anthology, Sniplits, The Connect Magazine and 30Up. You can learn more about him at his website dennisupkins.wordpress.com.

Related Posts

At Yopp we're dedicated to providing educational material for social justice that emphasizes the individual experience of lived oppression and helps you understand the whole picture instead of memorizing do's & don'ts.

Buy Our Merch Become a Patron
Never Miss an Article
0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments