Talking about privilege is hard, especially when you are trying to talk about it with those who are ignorant to their inherent advantages. This is especially relevant in U.S. race relations, which have become especially tense in recent months, shown by the violence in Charlottesville on Saturday. If we as a nation want to ensure that what happened in Charlottesville never happens again, it is important that we have conversations with white people about the privileges they hold. And, if we want to ensure that Heather Heyer's death meant something, those conversations have to start now. Social progress is impossible without the help of privileged people, because their voices are the loudest in our society. Below are 5 ways to approach a conversation about white privilege with white people.
1. Validate the ways in which they are not privileged.
Being white does not mean you are privileged in every way. You can be white and poor, white and gay, white and disabled or so much more. Ask the person to talk about the ways in which they feel they are unprivileged, then validate those frustrations. Empathize with their particular struggles, whether it be how hard it is to find the money to pay for college or the fear they feel at home because their parents’ do not accept their sexuality. It is crucial you validate their struggles before you talk about their privilege, because otherwise they will get defensive and you will not be able to have an effective conversation.
2. Discuss the difference between white people and White people.
To start, white people (with a lowercase "w") do not allow their privilege to take away their ability to be compassionate and sympathize with the struggles of minority races. These people advocated for their campuses to become sanctuary campuses and protested after Trump won the presidency. In contrast, White people (with an uppercase "W") are the people who were rioters in Charlottesville, the members of the KKK, the neo-nazis and the white supremacists. On college campuses, White people are often the ones who wear the red "Make America Great Again" gear and have a confederate flag bumper sticker on their car. These are the people that are so blinded by the color of their skin, that they see it as their most prominent quality. They relish in what it means to be White in America.
3. Make the conversation guilt-free.
Don’t try to make them feel guilty for any of their prior actions or words that they might have shared. Guilt is a useless emotion. It’s not going to necessarily push them change their behavior, but it will make them feel defensive. When one becomes defensive, they are not truly absorbing what is being said to them, which is the opposite of what you want in this situation.
4. Don’t make the conversation a character attack.
Attacking someone’s character will get you nowhere. As I said before, it will only make them defensive and they will not want to continue the conversation. Keep the conversation focused on their white privilege. Explain to them how their white privilege made it easier for them to get into college, how their Anglo-Saxon name made their job resume more attractive to an employer, or, if they are a man, how their white privilege affords them the opportunity to walk down a street in hoodie and be completely safe. Talk about the ways in which they can check their privilege to help undermine the system of racial oppression in this country, by denouncing the KKK, participating in BLM protests, protesting senseless murders of innocent black men, etc.
5. Avoid wasting your time on people you know will not truly listen.
We all know that there are certain people who will never listen to the privilege conversation. They are the ones who listen to respond, but not to understand. They are so wrapped up in their own struggles that they are unable to understand other people’s struggles. You can’t force someone to overthrow the system of oppression in our country; they have to be receptive to the idea and actually want to take that challenge on. Being an advocate can be mentally exhausting and you need to save your energy for people you can get through to.
If you are a white person, it is even more important that you take the time to have this conversation with other white people. Sometimes it means more coming from another white person because it feels like less of an attack and more like advice. Though I am a Latina, I am white-passing, and I reap the privileges that come from it. I have seen people treat me better than my sister or my cousins simply because I can pass as white. I try to use my white privilege to educate white people, even when it is hard. Talking about privilege is rarely convenient and it can be awkward, but it is the least we can do to make a difference in the lives of POC in the U.S.
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