I cannot understate this. As a White man, the “OPEN LETTER TO JONATHAN BUTLER & #CONCERNEDSTUDENTS195” is possibly the most ignorant thing I’ve ever read in my entire life. Not that I haven’t been exposed to very hateful and overtly racist writings before. I was a History major at UC Davis and chose to specialize in the history of the United States and Race in America. I’m familiar with declarations of racial superiority made by the KKK and I’m aware of racist rulings by Judges in favor of slavery and segregation. This is not that.
This is worse.
This might very well be the best declaration of White Privilege, ever. The ‘Declaration of Dependence’ upon an invisible knapsack.
Perhaps the most telling statement this anonymous writer makes:
“My mind is overwhelmed with thoughts and questions about what I have seen lately, and maybe it’s just me…but there are things I don’t understand, things that I want to question, and things that I need to say.”
This proclamation boldly announces to the reader that the writer is genuinely concerned, frustrated, confused, and clearly speaking from a place of emotion and ignorance.
While this “Open Letter” is poorly written, and rambles along like an old drunk at the bar, it’s an excellent example of the dangers of being blind to White Privilege.
Indeed, many White people in my White experience tend to misunderstand and confuse the concept of “White Privilege,” often thinking its about a simplistic concept, as defined by access to wealth, or access to opportunity. Many feel that if they themselves are not rich, or did not grow up with a silver spoon, they don’t see how they can be “privileged.”
This misconception that White “privilege” is solely about success and wealth, often works together with personal feelings that we cannot be “racist” because we do not feel hateful in our hearts. Perhaps we “have black friends” or have had romantic relationships with people of color, so therefore the logic is we cannot be racist. Furthermore, many Whites often confuse individual prejudice with systemic racism, and cannot come to terms with the idea that: while Black people can indeed be prejudice or hateful, they cannot be “racist” by definition in a structural sense. The example of this is that a Black person can certainly dislike White people, or be prejudice against whites, however those feelings (or actions) are not backed by the weight of the system (society) which throughout our history has been built and controlled by Whites and concepts of White supremacy.
That is, Black people have not prevented Whites from being free. Black people have never commonly organized to hunt and kill Whites. Black people have not prevented Whites from owning land. Black people have not prevented Whites from voting. Black people have not prevented Whites from playing sports. Black people have not prevented Whites from eating in public restaurants. Black people have not prevented Whites from swimming in public pools. Black people have not prevented Whites from integrating schools. Black people have not prevented Whites from receiving bank loans. Black people have not created drug enforcement policy that uses racial bias to target Whites. Black people have not passed laws that disparately sentence Whites for the same crimes. Black people have not built private prisons to profit from incarcerating disproportionate numbers of White people. Black people are not actively attempting to prevent Whites from profiting from the distribution of marijuana. Black people did not create a society in which human beings with “One drop” of “Black blood” are deemed as ‘Black‘ rather than ‘White,’ unless they can “pass” as otherwise.
So, although this particular White Privilege piece aimed at Jonathan Butler and Black students at #Mizzou is not radically violent or threatening. It helps to illustrate that the most dangerous kind of White Supremacy is simply a well-intentioned White person being utterly unaware of what White Privilege is in the first place. This lack of awareness of racial privilege, is a greater force than any purposeful denial, or calculated hatred. It’s a ferociously blind unconsciousness that maintains an atmosphere to birth the ideas of a Dylann Roof. It’s an inability to be empathetic, let alone concerned with the plight of people living in a place called Chi-Raq, and thus in part responsible. It’s a mindset that is categorically unaware of the daily realities of systemic oppression faced by people of color. Therefore it is to be ignorant of the basic advantages that come along with never having to navigate such obstacles.
But let’s be clear. This “Open Letter” is not the devious thoughts of a madman. These are very loud, confused, and racist feelings of someone who doesn’t wholly understand the History of the United States and it’s entanglement with White Supremacy. It’s to be absolutely unable to see the proverbial forrest through the tress. It’s to be both a benefactor and a mental slave to the pitfalls of privilege and supremacy and not even know it. This heavy amount of “not knowing,” or not understanding, can thus be startling and very scary when faced with it head on. Like a glitch in ‘the Matrix,’ many Whites choose to ignore the hard truths of racial inequality and revert to the ease of ignorance. The alternative is often too disruptive and challenges our concept of reality and what we are used to.
Paraphrasing Dr. Martin Luther King, the greatest threat to Black America achieving freedom and equality, is not the Klan, but the White Moderate that’s more dedicated to order, than justice.
In 2015, this pointed observation still rings true.