White Privilege Remix
(Photo credit: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis)
By now you've probably heard the new Macklemore song "White Privilege II." Macklemore attempts to call out white privilege for a new generation in ways Peggy McIntosh did in 1988 when she first introduced her essay: "Unpacking the invisible knapsack."
But some people are asking who's the song really for? Is he writing to convince white people of their privilege or to convince black audiences that he's conscious? Is the song, which critics argue is not a particularly good song, really saying anything new? Others wonder why he's getting so much play for saying things people of color know anyway and have been saying for a lot longer.
Macklemore's an interesting case study that raises important questions: "What should a white ally be? How should they sound? When should they speak, and to whom?"
Macklemore seems to be simultaneously owning his privilege (some might say even assuaging his white guilt) while at the same time building his brand and name recognition. And that's the sneaky thing about white privilege, even when white people are trying to expose white privilege, it's there propping them (us) up. Even when we try to use privilege for good, we are benefiting from said privilege.
I think this sheds light on a new evolution of white privilege that I'm calling "White Privilege Remix."
The old white privilege is marked by white denial, not wanting to see race, or even worse, arguing that white people are the oppressed class (a la reverse racism). This old White Privilege can be seen in the current Republican party, in conservative white evangelicalism, and southern racism like we saw around the Confederate flag removal. This is an easy target.
The White Privilege Remix is a new version, where "enlightened" white people can feel good about ourselves for seeing racism, calling it out, all the while keeping the same structures in place that preserve our privilege. This can be seen in the Democratic party, liberal Christianity, and academia. This may be just as hard to root out.
White Privilege Remix is where white folks can be visibly seen railing against white privilege without questioning the structures that are keeping us in places of power. In other words, for liberal whites, it's considered enough to identify racism without having to actually redistribute the power that keeps racism alive.
(photo credit Miss Revolutionaries)
We see this White Privilege Remix with folks like Tim Wise, a popular white anti-racist speaker and author. I have personally appreciated Wise's books and articles, but he has had similar critique as Macklemore from people of color who say his privilege is showing even when he is speaking out about white privilege. By talking about white privilege he has been able to build up a white anti-racism empire that pushes out voices of color.
In progressive Christian circles, Jim Wallis might be another example. Wallis recently released a book on race called "America's Original Sin," which I'm currently reading. No doubt many people will purchase his book and read it while ignoring other important books on race that have come out this year by people of color like Drew Hart's Trouble I've Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism, Rev. Brenda Salter-McNeil's Roadmap to Reconciliation, and Sandra Van Opstal's The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World." I respect Wallis and trust that he is leveraging his privilege in various ways, but also recognize that his professional career is aided by white privilege even as he is trying to raise awareness of the evils of racism and white privilege. AHHH!
I experienced this recently during a prayer vigil for Laquan McDonald in Chicago when a news reporter asked me for my thoughts on the vigil. As an internal processor, I hate being put on the spot and I really don't like video cameras. I also knew my friend Reesheda Graham-Washington, an African American woman and Executive Director for Communities First Association, would have much better things to say than me. So I encouraged them to interview her. After she was done they also interviewed me. What did they do on the news? They played a clip of me and not Reesheda. At this same event, CNN chose to do a follow-up story with Daniel Hill, one of the only white pastors involved in the vigil, rather than any of the African American pastors who were there. Hill did a great job talking about the narrative of racism and need for white repentance but it illustrates the way white voices are given prominence even when we're trying to fight for racial justice. Brandon Green, a friend of Hill's, told him before the interview, "Now you get to go on national television and say what every black pastor has been saying from the pulpit for years, and it will be a revelation for everyone because you are white."
Recently, Saturday Night Live did a skit making fun of the awards shows for being so white but one of my friends Micah Rose rightly pointed out that SNL has had its own issues with African American representation. Again, being able to point out the problem is seen as progressive enough, rather than addressing the real power dynamic underneath.
Am I saying white people should not speak out about racism and privilege? No. I'm saying 1) it's not fair that white people are more likely to hear it, believe it, and buy the book when other white people say it and 2) we have to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that just identifying white privilege is not enough to dismantle white privilege, especially when white people are rewarded for calling it out with speaking fees, book deals, and national coverage. What I'm saying is, we're going to have to go deeper, myself included.
I think this is why the Black Lives Matter emphasis on "white supremacy" over "white privilege" is really helpful. White privilege is something individuals can identify and own without necessarily addressing power and structural change. White supremacy gets at the mechanisms and systems that allow whites to maintain privilege and power.
I recognize I am guilty of White Privilege Remix too. I don't want to sit back content that I can point out white privilege in myself or others, I want to be willing to step aside and lift others up. I want to do for others what one of my African American mentors and former boss Leroy Barber did for me. He invited me into spaces, conversations, and circles where I could use my voice, gifts, and network with others. Knowing what it feels like to hit glass ceilings, he made sure that those under him were not limited to where they could go and what they could do. He modeled for me what I can now do for leaders of color and others who may be under my leadership. I want to grow in this and not just ride the white privilege elevator up while my friends of color take the stairs.
(Me with Traci Blackmon at Urbana Conference in St. Louis)
Traci Blackmon, a prophetic pastor near Ferguson, has pointed out that white people can't get rid of their privilege or dismantle racism by themselves. It is going to take real collaboration. White culture can be very individualistic, which makes it not only hard to see systemic structures, it makes it hard for us to collaborate with others. Therefore, all our projects continue to build us up rather than break down barriers. I'm learning that disrupting the White Privilege Remix will take creating equitable power structures as well as naming the privileges, and will require collaboration among equals not tokenism or charity. I want to end lifting up Blackmon's words on white privilege to encourage us to keep going deeper in our journey of racial justice so that we can all experience liberation together:
When I call out your white privilege. I am not dismissing your presence in this struggle. Nor am I questioning your sincerity.
When I call out your white privilege. I am not accusing you of the evil. Nor am I separating you from its effects.
When I call out your white privilege. I am not shrouding you in its shame. Nor am I excusing you from its responsibility or accountability.
When I call out your white privilege. I am naming the target that is on your back. I am acknowledging the ill effect of racism on your being. I am joining you to the struggle in the only way that leads to liberation.
When I call out your white privilege. I am acknowledging this privilege as being as unearned, unwarranted and incapacitating as the racist systems and structures that collude to oppress people of color all over this world.
When I call out your white privilege. I sound the alarm of the danger that lurks in not being fully aware of the toxic waters in which we swim. Waters that make you feel as though you are breathing, so that you never come up for air.
When I call out your white privilege. It is not because I believe you can remove it alone. Not because I believe you can choose to use it or refuse it. If these things were true...it would be privilege indeed.
But it is not. It is a tool of the enemy designed to create an illusion of God divided against God's self. Crafted so that some might assume the idolatrous position of believing somehow that anyone created in the image of God could ever be inherently flawed.
When I call it out. White Privilege. It is not because I hate you. It is not to separate you. It is to remind you...and myself...that we are one.
~ Pastor Traci Blackmon