Broaching the topic of “White Privilege” is not synonymous with “All white people are evil and, I hate them all.” Chill out.
Want to watch a white person rush away from a dinner party? Just bust out phrases like “institutionalized racism,” “white supremacy,” and the oldie but goodie “residual effects of slavery that are still with us today,” and watch a room of white people clear itself out, or, at least, have them stammer out the names of all the black people they are friends with, and then offer another unsolicited list off all the good they’ve done for people of color.
When I talk about systemic racism and historical racial inequalities as it ties into white privilege and modern-day racism, I think I must sound like this to white people: “Hey Whitey! I am going to kill you.” I know this is a lot to ask of white people, but could you please STOP FLIPPING OUT when the topic of white privilege comes up? I’m talking about being defensive, blabbing about how there is no such thing as race (just one human race, which is actually made up of different races), and how you are so gifted as a white person that you “don’t see race.” Ooh, that last one, ouch.
That’s why we need to have this conversation — because the inability to “see” racism and privilege is exactly what white privilege is. Talking about race is not a trap. It’s not a game of “Gotcha with your Klan Hood Down.” Talking about white privilege is not about asking white people to leave their race. Nor is it about declaring genocide on the white race. (Besides, looks like we’re already going to outnumber you by 2050, so you might as well sit back, relax and enjoy being Wong-splained.)
Talking about white privilege is not even about trying to make you feel like shit for being white. Surprising, I know. But the conversation on white privilege concerns you and yet is not about YOU. And when you make it about how you feel personally attacked, we really don’t progress further into talking about how we’re going to fix racism. Really.
If you are a white person who gets nervous when white privilege gets brought up, imagine having to navigating racism in every day life as a person of color who must live with it. Imagine systemically being locked out of better education or healthcare, job opportunities or the mainstream American narrative.
There are moments as an Asian American when I’ve been regarded as an “honorary white.” (There are also many other moments when I am reminded that I will always be a perpetual foreigner despite the fact that my family has been in the United States for three generations.) But rather than take whatever privilege I can and run with it, I’m interested in talking with people who benefit from white privilege -– how and if they can recognize it and use their positions of privilege to dismantle the systems that oppress other people.
Believe it or not, I’d love for the world to be more equitable for EVERYONE. And when I ask you to recognize your white privilege, it’s not because I’m trying to place blame. It’s about asking white people to consider the moments where they are able to “pass” in certain situations. Where they are afforded privileges that they never earned. It’s about finding ways to cede privilege, space, and comfort to allow others to live in a more equitable world.
So white people, the conversation about race can’t happen without you. We can’t get things better if we aren’t all talking. If racism were an easy problem to fix, we would have fixed it already. Ending racism starts with recognizing privilege, systemic control over society at large, and when you are dismissing issues of racism then you have the privilege of being oblivious to.
Don’t get me wrong there are people of color who proclaim to drink the tears of white people. There are anti-racism activists who will never organize with the most “down” of white people. I don’t want to drink your white tears, but I’d be lying if I said that I don’t enjoy watching you squirm a little.
Come on, you got to give me that.
Vincent Chin would have been 57 today. But the Michigan man never made it out of his 20s. Instead, 30 years ago this week Chin was brutally murdered when he was bludgeoned with a baseball bat wielded by two white, jobless auto workers who thought Chin, a Chinese-American man, was Japanese. “It’s because of you little [expletive] that we’re out of work,” witnesses said Ronald Ebens yelled at Chin before he and his stepson Michael Nitz trailed Chin and attacked him.
Chin’s Asianness made him a target at a time when it was popular to blame Japanese automakers for the crumbling U.S. auto industry. His death, and the protracted and largely unsuccessful fight to bring his killers to justice galvanized Asian-Americans, spurring the community to organize and act and speak out. On the 30th anniversary of his killing, civil rights advocates are telling his story again with fresh urgency. As racialized hate trains its eye on new targets, communities of color have had to learn and relearn the lessons Chin’s death offered many times over in the decades since.
Here now, civil rights advocates and activists offer up the key lessons they’ve carried with them in the 30 years since Chin was killed.
Sharing our stories and knowing our history is a necessary, political act. The effort to keep the lessons of Chin’s death and the fight for justice from being swallowed up by the unstoppable passage of time is not about any romantic nostalgia—understanding the past is key to making sense of the ongoing fight for justice today, activists say.
“The facts of the story are never going to change. It’s never going to have a happy ending, but it can move people to get indignant. It can move people to action,” said Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, a Michigan-based writer and activist. It’s often said that in the the aftermath of Chin’s murder, the Asian-American community was born. Asian Americans, who tended to identify by ethnicity first, came to unite around a new political identity. Chin became a symbol in the Asian-American civil rights movement, a reminder that the struggle for justice is never quite over. Wang organized the Vincent Chin Postcard Project to collect exactly these sorts of stories. Among Wang’s favorite responses was one which asked: “How long will it be before we forget Trayvon Martin like we forgot Vincent Chin?”
Images and language matters. Dehumanizing language and images make it easier to attack those who are treated as less than fully human. Whatever the community, whoever the target, demagoguery comes with a real human cost. “People who do this are putting our lives at risk,” said Wang. She cited this year’s fearmongering political ads which played on American fears about the economic ascendance of Asian countries. In transparently coded images and words, politicians exploit those fears, but not without with great risk. “People see those ads and even if they don’t fully understand the message of the ad they take away this fear of China, and that makes it dangerous for those of us real Asians who are walking around on the street.”
Immunity from hate is an illusion. “Even within impacted communities, I often hear: ‘Oh, that happened years ago,’ or ‘Oh, we’re going to be good Americans and it won’t happen to us,’ or ‘Oh that sucks for him but that hasn’t happened to me yet.’” said Zahra Billoo, the executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Billoo has organized South Asian, Muslim and Arab communities in response to post-9/11 Islamophobia. “The question becomes: how do you deal with the desensitization of hate? It’s frightening to see that history repeats itself, which is why it’s so important to connect the history.”
“When Vincent was killed it was a wake-up call that Asian Americans had to be vigilant about racist attacks, that they had to be vigilant about how animosity toward Asian countries would continue to have an impact on Asian Americans,” said Stewart Kwoh, executive director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. Suddenly, Kwoh said, Asian Americans couldn’t afford not to be involved and to organize themselves and others, and to build alliances with people who weren’t Asian.
We are stronger when we speak up for each other within and across racial lines. “A lot of times our mistake in advocacy is not to connect the dots between communities. Would we be in a different place if we were speaking out against hate crimes when they weren’t impacting us directly?” said Billoo. “Where I find inspiration is in looking at the Japanese-American community’s evolution around the [World War II] internment issue, in challenging it and continuing to talk about it and broadening that conversation to say: ‘You did that to us. You cannot do that to other people,’” Billoo said.
Justice is also about the small acts of solidarity and community-building. “I’d love if people could ask themselves: are we challenging hate in our daily lives?” Billoo said. “What does it mean to interrupt someone when they’re saying something that’s inappropriate?”
This weekend Asian Pacific Americans for Progress is organizing a nationwide townhall this Saturday, June 23 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Chin’s death. The event which will be streamed live at 2pm ET at www.apaforprogress.org.
Looks like I’m planning on attending this conference in San Francisco on October 27 to 28, or at least one section of it, rather than the entire weekend. I was recommended to go to advocate the Vietnamese American community voice, which I was told was almost missing from the network. If there were Vietnamese, they were more likely to represent pan-Asian Pacific American organizations. In my opinion, it is unknown how much the Vietnamese American community utilizes the services of these APA organizations because of the lack of disaggregated data (i.e. all ethnic groups under the Asian Pacific American racial designation are lumped together).
The Advancing Justice Conference is a national civil rights and social justice conference that aims to bring together a diverse group of stakeholders in one place to address a broad range of issues facing the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. It serves as a unique forum where researchers, advocates, direct service providers and other leaders can meet face-to-face, talk about their common challenges and find ways to work collaboratively.
The Advancing Justice Conference is a joint project by the Asian American Institute (Chicago), Asian American Justice Center (Washington, D.C.), Asian Law Caucus (San Francisco) and Asian Pacific American Legal Center (Los Angeles).
Thursday, August 18, 2011 12:30 pm – 2:00pm
Asian Law Caucus
55 Columbus Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94111
Thursday, August 18, 2011
12:30 pm – 2:00pm
Presented by Asian Law Caucus & The Greenlining Institute
Frustrated w/ CA’s ballot initiative system? Join us for a community conversation on how to improve the system for all Californians. Co-hosted by The Greenlining Institute, we look forward to seeing you Thursday August 18th from 12:30-2pm. Refreshments will be served.