As I explained in that entry: when I say that I am white, I'm not identifying with a White heritage, history, or cultural background; I am merely acknowledging the relatively fair tone of my skin and recognizing the privilege that comes with my fair (white) skin. Given the sociocultural climate of 21st century America, this skin pigment grants me privilege. Indeed, the same would be true through the entire history of the US - and this fact is itself a source of today's privilege, amplifying it all the more.
Thus the "white privilege" that I have written about thus far is not necessarily linked to a White or Anglo-Saxon heritage (I do believe that this kind of privilege also exists in the US, but it hasn't been the subject of my examination just yet); what I have written about is fair-skinned privilege, the bias and benefits that one experiences simply for having fair skin. Perhaps this privilege is even more pervasive than the White privilege that is linked to heritage, but the topic of fair-skinned privilege will also have to wait for a future post.
For now, in this post, I'm not writing about privilege itself. Rather, I'm elaborating on how I write and think about certain kinds of privilege and oppression - namely those linked to race, ethnicity, skin color and/or cultural heritage.
For one thing, I find that talking about race is very complicated. I've already touched on the conflict that arises when I describe myself as white to my Latino friends. But I've found that a similar confusion emerges from discussions on being Black (African-American) and/or black (dark-skinned).
One Black friend of mine, for example, insists that dark-skinned Jamaicans, Haitians and Dominicans are not black. Or at least not Black (note the capitalization). I think that for him, the term Black is linked to African-American heritage and history; since Caribbean blacks don't necessarily share this heritage, he refuses to call them Black. But the reality remains that they have dark skin and to anyone who doesn't already know the cultural heritage of these individuals, they might as well be Black. In other words, a racist who hates black people probably doesn't care too much whether those black people are African-American, Dominican-American, or any other ethnic distinction. To the white supremacist, a black person is inferior, regardless of his or her national origins. And a person with dark skin, no matter his or her nationality, is likely to face oppression in the US, solely based on their pigment.
Still, I can't deny that it makes sense to distinguish African-American people from Caribbean or contemporary African people and between all their respective histories and heritages; in the same way, I would delineate myself as a white Hispanic, that I might not be confused for European White, South African, etc.
Perhaps it's simpler, then, to talk about ethnic heritage, whereby one might distinguish people by a more specific cultural identity. Perhaps this is why my African-American friend doesn't call certain black people Black and why my own friends wish that I would not call myself white, even though I'm clearly white.
But as I mentioned in that previous post, to deny my whiteness is to also deny my white privilege. Similarly, to deny black people their blackness is to deny the oppression that they face. Thus it seems prudent to keep both ethnic and racial distinctions in view (again, I'm not sure how to explain what I mean by race here… whatever it is that makes black people black, whites white, Asians Asian, etc).
So for the purposes of this blog:
- When I discuss "white privilege," I will try to be more clear about whether I am addressing White privilege or white/fair-skin privilege. As a general rule, if White is capitalized, I am referring to people of Western European descent or who otherwise have fair skin and identify with a Western cultural heritage. Generally, if I refer to people as being white with a lowercase w, I'm just speaking of skin tone.
- By the same token, I may use the capitalized Black to refer to African-American people and the lowercase black to refer to people who have very dark skin. But again, I will try to be very clear in my writings about which I mean in any given instance.
- I don't necessarily find it very helpful to refer to Hispanic people as brown. I'll try to avoid this, using Hispanic or Latino/a instead. I won't ever refer to East Asians or Pacific Islanders as yellow; nor will I refer to Native Americans as red.
- Since this blog assumes that white privilege exists, it will often be necessary to distinguish non-white people from white people. In such cases, I might use the terms "black and brown" without relegating either to a particular ethnic group. I'll also use the terms people-of-color, person-of-color, or POC for short.
- I will never use racial slurs to refer to a person or group of people, but I suppose I might use them to make a point about racism or racist language (I would rather use the word "nigger" to make such a point than, say, "the N-word" - the latter is how white people get away with saying the former without having to actually speak it aloud). For my purposes: if a teacher called a student "nigga" or "nigger," as the case may be, then that is absolutely a shame and a disgrace; but it's still the word he used. If I'm reporting the story, I will not feel a sense of personal shame and disgrace for a word that another person used; and I won't hide behind the first letter if using the word is ever necessary (this will be very rare, I'm sure).
- Finally, I recognize that certain terms are sometimes considered politically incorrect or offensive. Perhaps folks reading this post have been put off by certain words or terms that I have used. If this is you, please comment and let me know! I will try to be sensitive to that. At the same time, please be mindful that I am yet learning how to talk about these matters and that even when I stumble, I'm still with you in solidarity.