How To Use Your White Privilege To End Your White Privilege
Recently, I made a post where I shared an installation I made with the words “use your white privilege to end your white privilege”. (I recommend you read that post first before continuing on here.) The post was definitely about the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, how people reacted to my installation, and ways I’ve seen people be racist without realizing it. But someone pointed out in the comments that I didn’t actually demonstrate how to use your white privilege to end your white privilege. Good call.
“People will not listen unless you’re an old, white man, so I’m an old white man and I will use that to help people who need it.” – Patrick Stewart
The reality is things are not currently equal in this world. It sucks. If you’re an old, white man, or just a white person that means you have privilege in this world whether you want it or not. The good news is you can use that privilege as power to stand up for the people who aren’t being heard. I’ve seen a bunch of memes, for lack of a better word, circulating social media with words like “Can you imagine if old white men cared as much about date rape as they did about someone not standing for the Pledge Of Allegiance?” That can be said for so many things, but the point remains. If you have a platform, even if that platform is just your race because of the unfortunate way our society is set up and continues to operate, then you have a responsibility to use it.
Here are 12 ways you can use your white privilege to end your white privilege:
- Learn what white privilege is. “Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it’s not a problem to you personally.” Do your own research. Take a class. Read a book.
- Educate. Don’t count on people of color to always be the ones to speak up. It’s not (only) their job. It actually can make more of a stand if a white person enters the conversation to call another white person out for being racist.
- Protest. Hold a (peaceful?) protest or rally in your community with signs, chanting, marching, etc. to address this specific issue. Get the media involved so your efforts get noticed, televised, and shared with people who both agree with you whole-heartedly and people who get pissed off white people are advocating for the rights of black people. Here are 10 Alternatives For Activism for people with anxiety.
- Vote. Don’t just vote, but pay attention to who you’re voting for. Local elections, primaries, everything. It’s not only important for you to go into your voting location every four years and select which president you want in the White House. It is your responsibility as a citizen to educate yourself on the policies every person who has the potential to be in any elected office supports.
- Ask people of color what they’re concerned about. Listen, and do your best to put yourself in their shoes. It’s hard to imagine something until you’ve experienced it first hand, but try your hardest. Use the answers they give you to go out and try to correct the problems they are struggling with in a very real way every single day. This doesn’t mean accosting people of color. You can also just listen to what’s being put out on the internet.
- Document brutality. If you see a person getting arrested or aggressively attacked by a police officer, pull out your phone. You are allowed to record these things. Don’t let the police tell you differently. Here are your specific rights that you should know as a photographer. Do you think the recent deaths of black men would have got as much attention if every detail wasn’t recorded on film? If it’s not documented it becomes a debate between what the cops say versus what the victim and witnesses say, combined with evidence.
- Don’t appropriate other cultures and let other people know when they’re doing it. Sometimes it might be out of ignorance, but that means they need to be educated. Most people have figured out it’s not okay to wear a traditional Native American outfit on Halloween because it’s not a “costume”, it’s a culture. The same thing goes for a lot of things you might not even realize aren’t yours to use. Not to go on a tangent, but relatively recently Blake Lively posted a photo of herself at an awards show with the caption “LA face with an Oakland booty” and people were outraged. I thought the outrage was mostly unwarranted at first. “Baby Got Back” is an extremely popular song, even decades after it was initially released. It’s a song people of all races enjoy dancing to. My argument was two-fold. 1) There are really important matters of racism that we should probably focus our outrage on instead of worrying about what an actress with an empirically beautiful face and objectively large butt wrote under her Instagram post. 2) If I’m allowed to sing the lyrics of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s most famous song, own the album, and dance to it when it comes on… why can’t I quote it? That seems like a grey area which is why I thought the level of outrage was unwarranted. But I changed my mind, and here’s why: A woman commented on (the now very long Facebook thread on my page) and said something to the effect of “In matters of feminism, wouldn’t you prefer a woman to make the call? It’s the same thing here. You can argue all you want, but in matters of racism and cultural appropriation, don’t you think people of that race and that culture should get to make the call?” And I shut up. Because she was right. Here is a list of things that are actually black culture that you’ve probably been using without realizing it. It’s good to be aware.
- Be open-minded. Like I shared above, it’s important to not only have the uncomfortable and sometimes outraging conversations with friends, coworkers, and strangers but it’s important to be open to new information, opinions, and facts you didn’t know existed. That woman changed my mind on Blake Lively’s usage of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s lyrics. I don’t think she should be taken to trial or burned at the stake, but I know I won’t be doing something similar in my lifetime. I’m grateful that I was able to change my mind and that I’m willing to share it with you now.
- Shop at stores and businesses owned by people of color. I know way too many people here in my city (which is predominantly black) who won’t go to “bad neighborhoods”. When they say “bad”, they mean “black”. Are there higher occurrences of crime and lower socioeconomic statuses in these neighborhoods? Yes. But that is largely due to the system racism that has been in place for decades and decades. Going into a white mom and pop shop to buy a snack from the black owner isn’t any different than doing the same thing at the 7-11 on your block from the 16 year-old white girl. Black people are oppressed in all sorts of ways, and that includes financially. Help out where you can. Buy black art.
- Create political art. Make street art installations, videos, songs, murals, sidewalk chalk, poetry. Pass out flyers, decals, and stickers with “Black Lives Matter” written on them. If you have a platform like a blog, YouTube channel, or even a bunch of Instagram followers — use it to talk about this issue. You’re going to piss people off. You’re going to lose followers. But if you lose a racist follower, does that even really count?
- Do your homework. If someone tells you that something like affirmative action is affecting them negatively and that’s the reason you didn’t get into college, be ready with the actual facts to let them know that they are incorrect. If someone tells you black people have just as much of a chance as every else, be ready with statistics. Know your shit.
- Hold authority figures accountable for racial stereotyping and acts of inequality. Not just cops, but also in your workplace and life in general. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been doing guerrilla art on the street (which technically could be illegal on counts of destruction of property, littering, or trespassing) and cops walk past me. They’ll even say hi to me in a nice way. And then, here’s the kicker, go confront a black person who is literally just standing there minding his business. I’ve never seen it escalate to the point where I’d need to start recording or call for additional help, but that’s not the point.
I welcome all other ideas of how to use your white privilege to end your white privilege. Please share in the comments so we can start a conversation that can be useful and implemented in our real, everyday lives. You can also listen to my podcast on Black Lives Matter to hear this all together with other perspectives, and share it with your friends.