I have friends who happen to be white. Like good friends. Like the kind who will drive you to the emergency room at midnight and sit with you for almost 10 hours. And since we both share in each others worlds I often find myself the only black person at the party and sometimes they find themselves the only white person at the club. Reaction has always been mixed, but mostly polite. Still, sometimes there is an attitude from the folks who “don’t get it” and respond to our pairing as a one of these things is not like the others situation and should not be at “XYZ” function.
Those people are assholes.
The folks at Diversity Inc. are trying to address racially insensitive assholes, but specifically those who refuse to accept white people in discussions about diversity. I’ve long believed that if we, and by we in this case I mean black people, continue to just talk to ourselves about race nothing will ever get solved. It takes two to discriminate. White people are needed to be part of the diversity discussion. So Diversity Inc. spoke specifically to white men about words and phrases that kill the diversity debate on their end.
Too often, white men–and to a lesser extent, white women–are assumed to have no role in diversity-and-inclusion efforts. But white people who are heterosexual, Christian and not disabled can and do champion diversity efforts. To assume otherwise is like assuming that talented Black or Latino executives do not exist.
But the ladies at Jezebel express some concern about the wording in Diversity Inc.’s “9 Things NEVER to Say to White Colleagues” story.
Visconti also has some odd things to say about the concept of white privilege. He tells Martin,
“White privilege, I tell other white people, is the most amazing thing. You can give away your white privilege by helping other people gain access, and it never diminishes your white privilege. You’re born with it, and it remains with you, so it’s the gift that keeps on giving.”
Throughout the interview, Visconti comes across as someone who genuinely wants to work toward a more equal society. However, his idea of white privilege as a “gift” that whites can bestow on others is somewhat paternalistic. It promulgates a view of race relations in which white people “give access” to minorities, rather than everyone working together to create equal access. It also assumes that white privilege is something you can give away, when the idea that it “remains with you” is probably closer to the truth. Helping a person of color does not make that person white, and does not confer upon them all the unconscious benefits that society gives to whites. All people can work to reduce the influence of privilege, but that involves a widespread change of behaviors and attitudes — not individual “gifts.”
I have to agree that the wordage was a tad paternalistic here, but I also agree that this is coming from an honest place. Not out of malice. I’d like to see more white people engage in the discussion and more minorities be willing to listen without judging first. It works for me and my friends. I think it can work for the greater good.