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Jona Olsson originally wrote the essay "Detour-Spotting" almost twenty years ago, but she could have written it yesterday, based on the movement (or lack of movement) against racism we have seen in that nearly two decade span. I know there have been some high profile changes and victories during that time, not the least of which is the current White House resident, but the point is not to look at any individual case. Rather, this is about the entire landscape of race in America and how everyone is doing at this time.

That brings us to today's important and possibly most controversial point on the list:

7) Don’t Blame Me

“I never owned slaves.” or “I didn’t vote for David Duke.” or “None of my family joined the Klan.” or “I taught my children that racism is wrong.”


Reality Check and Consequence

Often white people hear blame whenever the issue of racism is brought up,

whether or not blame has been placed on us. As beneficiaries of racism and white privilege, we sometimes strike a defensive posture even when we are not being individually blamed. We may personalize the remarks, put ourselves in the center, but most references to racism are not directed personally at us. It is the arrogance of our privilege, that drags the focus back to us.

When we are being blamed or personally accused of racist behavior, this defensiveness and denial further alienates us and probably precludes our examining our possible racist behavior.


This is a really tough one for many white people to fully understand, primarily because of their own fears of "reprisal" and/or "revenge." And this is one of the biggest methods of derailing any conversation about race in America, simply because of white fear and ego getting in the way.

This discussion also relies on the point that white people have what's known as "privilege," which is a word, like "racism" that has a meaning that doesn't seem to be understood.

"Privilege" - a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.

That should be pretty easy to understand, right? So, when we speak about "White Privilege," we're talking about the rights, advantages and immunity granted to white people that other minority groups do not have.

For example, a white teenager having an interaction with police in an affluent suburb of a large American city will likely have a very different experience from a black teenager having an interaction with police in a ghetto of a large American city. Even if the white teen was a drug dealer and the black teen was an upstanding scholar, we implicitly know that, because of racism, the black teen will suffer a more difficult interaction than the white teen. That's privilege.

The problem occurs when we attempt to discuss the issue of "privilege" and white people immediately deny that they have it, usually by saying things like "I don't have it easy," or "nobody gave me anything in life, I had to work hard to get it."

But that's where we have a problem within the definition of privilege. It's not about what anyone personally did to achieve, it's about the system that prevents minorities from having the opportunity to do the same hard work to permit them the chance to succeed too.

What we're talking about here isn't the fact that white people have an easy time of living. But they have fewer obstacles in their paths when it comes to achieving, they have fewer concerns about negative elements that have proven to be a major problem for minorities and they have a support system that works to help them, where many minority communities either have no system or the system of racism that works against them.

The problem is that white people, immersed in their own world views, cannot see their own privilege because to them, it's just normal life. It's only when something comes in to change their view - like Affirmative Action for example - that suddenly they sit up and take notice. Now, minorities are gaining "advantages" over them. Now, it's time to do something. How dare they come in, unqualified or underqualified, and take a college placement away from a better educated white kid? It's time to protest and sue.

But when you have had all the advantages for all time, and then we try to tilt the scales ever so slightly to make things more fair, it feels like an attack on white people and something must be done. White people don't deserve to be attacked, especially ones that haven't done anything racist!

And here we are. Defensive white people stating as loudly and as clearly as they can that they are not responsible because they are not racist, meanwhile, they are complacent because they are willing and able to overlook their privilege and how that impacts both their success and the failures of minority people in our country.

Arguably, this is one of the most difficult elements of racism to understand, and even the most supportive anti-racists sometimes don't quite get it, either. It's going to take more high-functioning people like Jona Olsson to chisel through the concrete of this concept so that white people won't immediately flinch, deny or shout it down before we properly examine it.


Previous thinkposts in this series:

1. Day One - I'm Colorblind
2. Day Two - Bootstrap Theory
3. Day Three - Reverse Racism
4. Day Four - Blame The Victim
5. Day Five - The White Knight
6. Day Six - Lighten Up

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