AU EU partnership faceMany-a-time, the discussion about white privilege revolves around the topic of race relations between white and black people in the United States of America, and many mistakenly think that it is literally an issue of white verses black. I was thrilled to come across this article “18 Things White People Seem to not Understand (Because, White Privilege)” after a Korean friend of mine posted it on Facebook. The author of the article is of Filipino origin and she was inspired by Peggy McIntosh, a white woman, known for authoring the essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the the Invisible Knapsack,” which is considered a classic among anti-racism educators. I find it interesting that today the idea to write about white privilege came to me from neither a black person, an African nor a white European, and yet understanding the concept of white privilege is essential if youth from Africa and Europe want to transform their fate to one of cooperation rather than that of the same old, boring neo-colonial processes. It is not an issue of skin color, but the sentiments of a past relationship between whites and ‘the others.’

‘In the colonies, the foreigner coming from another country imposed his rule by means of guns and machines. In defiance of his successful transplantation, in spite of his appropriation, the settler still remains a foreigner. It is neither the act of owning factories, nor estates, nor a bank balance which distinguishes the governing classes. The governing race is first and foremost those who come from elsewhere, those who are unlike the original inhabitants, “the others”.’ ~Frantz Fanon in “The Wretched of the Earth”

[Key terms in Post-Colonial Theory]

A couple of weeks ago, while participating in the 3rd Africa Europe Youth Leadership Summit, the issue of rectifying Europe’s colonial past came up quite often. And although participants from both continents felt that it was unfair to expect today’s European youth to pay for their ancestors atrocities against Africans, participants from both continents did say that European youth can take a stand for justice. The million euro question, however, is how? How can the youth of Africa and Europe come together and cooperate knowing the complicated and very unequal relationship their continents had in the past and continue to have today? AU EU partnership face 2

I believe that one of the answers to that complicated question is to understand white privilege, to fight against stereotypes and racism, and to consequently use white privilege to stand up and fight against systematic inequality.

When it comes to describing white privilege in the European context, I found the list outlined in Macy Sto Domingo’s article to be relevant. The 18 points she listed out are as follows:

1. White Privilege is being able to move into a new neighborhood and being fairly sure that your neighbors will be pleasant to you and treat you with respect.

2. White Privilege is being able to watch a movie, read a book and open the front page of a newspaper and see yourself and your race widely represented and spoken for.

3. White Privilege is being able to seek legal, financial and medical help without having your race work against you.

4. White Privilege is living in a world where you are taught that people with your skin tone hold the standard for beauty.

5. White Privilege is never being told to, “get over slavery”.

6. White Privilege is having the prevalence and importance of the English language and finding amusement in ridiculing people of colour/immigrants for their accents and their difficulty in speaking a language that is not their native tongue.

7. White Privilege is arrogantly believing that reverse racism actually exists.

8. White Privilege is being able to stay ignorant to the fact that racial slurs are part of a systematic dehumanization of entire groups of people who are and have historically been subjugated and hated just for being alive.

9. White Privilege is not having your name turned into an easier-to-say Anglo-Saxon name.

10. White Privilege is being able to fight racism one day, then ignore it the next.

11. White privilege is having your words and actions attributed to you as an individual, rather than have them reflect members of your race.

12. White Privilege is being able to talk about racism without appearing self-serving.

13. White Privilege is being able to be articulate and well-spoken without people being surprised.

14. White Privilege is being pulled over or taken aside and knowing that you are not being singled out because of your race/colour.

15. White Privilege is not having to teach your children to be aware of systematic racism for their own protection.

16. White Privilege is not having to acknowledge the fact that we live in a system that treat people of colour unfairly politically, socially and economically and choosing, instead, to believe that people of colour are inherently less capable.

17. White Privilege is not having your people and their culture appropriated, romanticized or eroticized for the gain and pleasure of other white people.

18. White Privilege is being able to ignore the consequences of race.

 

To add to her list some other important points that I think white privilege is, particularly in the context of Africa-Europe youth cooperation:

  • White privilege is being able to remove any association to racism and neo-colonial EU policies because, as a matter of fact, the European country you come from never colonized an African country.
  • White privilege is agreeing that freedom of movement is necessary for African and European youth to meet and exchange ideas, but having never felt the embarrassment of a complicated visa process and being interrogated by airport security, asking what business you have coming to Europe (that is, if you are granted a visa… many African participants couldn’t make it to the summit because they were denied one).
  • White privilege is being able to say that challenges in Africa are due to corruption and bad African leaders, airbrushing out the affects of colonialism/neo-colonialism, with little or no objection from your colleagues.
  • White privilege is saying that European institutions are more advanced than African ones and everybody agreeing with you just because…
  • White privilege is being able to feel like you have the right to have a direct say in African politics when you have little knowledge of African politics.

“White liberals vacillate between the black world of oppression Steve Bikoand the white world of privilege verbalizing all the complaints of the blacks beautifully while skillfully extracting what suits them from the exclusionary pool of white privilege… True to their image, the white liberals always knew what was good for the blacks and told them so.” ~Steve Biko

 

 

European youth cannot be fully blamed for the stereotypes they have against Africa and Africans when the images they have of both are mostly perpetuated by international media telling a single story, from a single angle, that paints Africa as the ‘dark country of no hope’ when indeed Africa is not a country and Africa is full of hope. For more about the danger of a single story, check out this inspirational talk by the world-renowned writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:

 

An example of how to use white privilege to stand up against systemic inequity.

Advertisements
Comments
  1. I like you Rahel, but posting that girls list does you a disservice. The title alone is just plain racist. There are plenty of white people that don’t look like they speak well, and if they did people would be surprised. Lastly, you can’t call it “white” privilege when many africans treat each other better and worse depending on their tribe or lightness of a persons skin ex. Tanzania, sudan etc.

    I understand your frustration, but for life to really get better, we have to be better.

    • therealrahel says:

      Hey Adhanet! I encourage you to read my blog post with an open mind and with the understanding that I wrote it within the context of Africa Europe cooperation. Like I mentioned in the beginning, the issue of white privilege isn’t about black and white, but rather white verses ‘the others.’ Also, in no way was I trying to implicate that Africans are free from any responsibility towards unjust behavor towards their citizens, particularly because of skin color. Having said that, talking about white privilege is not racist; it’s just bringing an important issue to the fore and giving a few suggestions on how this issue can affect Africa-Europe cooperation in a positive way if understood properly. Sure there are white people who don’t speak well, but I’ll bet you an ice cream that their difficulty in speech is never associated with their skin color or country of origin.

      In the case of Eritrea, it is a slightly awkward topic since there is no platform for a ‘white colonizer’ to dictate politics or public discourse. But go to countries like South Africa and Namibia and it’s a very different story. The cause of the Rwandan genocide was the type of African-on-African discrimination you talk about, but that discrimination is a very direct result of the Beligian colonial policy of creating a light-skined Tutsi elite to dominate over the Hutus.

      Also, keep in mind that the issue of white privilege is definitely prevalent in Diaspora communities, including the Eritrean one. Daunting is the task of teaching our children about systematic racism. Reading down that girls list made me cringe several times remembering what I had to go through as a child in the United States. How many times did I have to say ‘my name is Rahel, not Rachel!!’. 🙂

      Thank you for reading my blog and for your comments!

  2. Don’t mistake me though I do like the work that you’re doing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s