Violence is not privilege, it’s detriment.
I’m not writing this as someone who has always thought this way. I wrote an entire poem around privilege in my book Coming Out My Box in 2016. However, my thinking has since evolved. The urgency to be free of the system of white supremacy has become even more prevalent.
My mind can no longer connect a violent, oppressive and genocidal system with privilege. I can no longer encourage potential co-liberators to accept their history and collaboration with this system as a privilege. For me, accepting the ongoing legacy of trauma inflicted on blacks and other people of color as a privilege is dehumanizing for all involved. In fact, the terms privilege and ally within the anti-racist organizing movement have been so watered down that mentions make me a bit nauseous and triggered at times.
If someone snatched a child and raped and killed them, would we tell them to admit that they had the privilege of being with that child? Why then would we encourage well-meaning white people who hope to grasp the magnitude of slavery and the current system of white supremacy, to identify their connection to that violent history and current brutality as a privilege? Why are we framing white supremacy as a benefit from our Ancestors’ brutal history of torture (many of whom were children)? Why are we framing it as a perk to benefit from our ongoing displacement and marginalization in this country?
Even with the resources gained and protections afforded by the system, based on whiteness, I would much rather hear white co-liberators say, “I recognize my detriment. I am actively struggling against white supremacy, here is how . . .”. Because to identify with those gains with such affirmative language is detrimental to healing and progression in this country. It is detrimental to any real systemic change. If we reframe the connection to this brutality as a detriment, rather than a privilege it removes the optional ally-ship that is so prevalent within anti-racism organizing. If white co-liberators can see their connection to the legacy of slavery, lynching, redlining and other forms of racial violence as a detriment to their humanity, rather than a privilege to their existence, we can begin to balance the racial seesaw a bit.
The argument around privilege versus detriment has been used in the past to think about how whites and blacks relate to the system of white supremacy. However, in those instances, the argument has been that we should refrain from calling white people privileged and instead identify black people as having the detriment. My argument is that this still reinforces the historical hierarchal narrative that got us here in the first place. It is a narrative that makes it a global phenomenon to consistently fail to recognize blacks and other people of color as fully human. I am also arguing that it is the indoctrination into the system of white supremacy and the connectedness to a legacy of violence and brutality towards human beings based on race, that is the actual detriment. Rather than determine a person’s value (privileged or underprivileged) based on what one of my comrades would call, stuff and status, we can begin to reconnect morality with humanity.
It is a mistake to continue to teach black children and other children of color, even those who are without basic necessities, that they are underprivileged. We must begin to take care of their spirit. Society has already told them that they are less than, that they are hopeless and helpless. We must teach them that as we struggle against these systems that seek to dehumanize them, we recognize their full humanity and will do everything in our power to strengthen and restore our villages, so that they don’t have to go without.
Dr. King said, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” I firmly believe that we all have greater control over the edifice than we have allowed ourselves to believe.