Guest contributor to Racialicious
, Kate Harding, posts about racism fatigue
and the issues that it brings up, with regards to responses to a racist cover for Vogue featuring LeBron Johnson and Giselle Bundchen
I'm going to dump a long quote on y'all in a moment - I've tried to snip some parts, but insights are packed into nearly every sentence, so it was a bit hard to do. Nevertheless, here we go:
And it can be especially important to talk about the subtle things, because that’s where privilege reveals itself most clearly. Any white person who’s neither an idiot nor an asshole can see and deplore the racism in, say, this image. But we can’t all see it in the Vogue cover. So when we start talking about the Vogue cover as part of a long tradition of racist imagery that casts African-American men as aggressive apes, we get a much more useful conversation going. Instead of just a bunch of white liberals saying, “That’s horrible!” and a bunch of white supremacists saying, “No, it’s right on!” we get to see all the grey areas of privilege brought out in the open: those of us who try to be anti-racist and educate ourselves accordingly but still missed the racism there until it was pointed out to us; those of us who sorta see it once it’s pointed out but still think people are making a mountain out of a molehill; and most importantly, those of us who missed it in the first place and, on the basis of that, continue to insist it is not there.
We’ve been talking a lot around here recently about that last category of people, with regard to sexism. And as a woman and a feminist, I can tell you those people are FUCKING INFURIATING. The people who actually live as the subjects of discrimination and hatred are not oversensitive; we are sensitized to the more subtle manifestations of those things, because we’ve seen how they’re wielded against us, over and over and fucking over. So many people have trouble grokking the concept of “privilege” and will respond to having their own pointed out with laundry lists of the disadvantages they’ve experienced in their lives. But privilege, in this sense, is not just about obvious advantages. It is about the luxury of not seeing the subtle shit.
As a white person, I haven’t been sensitized to covert racism by a lifetime of experiences. Unlike a person of color who has no choice but to see and feel it every day, I actually do have to “go looking for it”; my privilege could otherwise allow me to go through life believing it doesn’t exist. Because I care about being anti-racist, I do go looking, do make an effort to educate myself about patterns of racism I wouldn’t automatically recognize–and to question myself when my kneejerk reaction is, “Oh, come on–I’m supposed to believe that’s racist?”
But because I’m white, I also have the option of not looking any time I don’t feel like it. That’s what privilege is. It’s the option to ignore nasty shit that doesn’t directly affect my own life, my career, my relationships, my bank account, my social standing, my housing situation, etc. And I won’t lie to you–I take that option plenty. [. . .] I spend most of my activism energy on feminist issues and fat issues, things that affect me directly.
And you know, I don’t even feel guilty about some of that. Each one of us can only do so much, and I’d wager most of us spend more energy on things that affect us directly than on things that don’t. Even among those things, we pick and choose. [. . .] In the big picture, that’s fine. No one has to save the world single-handedly.
But those of us who care about social justice have no excuse for not being aware of issues that don’t affect us directly, or for not taking people seriously when they tell us something that’s hidden behind the screen of our own privilege really is there. None of us has an excuse for wanting to maintain that privilege regardless of whom it hurts. And for my money, there is no better education in privilege for those who need one–and that includes all of us who have it, no matter how many times we’ve read “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”–than these heated conversations about the more subtle forms of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, sizeism, ableism, what-have-you. Because that’s when it really comes out. That’s when people start making the “I don’t see it, so IT IS NOT THERE” arguments, and the “You people are just looking for things to get pissed about!” arguments. There’s a lot to be learned from those.
I don’t have to go looking for instances of sexism and sizeism to get pissed off about; I’m a fat woman, so they find me. But I do look for instances of other forms of bigotry, because in so many cases, if I don’t look, I won’t see them. And those of us with privilege need to look. So the problem with a Wesley Morris telling us certain instances of racism should be beneath our notice, or a Charlotte Allen telling us pretty much all of sexism should be, is that it gives those who really need to look a handy excuse not to. And it’s a hell of a lot easier to look for excuses not to care than to look at experiences outside our own.
But if you've got time on your hands, go read the whole article.
-Reileenbaptized with a perfect name