We often talk about “white privilege” and it tends to be discussed in terms of having stuff. “That person has white privilege,” we say. “That other person has male privilege.” But what does that mean?
To me, privilege is not a positive but a negative, or a lack of something. When one has white privilege they have freedom from something. They have freedom from trauma, pain, hardship, toil, etc. When one is protected from the mandatory hardships of life for which one has evolved to deal with, they become puerile and childlike. Their skin becomes thin. They cannot handle the smallest slight. They are weak and become dependent on protection from the necessary traumas of life. This is why those white men carry those rifles around, because they are weak and terrified of having to deal with life naked and undefended.
But what is the converse of privilege? I would assert that it is a surplus of hardship and challenge. It is a excess of the onslaught of reality with its slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. This tends to make one’s skin thicker and makes one tougher.
And so, if you want to be honest, whiteness has become synonymous with weakness, and thus the entire apparatus of the state becomes necessary to maintain protection from the normal, average trials which befall any person living on this planet.
White culture and the western nation-state steals the defenses and padding of the brown people of this world and wraps it around the light-skinned people it protects. If you start to think of white people as immature and childlike, you can quickly see and hear it when you look at and listen to them.
As I’ve transitioned from being a white male to a white transwoman, I’ve had to experience a rude awakening of what it’s really like to live without that stolen armor. This rude awakening, that I sought to put off for as long as possible by posing as a straight white male, hit my weak, thin-skinned ass with a vengeance, and I was paralyzed at first.
But my skin grew. My toughness increased. Now, I can’t say that I know what it’s like to be black, but I know what it’s like to be targeted for who I am from as soon as I entered elementary school. I know what it’s like for others to hate things in you that you are not even aware of yet. And I know what it’s like to lose a significant amount of privilege.
And yet, don’t be afraid of losing privilege. Living in the false world of stolen armor is not real, and it stunts development in many ways. The transition to a normal amount of privilege can be shocking at first, but then you realize your inner strength, and you begin to realize that life is not about hiding behind wealth and privilege. Life is about meeting life on life’s bare terms.
To quote a brown-skinned Judean named Jesus, “if you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor.” I interpret this as if you want to really grow, you need to cast your privilege aside.
And also, Krishna of the Hindu pantheon said to privileged Arjuna in the Baghavad Gita: “yield not to weakness; it does not suit you. Throw away this faint-heartedness.” Meaning that one must meet life without fear and without protection and cowardice.
Only through letting go of privilege can one really be alive. Words will not make one alive. One cannot say “I understand that I am privileged,” and expect the situation to resolve itself. One should give up one’s privilege. This is the only path of truth. Change the system from within by giving up your pilfered wealth that was likely funneled through the generations from slave-created surplus. You will survive, and you will be a real human, not a child in a shell.
The problem we face today is not a black problem. The problem is a white problem. Until we recognize our theft, our appropriation of defenses, our heinous usage of black bodies as human shields against the hurricane of nature, we will not grow, and we will not be mature. We will be on average, pathetic sprouts, unable to grow into the trees we were born to be.
Personally, my life is so much richer after I gave up most of my male privilege. It is immeasurably harder, but it is more vital and real. And I ask that you do the same. I can’t change my skin color. I am stuck being white. So the only way for me to reduce my so-called white privilege is to dismantle the institutions that value whiteness over blackness. This takes work. This takes sacrifice. But I assure you that it will be worth it both for black people and for white people.
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