In a society where racism is treated as morally equivalent to pedophilia, what whites are seeking is the sweet relief of moral absolution. Inside they are pleading, “Please don’t hate me!” And I wouldn’t be surprised if there is an accompanying feeling of purification (redemption, even) that comes with such consultant-given absolution. I can honestly say that I would be engaging in exactly this kind of moral self-flagellation about racism if I were white in today’s America.
However, not being white, I can’t help but see it from a different perspective.
If “I know that I’m privileged!” is a statement made largely for one’s own sense of security, then it’s unclear to me how, say, the private school programs’ White Privilege sessions are “challenging” White Privilege, as the Times story’s headline put it. Semi-coerced self-interest rather than genuine enlightenment or understanding seems to be the vehicle for this racial revelation.
And as for the black folks committed to fostering awareness of White Privilege, I frankly wish so many whites weren’t interested in this, because it ends up enabling us in some bad old habits. When your people have been enslaved for centuries followed by another century of lynching, Jim Crow and worse, the racial ego suffers. A suffering ego is ripe for using the status of the Noble Victim as a crutch; you gain a sense of worth in being a survivor of the evil one’s depredations. The Noble Victim is in control—of the conversation, as it were, of the parameters of moral judgment.
The Noble Victim, most certainly, matters. He is, in a sense, whole. But meanwhile, no one gets a job; no one gets fed; little tangible progress is actually made. The Struggle, as it used to be called, sits on hold.
John McWhorter, “The Privilege of Checking White Privilege”, The Daily Beast (15 March 2015) [http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/03/15/the-privilege-of-checking-white-privilege.html]