We've Confused White Privilege With White Power For Too Long, But It's Time To Call It What It Is
'Power' may cause a few white tears, but it's more accurate.
I see it as a privilege to be able to write about my experiences as a black woman on my blog The Black Educator and Blavity- two platforms that raise eyebrows when mentioned in white spaces, like my classes at my PWI. I recently completed a class presentation about Blavity, and I started by asking the class “Who has ever heard of Blavity?” The vast majority responded that they had never heard of it before I mentioned it. As the only black student in the class, this response was yet another experience I added to the list of interesting things that happen while being black in a white space. Just when I get comfortable enough to share and discuss the familiar black spaces that I frequent, I am often reminded that the news sources, communities, and social banter that I find to be second-nature are foreign and, often, null and void in white spaces. I refuse to share the overwhelming number of times that someone has asked me “Is Black Twitter a separate app?”
Ever think of how crazy it is that some spaces are characterized as being “white” and why it is usually with a positive, albeit exclusionary, connotation? I worked at Anthropologie, J. Crew, and Soulcycle- all spaces that are extremely white- and are seen as physical spaces that symbolize privilege, wealth, and a certain desirable lifestyle- worldwide. Those spaces, those reputations, and those images of whiteness don’t symbolize white privilege, they symbolize white power. I don’t necessarily mean this in a white nationalist way at all, so you can pick up your jaw from the ground, but I am saying that we need to call a spade a spade and start naming power when we see it. It is so odd when we decide to call white power and the power of whiteness something as nice-sounding as “white privilege.”
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How counterintuitive is it to make the idea of exclusive, marginalizing, societally borderline omnipotent power more of a nicety by assuaging white tears and calling it something as dainty and universal as “privilege”?
Many times, this privilege that we speak of is actual power. Privilege is more of an allowance of power and power is the way things are simply because they are, and it then socially reproduces itself for a lasting beneficial effect at any cost. White power literally reigns supreme in our world, and it is sometimes exercised through different privileges. I was reading the white tears post on the Awesomely Luvvie blog, and Luvvie’s post talked about the power of white tears in all types of situations. Unpacking the effect of those tears a bit more, I’m bringing up the issue of white tears being shed when we address this “privilege” in its realest and rawest form- power. We already know that, to many non-POC eyes, black and brown tears symbolize little more than the ambiguous forms of “struggle” that we are so often associated with, whether they be in mourning or celebration. To them, our tears often symbolize an unspoken lack of privilege that comes from an unspoken lack of power.
The power of white tears, however, is remarkable because it tends to penetrate through barriers beyond white spaces. White privilege is simply the shadow of white power. In gentrified neighborhoods, for example, the power of white tears manifests as noise complaints that get the police called on black and brown neighbors who have grown accustomed to higher volumes of music and communication. And what a privilege it is to be able to call the police in a predominantly black neighborhood and know that the police will come and listen attentively to your complaint without accusing you of being in the wrong, and with their hands nowhere near their gun holsters. White power is using a voice to get bike lanes painted onto main streets that weave through these same neighborhoods that black and brown children have fearlessly popped wheelies on for decades without fear of being hit by cars. White power is so transcending that it spreads with the simple purchase of a Harlem brownstone, the replacement of a corner store with a Starbucks (where black men may or may not be allowed to peacefully meet in), and a call for the changing of neighborhood names to shorter, trendier two-syllable dashed acronyms to be emblazoned across the backs of Soulcycle hoodies.
The privilege lies in the expectation that what is best for a white person is best for the world. The power is being able to make changes based on that expectation.
How many spaces can we name that are characterized as “black” and have a positive connotation outside of our own communities? I’ll wait. The few that one may be able to name are not because of any amount of privilege, but because of some amount of power that had to be attained for a seat at the table. We must be mindful not to forget whose table that is. Therein lies the power that I’m talking about. All the tears in the world can be cried around that table, but when they are tears that are similar to the person’s sitting at the head of that table, they are valued more than anyone else’s.
There are many symbols of white power in our world- just look at anything that is considered “normal” or “mainstream” and the spaces that those things occupy. Privilege is not the issue in many of our day-to-day experiences- power is. It may be a privilege to be able to occupy a space, but power is what allows privilege to determine who occupies that space. We can’t claim privilege without claiming power, no matter how many white tears that truth causes.