When someone asks why there isn’t a White History Month it can be hard to unpack such a loaded question in one sitting. The obvious and over-simplified answer to this is, of course, that every month is White History Month. However, this hardly seems like an adequate response to folks who are still genuinely looking for an answer rooted in what many take as a post-racist 2013 (especially after the election and re-election of our first black president.)
One particular group of geography scholars took President Obama’s re-election as an opportunity to run some numbers. Looking closely at some of the most racist and hateful tweets posted during the final week of the campaign season, they found that out of the ten “most racist states,” only one (Minnesota) voted for Obama. Although this in and of itself does not prove how widespread and damaging racist ideologies continue to be in the U.S., it does show a cluster of hateful and racist musings in states which not only favored Mitt Romney but also were quite vocal about their hate for the color of our President’s skin.
These geography scholars, who call themselves the Floating Sheep bloggers, go on to remind us that “lest anyone elsewhere become too complacent, the unfortunate fact is that most states are not immune from this kind of activity. Racist behavior, particularly directed at African Americans in the U.S., is all too easy to find both offline and in information space.”
A quick look at the onslaught of racist slurs that were tweeted and re-tweeted after Obama’s win provides a sobering view of a nation that is still unable to criticize candidates based solely on their political shortcomings and instead resorts to racist reasoning to tear a candidate down.
So the first course of action in why we don’t need a White History Month becomes establishing the prevalence of racism in the United States and acknowledging its presence as widespread, systematic, and damaging to all people as a whole. The next step is unpacking privilege what it is, who has it and what – to do with it.
John Scalzi’s article, “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is,” garnered attention last May for its ability to break down the concept of privilege in everyday videogame terms. Despite Scalzi’s success with a younger audience, the concept of privilege continues to remain demonized as an elusive theory at best.
Privilege, or more specifically here, white privilege, is defined for us in Peggy McIntosh’s popular essay, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. According to McIntosh, privilege is as an “invisible package of unearned assets” which can be cashed in daily, such as social class, economic class, sexuality, and race, which we are meant to remain ignorant of.
This means that we are often taught “to recognize racism only in individual acts of meanness” but “never in invisible systems conferring unsought racial dominance” from birth. This means that whites are not just empowered, they are often over-empowered.
This is how privilege works: it allows those who have it not to see it. The news, education, history and media entertainment all center on white people and their accomplishments. It’s time to give attention to other important experiences so that a more accurate, more diversified depiction of the world can be recognized.
Although we could never fully recognize and undo all the history that has been erased in only one month, Black History Month is the time where we are reminded that there is other literature and art, other stories and accomplishments, that matter outside of what gets published in our history books and European literature classes.
So where do we go from here, now that privilege has become a dirty word and many believe racism to be a problem of the past?
According to Bell Hooks, a feminist expert on the topic of race and privilege, privilege in and of itself is not a bad thing. What matters is how we choose to handle it. According to Hooks we need to,“share our resources and take direction about how to use our privilege in ways that empower those who lack it.”
So as hard as it is and as bad as it might make you feel, those with privilege need to recognize how we are advantaged- as straight, white, male, cis-gendered and able-bodied. We need to ask ourselves how we can combat a system which continues to keep others down at our benefit.
In the coming weeks there will hopefully be an influx of diversified news segments and articles that establish long-term discussion of the prevalence of racism in the United States. So remember, whether it is Black History Month or not, it’s not just about white people anymore, and we need to start being okay with that.
Lauren Vaughn is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com.