Too frequently, I am charged by my White friends with “over-racializing” the world. “Why must it always come down to race,” they wonder. ”Aren’t I perpetuating racism when I notice race?” Taking it a step forward, they accuse me of being racist against Whites for pointing out White privilege.
How do you communicate to someone who is White that their race matters? By definition, they are the “unracialized” in this country, and are never faced with their race and how it privileges them. How then can they comprehend how race fundamentally colours the experiences of people of colour? A cheesy analogy arose out of Monday’s discussion which is nonetheless somewhat poignant: if a negatively-charged chloride ion and a positively-charged sodium ion are hanging out on the outside of a cell. The cell’s membrane has a channel that allows only negatively-charged ions to move into the cell, and so chloride is able to pass in and out of the cell freely; to chloride there are no limits, and so the concept of the cell (as a bounded space) is an abstract concept alone since chloride doesn’t experience the boundaries of that cell and its borders are subsequently invisible.
To sodium, however, it seems the cell as a place it cannot enter, since there is no channel open to it. The cell is defined by sodium’s inability to enter it, and so it is able to sense not only where it can, but also where it cannot go (which, for science folks, draws in the analogy of the equilibrium potential for sodium compared to chloride).
White privilege is a similar conundrum...
Jenn, from Reappropriate, has a good blog post about white privilege: