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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Guilty Privilege

<ast week has been riddled with discussion of racial identity and more importantly how to talk about racism at Carleton. Whether its student rallies demonstrating solidarity against racism, an open forum discussing racial identity, or speakers discussing “birth of a white nation” Carleton, has, for the past week been attempting to create an open space to talk about race and its accompanying issues. But there’s a troubling trend I’m starting to see at Carleton and to be honest, as a minority, I completely hate it. I hate it when I’m having a conversation with a group of people about race but when a white friend starts talking others jokingly say “white privilege” in high-pitched voices. I hate it when my white friends tell me they feel awkward going to OILL events because they feel “it’s not their place”. I hate that the goal of taking the Buzzfeed quiz “How privileged are you?” is to have the lowest score possible. The trend of being guilty of having privilege, especially white privilege, is creating concerning issues in the discourse of race and racism.

I guess this is coming off the heels of the Princeton Article recently released by Princeton student Tal Fortgang who talked about his disdain with the term “Check Your Privilege”. He felt that “simply because I belong to a certain ethnic group I [am] judged collectively with it”. His frustrations are justified – in spheres of discussion it’s hard to enter the conversation about race when it seems you will be merely faced with judgment based on your own race. It’s hard to be an ally to a movement that seems to be such an exclusive one because “you don’t understand racial discrimination.” While its fair to say that every individual has varying degrees of experience with racial issues and discussion, to block out an entire race from even participating is neither productive nor the way to create a more inclusive community willing to discuss racism.

Saying things like “You have white privilege” in a negative way is using the term as a weapon and cloaking the person  as the “white villain”.  The only thing calling someone out on their privilege is doing is just locking them out of the discussion. Aside from the fact that the term deconstructs people to the sum of their characteristics- it’s a handicapping device. White? Then what could you possible know about racism. Goodbye. Calling out people on their privilege is not making them consider the advantages they have, but rather dismissing their perspective and blocking them out.

How do expect someone who hasn’t experienced racial discrimination to understand where you’re coming from when they don’t feel comfortable to even talk about race with you? How do you expect more people to join the discourse, beyond that of the regulars, if they are being shut out?

If anything, Carleton students shouldn’t be conditioning people, in my experience, to be uncomfortable talking about race issues with me because they are worried about being offensive or being called out on their privilege. Everyone’s opinions are valid; their characteristics make their opinions no less worthy or relevant than mine. People should not be silenced or discounted based on their race.

The root of the issue is that “guilt-shaming” someone about their privilege is being used as a weapon in a disagreement over the weight of identity in determining a person’s role in discourse. But only by being an inclusive environment, only when being privileged is a source of power to do good rather than being a source of guilt, only when people feel they can enter the debate can we truly have an open and safe space for all to discuss race and, most importantly, move forward as the collective. This is just one voice in a discussion that needs to happen. My hope is that all voices can feel that they can enter that discussion too.

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