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Justice

Whiteness and Living in the Bubble

Kathy Roman | Jun 27, 2017

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Kathy Roman | Jun 27, 2017

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

I watched a hilarious sitcom the other day called 30 Rock, about an extremely attractive man who constantly received special privileges due to his looks.

At restaurants, someone would always pick up the check for him. He was welcomed into exclusive events without tickets, his ridiculous ideas were always met with praise, and no matter what he did, he never got anything but accolades. When his female friend tried to tell him about all of his unearned privileges, he didn’t believe it. She called his sense of unreality and privilege the “bubble.” At the end of the episode, he finally did open his eyes and recognize that he lived in a bubble—but he definitely didn’t want to give up his privilege and live in the “real” world.

I saw the show as a metaphor about the many wonderful people, who happen to be white, and who don’t realize that they too live in a type of symbolic bubble of racial privilege. Believing in equality, they think society has leveled the racial playing field, but I don’t think that’s true.

Instead I see many disparities, especially as they affect black people. I say that as a white woman who has started to explore and understand the cultural privileges of my own skin color.

Yes, it is theoretically possible to reach the same attainments from wherever you started in life, no matter your race. However, if you were raised in a prosperous community, it’s going to be a whole lot easier to reach these goals than if you were raised in a disadvantaged neighborhood. Equal is not necessarily the same.

We all know that racial and economic privilege has its perks—better opportunities, better nutrition, better neighborhoods, better community facilities and amenities. Access to quality education tops the list, and because that quality education isn’t available to everyone, it keeps the less fortunate out of the loop of higher paying jobs, funding for homes and the chance to advance in life. Beyond all that, white people will never be subjected to racism due to the color of their skin.

Much more than just a word, racism affects how one is treated every day. Whites in the bubble can never know how debilitating it is to be looked down on, maligned and in the worst cases, persecuted, all over skin color.

The Baha’i teachings ask white people to recognize that privilege and “make a supreme effort” to get past it:

Let the white make a supreme effort in their resolve to contribute their share to the solution of this problem, to abandon once for all their usually inherent and at times subconscious sense of superiority, to correct their tendency towards revealing a patronizing attitude towards the members of the other race, to persuade them through their intimate, spontaneous and informal association with them of the genuineness of their friendship and the sincerity of their intentions. – Shoghi EffendiThe Advent of Divine Justice, p. 40.

So how do we burst that white privilege bubble? Acknowledging that it exists is a start. We can realize that the bubble exerts tremendous influence over people’s lives. We can work toward educating those around us, so that the collective consciousness is raised. If you encounter those who peacefully speak out about white privilege, don’t take it as a personal attack.

Here are a few innovative ways the issue is being addressed:

  1. At Appalachian State University a campus bulletin board recently featured fliers from the “Check Your Privilege” campaign started by professors at the University of San Francisco. It listed many of the privileges enjoyed by white men, the upper economic classes and others. As might be expected, a backlash occurred from whites that didn’t want to acknowledge that any privilege existed. Admittedly, many do not want to think that they are not open-minded in their thinking—but no matter how uncomfortable it makes us, white privilege, to one degree or another, is a fact.
  2. My daughter, a teacher, volunteers her time to teach Baha’i Sunday school. In a recent class she spoke to the children about equality and fairness, taught them an important Baha’i quote about justice, and showed them this graphic to facilitate awareness:

equality-justice-meme

  1. A group of Baha’is in St. Louis, Missouri have started a project called Dysfunctionalware. Their mission: “Collaborative, knowledge pooling, participatory art experience on racial privilege and day-to-day white supremacy.” Per their Facebook site: “Dysfunctionalware is a series of dinners featuring a set of china dishware designed to spark uncomfortable conversations about white supremacy and privilege. Each dish is illustrated by local artists with images of personal experiences with systemic racism and racial privilege. 

    These dinners are intended for people who identify or sometimes experience passing as white, as a place to explore what “whiteness” may encompass, allow, and provide. The art probes the subtle cultural messaging that white culture is superior to others, and examines how that perception can be damaging to all of us. Guests sit and eat a meal, bite by bite uncovering the artists’ images as facilitators guide the table through discussion.

They go on to say, “The title ‘Dysfunctionalware’, a ceramics reference, invokes the dominant white culture’s discomfort with and avoidance of talking about race, thereby further propagating injustice regardless of intent.”

Other such awareness groups are springing up around the country to help facilitate this important discussion. As uncomfortable as these discussions may be for some whites, they are not meant to offend or point fingers at anyone in particular, but to shine the light on a most pressing social issue.

Finally, we must realize that the bubble is, in actuality, detrimental to everyone. Until it is burst we will not have as productive and enlightened a society as we might have. Ignorance, poverty, and injustice hurts us all. Unless the white man steps out of his bubble of privilege, he will never know what it means to live outside in the real world. When the day comes that he does, we can begin to build a more prosperous world together, a world of unity, equity and justice for everyone.

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Comments

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  • kim randolph
    Jun 30, 2017
    -
    Dear Robert:
    I feel for you. The heart of the issue is really class. You are correct in your observation about CLASS privilege. MIddle and upper middle-class black kids may experience racism, but not to the same degree that those of lesser means would. It's about time we looked deeply at class issues in this society. Even a serious discussion about race is impossible without acknowledging its dependence on a class structure that keeps dark skinned people at the bottom of the social hierarchy. What, you ask, about working class white folks? Well, honestly, they drank the cool-aid when ...they bought the lie perpetuated by wealthy whites that they "had something coming." There's your resentment. Educate yourself. You, too, are a victim.
    Read more...
  • Jun 30, 2017
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    It's certainly a subject worthy of study and deep reflection. The root is class as well as race. My daughter (a white middle class California resident) worked as a grocery store checker and got loans to finish college. Tuition was free for minorities. Did she resent this? Yes. Justifiably? Probably. NY now offers free college to any NY resident willing to remain in NY for 4 years afterward. Level field of acceptability. Thank you, NY
  • Jun 29, 2017
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    As a white male with many friends of Color, I can say that this article is spot on. Thank you for highlighting this issue.
  • Courtney Everts Mykytyn
    Jun 28, 2017
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    one way to get out of the bubble is to send your kids to integrated/integrating schools! and there are many of us doing this around the country; yes, including me (my kids are now in middle school and two of a tiny handful of white/middle class kids). until we live, care, learn together, segregation and the bubble will continue to dominate our interactions. (IntegratedSchools dot org)
  • Jun 28, 2017
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    Privilege works both ways. Sometimes I have it whether I want it or not. But I have found that a lot of white people hate nothing worse than another white person who questions privilege. I hear so much about "white people are such-and-such" and "human nature is such-and-such" that I can only conclude that I am neither a white person nor a human being.
    • Steve Eaton
      Jun 28, 2017
      -
      As always, a reasonable
      observation, Mr. Cooper!
      However, only humans
      can type as well as you do........that is supposed to
      be a compliment.
  • Jun 28, 2017
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    Living in South Africa for 27 years and then coming back to the U.S. burst finally my white bubble but it sure took awhile before I REALLY got it In spite of living in many different cultures as a white woman. Racism can be subtle and that is part of the problem even when one thinks they are free of it because they believe in equality. Keep writing on this all important subject Kathy.
  • David Taylor
    Jun 28, 2017
    -
    This makes me think about when I was in college, and I noticed that there were building specifically for minority groups, i.e. the women's building, african American building, native American etc. And I wondered why there wasn't a men's building or a white building. That's when I realized that white/Caucasian, males etc have that privilege of feeling safe and supported and comfortable in public already, generally speaking. They/I live in a bubble and these buildings for minorities are to provide them the same spaces where they can feel comfortable, because they don't or don't innately have that privilege of support ...in their community. I think people need to start becoming more aware of the innate privileges they are provided in life
    Read more...
  • David Taylor
    Jun 28, 2017
    -
    This is a very well written and well articulated article on innate privilege that white/Caucasian people have. I really enjoyed it because it made me think about my life and the paths I took to achieve my goals and how there are other minorities who would have had to go down very different paths to be where I am today, due to various privileges I was given without even knowing it . Thank you for opening my eyes again to this.
  • Kat Isen
    Jun 27, 2017
    -
    Everyone, whites and blacks, need to make a supreme effort to get over it. Many whites are fed up from being accused so often when it simply wasn't there. It is time for us to all get over it and be more. As ling as you separate, YOU are the problem. No, I don't know what it is for another. They don't know mine. I make an effort with everyone and their stuff AND make an effort to grow myself so as not to put my stuff on others. You are part of the problem here. ... It is worse that you are spewing this as a spiritual belief of sorts, a way to better yourself by seeing a partial view.
    Read more...
  • Jun 27, 2017
    -
    This is the kind of rhetoric that causes DISUNITY and resentment among poor and working class white people. As a poor white kid growing up in a predominantly black neighborhood and going to a predominantly black school I experienced more VIOLENT racism than I care to remember. I seriously doubt middle and upper class black kids in predominantly white schools and neighborhoods had to deal with anything near the kind crap I had to deal with. Lets be honest; out of touch liberals couldn't care less about poor and working class white people. To them they don't even exist. It's ...not the 1950's anymore. Get a clue!!!
    Read more...
    • Steve Eaton
      Jun 28, 2017
      -
      Yes, Mr. Newell, if we try
      to simplify anything too
      much, then we can overlook a lot. What you
      mentioned is a good example. I loved Ms. Roman's article and I believe it's totally right
      as far as it went. It didn't
      cover economic prejudice
      or reverse racism, though,
      and they're real. There are
      other kinds of usually overlooked prejudice, too:
      I feel bad for ridiculed obese people, but I can
      guarantee you underweight
      folks like me had it at least
      as bad, and ...we didn't even
      have "group identity" because there weren't as
      many of us!
      Read more...
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