The global pandemic seems almost forgotten in the news when Layla Saad and I first talked. "White people are not used to seeing themselves as white," says Saad, the book's author Me and White Supremacy. “I was aware from an early age that I was a black person because if you are not part of the dominant culture, you are always just the other person. And so you just know that you are not one of those who are considered ‘normal‘. "
"White privilege means you don't see yourself as a white person, just as a person," says Saad.
In the past few years, Saad has managed to get white women - white feminists - around the world to worry about important issues. In response to an essay she wrote, "I need to talk to spiritual white women about white supremacy," she launched a 28-day challenge on Instagram. The work spread like wildfire. But as good as that sounds, Saad experienced a side effect: she had to constantly face questions from white women trying to understand them better.
In the 28-day challenge, whites should above all become aware of themselves: What have they learned about themselves? What is White supremacy and how does it show up in everyday life? And who chose to distance themselves from the effects of white supremacy and their role in it, and most importantly, why?
White privilege means that you don't see yourself as a white person, but only as a person.
The global crisis we are currently in has probably made this question all the more relevant. "People like to claim that the coronavirus does not differentiate between ethnicity, class or country, that the disease is mindless and will infect anyone who can infect it," wrote Charles M. Blow in early April for the New York Times. “In theory, that's true. But in practice, in the real world, this virus behaves like others, aiming like a missile at the weakest in society. And that doesn't happen because it prefers these people, but because they are more susceptible, more vulnerable and sick than others. "
In reality, COVID-19 has exposed not only health hierarchies but also culture and class privileges. The death rate among black, Asian and ethnic minorities in the UK is "more than double that of whites," according to an analysis by the UK Institute for Tax Studies earlier this month. In early May, the country's Critical Care Audit and Research Center reported that 33 percent of critically ill COVID-19 patients were from a minority, despite making up 19 percent of the UK's total population - a number that has remained constant since March. An analysis of Sky News found that 70 percent of the frontline health workers who have died from coronavirus are a minority.
In the US, the situation is similarly blatant: The death rate among black Americans from the virus is 2.4 times higher than among whites. Racism - coupled with a “culture of lynch-like complicity” around violence against blacks, which was revealed by the fatal shots at Ahmaud Arbery in February - kills people. The systematic institutional problems that allow inequality to flourish are becoming increasingly difficult for policy-makers to ignore.
The conversations that have to be held on site are just as important. "The coronavirus is a catastrophe for feminism," says an article in the online magazine The Atlantic already in March. It points out that pandemics - which also reveal inequality at home and in the gender-specific world of work - have "lasting effects on gender inequality". We know, of course, that any gender inequality always hits BPoC women hardest. And the problematic, unrestrained white feminism makes that even more difficult.
Despite regular lip service on issues such as racism and class differences and gender discrimination, real action by whites is rare. Rarely do whites, myself included, analyze their own complicity and activity within the racist system in which we all live. The emotional burden of the struggle for equal treatment is largely left to those who have already been disenfranchised by this system.
It was almost like men who are criticized for sexism - they always have similar sayings in store to represent their innocence in this systematic problem. And so it was with the feminists. And they all thought they were going to say something new.
Although more people are getting involved and educating themselves through racist dynamics, only a few properly question the internalized ideas and structures, says Saad. White dominance is something we are all a part of - it's not limited to right-wing extremists and neo-Nazis. Authors and thinkers like Saad and Mikki Kendall, author of the newly published book Hood Feminism: Notes From The Women That A Movement Forgot, say now at the latest: That clearly has to change. It is time for us white women to get active!
“I had conversations on Twitter and at feminist events before I wrote my book,” says Kendall, “and I wish I could go back now, record them, and then act out how hard some of these women tried to explain to me that they would not be to blame. There is no way they could be part of the problem because they are feminists. "
“If I had known then what I know now, I would have made a collection of these repetitive sayings,” she adds. “It was almost like men who are criticized for sexism - they always have similar sayings in store to represent their innocence in this systematic problem. And so it was with the feminists. And they all thought they were going to say something new. "
In 2015, Alli Kirkham published a comic called How White Feminism ™ Can Look Just Like Sexism (How white feminism can quickly equate to sexism), which articulates this phenomenon perfectly: Despite all their protests that men have to stand behind the feminist movement, that we should tell our own stories as we see fit, that men should If, for once, you feel uncomfortable, white feminists often react in exactly the same way to discussions about racism.
It is uncomfortable to admit that someone is safe from something when someone else cannot be. It is equally uncomfortable to admit that we (I) benefit from structural oppression in very real ways. As Saad says, working against racism is inconvenient, but that discomfort is insignificant compared to the harm done by doing nothing. These conversations between white women, white feminists - me, maybe you too - are long overdue, and they have never been as urgent as they are now.
"There are a few everyday things that whites do that look like normal behavior, but actually stem from the privilege of being white and a social preference for white skin, aka white-centering," explains Saad.
“White-centering means that white people believe that they are at the center of everything that is happening. I get interviewed about this work so often, and one question I get asked over and over is: How can whites realize how uncomfortable this job is?“, She explains further. “And I answer: 'Yes, the work is uncomfortable. But the fact is, whites are so focused on their role in such societal problems that they don't even realize how uncomfortable it is for BPoC to be affected by and suffer from racism. And these two feelings are not equivalent ‘."
During our conversation, even as we write this article, I am painfully aware that I am doing the same thing. I can see the extent of the work that I have to do. Anyone asking these questions may believe that he or she is doing it with the best of intentions, but that is exactly the point. If you only think of yourself, you are masking the real reason you are taking on this fight for equality - to improve the lives of those who are disadvantaged by the systems that benefit you.
When people hear the word 'privilege' they immediately feel attacked because in many ways they are not leading a privileged life.
“I think there is also a bit of a misunderstanding about what White Privilege actually is. Because when people hear the word 'privilege' they immediately feel attacked because in many ways they are not leading a privileged life. Maybe they belong to the LGBTQ + community, grew up in socially disadvantaged areas or are women, ”says Saad.
“And these identities come with their own experiences of oppression and marginalization. But in contrast to the black population, their hurdles in life were not due to their skin color. "
The thoughts we need to try to change are deeply embedded in our lives. We have to work on educating ourselves. We have to learn where to really spend our money. And how we can efficiently hold politicians accountable. White women not only need to get rid of the system, but also the ideas that we have accepted all our lives as a result.
"It's not an action, it's not a checklist, it's not something you do to prove to the world that you are a good person or that you are not an * e-racist," Saad says emphatically. “It's a way of life, a way of thinking about yourself as part of this world. Whites have to stand up for their fellow men anew every day, because this commitment is not a project that you do on the side. "
“And I really want people to understand that this is not about a one-time thing, but a lifelong cause. White Supremacy is a system and it has a permanent impact on BPoC. So it is not reduced or overcome by calling it a one-off thing or a simple series of actions that one does, but by practicing anti-racism for oneself every day. "
It's easy to follow the news and be appalled by the abuse, violence and widespread, deadly inequalities in the world. It is much more difficult to admit that we are complicit. But one thing is clear: now is the time to be honest with ourselves.