lol well first of all I just want to say that I am not upper-middle class, but regardless people are often taken aback or confused by how many jokes I make about white people, and while they are “jokes” I think it is important for me to explain the reasoning behind me “shitting on white people” haha
so minority studies (race, gender, sexuality, etc.) are really important to me, and form the basis of my perspective on everything, from film interpretations to media analyses to studies of sociocultural and socioeconomic interactions etc. Thus, I am incredibly passionate about discussions of race and discrimination, so I apologize in advance for the length of all of this but I think this kind of discussion warrants specificity
Now let me first explain my background. I have white skin, since my family is from Eastern Europe (the Balkans). My whole family lives in Macedonia, and my parents were born and raised there. It’s one of the poorest countries in Europe, and so my parents always lived in substandard conditions. They immigrated to the US in their 20s, just a few years before I was born. (My sister and I are first-generation kids.) My parents were very poor, and my dad would work multiple jobs, sometimes sleeping in his car between jobs because he didn’t have any other option, and so my sister and I have always had to push ourselves a lot in school and life in general, because that was really why my parents came to the US in the first place. They wanted a better future for their kids, and as such, with my parents barely knowing English, not being assimilated in American culture, and not making money (and with a lot of other family issues that I won’t get into), their lives here in the US were incredibly difficult. We didn’t have the achetypal suburban white lifestyle, and my parents, as well as my sister and myself, were conditioned into feeling like a part of a lower social rung, economically and socially. I grew up in a not-so-great neighborhood and was exposed to a lot of different issues, and as I tried harder and harder in school, I was able to pull myself out of that hole and go to a good university and get scholarships so my parents didn’t have to pay too much for my education. There were a lot of hardships, and my parents still work really hard, as do my sister and myself, and we are no where near being wealthy or anything of the sort, but considering we started with nothing, we’ve come a long way.
It is for this reason—the way I was raised, the luxuries I did not have, etc.—that I have always been kind of critical about the lifestyle of those who never had to do anything at all in order to be successful or wealthy. If you’re born into a rich family, well that wasn’t your choice, and I’m not saying that you’re automatically a terrible person. I’m just saying that people often don’t truly know what it is like to live a poor life.
Okay now my point in discussing all of that is that I have occasionally faced certain types of discrimination, whether it be because of my parents’ immigrant status, or because of my family’s religious affiliation, or because of personal things about me (sexuality etc.). And because of where I’ve grown up and the people I am friends with, I have witnessed racism and white privilege in a way that has made me increasingly perceptive to their presence and pervasiveness throughout different parts of society. Yet ultimately, and in spite of any hardships my parents and I have faced, I am white (even if people can never tell what my ethnicity is), and so no matter what bad things have happened in my life, I still have an unfair advantage, a privilege. So I acknowledge the fact that even though my roots are not American, and even though I’ve faced some shit because of personal identities and other things I won’t get into, I have admittedly and unwittingly been privileged in American society because I am white and because I am male. Over time, I became more aware of this, and as such, became more vocal about it because it goes against my fundamental beliefs in social interaction, and it goes against everything I’ve witnessed with my friends who deal with things that I necessarily don’t have to just because I am white. White privilege is a thing, and it bothers me that people deny its existence.
Now again because my upbringing wasn’t the image of typical white privileged suburbia, I never associated with that kind of “white” lifestyle, even if I myself have white skin. Every day, I become more aware of the many different types of discrimination, inequality, and mistreatment that exist. Yet no matter what, you can never experience someone else’s oppression. As a white male, I can never say that I have experienced racism, because that is simply not possible. I have experienced other types of discrimination, but they are not one in the same. No white person can ever experience the pain of racism, the intricate nature in which it plays out in every way—job acceptance, college life, media, music, even language. (I often have to curb the manner in which I speak because when I’m with certain groups of people who aren’t from where I grew up, they tell me I speak “ghetto” or “black.” Now why should the slang I use, the way I speak, intonations, or anything have a racial implication?) Racism is a personal experience that is incomparable. People have been unfair to me for certain reasons, or I’ve faced particular hardships, but I have been able to overcome some of them because they were not based on an intrinsic quality of my skin. When you are not white, however, that kind of discrimination is salient and indelible. If a black person and a white person enter a room together full of people, there will automatically be preconceived notions of the black person, even if they are not inherently negative views. “I love black people” is just as racist as saying “I hate black people” because you are generalizing an entire population based on one single external feature. The white person who enters the room, however, is a completely blank slate. There are no presumptions made, and if there are, they are not necessarily because of skin color. A person of a minority has to immediately combat a prejudgment, a social impression that is projected on that person before the person even opens his/her mouth. When a criminal is black, we are reminded of it constantly via media. When a white criminal commits the same crime, it is no longer a discussion of race, but a humanizing tragedy. That is sickening to me.
I took a film class last semester and often during class discussions, I would raise questions about portrayals of racial minorities and of women. We watched one movie (Children of Men) and I said that while the movie was good, I didn’t get why the protagonist had to be a white male when the actual plot centered around a black female. And I said that that troubled me, but literally no one else in the entire classroom (except one girl, who was herself a minority) had a problem with it. The thing was though, they recognized that it was true, but that it simply didn’t “bother” them, which in my opinion is even worse than ignorance. Of course it didn’t bother them—because the film, like all films, like all books, like all music, save a very select few, are specifically targeted to the very demographic that has no problem with these racial inequalities—the white (male) majority, because that is where the money is, that is where success lies in this society.
And that is why I get so upset about “white people.” Because I’m not talking about just white people as in people with white skin. I’m talking about an overarching mentality that is seeped into our society, and it has been that way for centuries, and manifested in white people. And I recognize that I have an unfair advantage in this society simply because of the nature of its development over the course of time. Maybe in an alternate universe, white people were slaves and black people held positions of power, and in that world, white people would’ve been the minority, and so the discussion would be flipped. But that simply is not the case in our world, and it upsets me when people do not understand this. It upsets me when people act like white privilege doesn’t exist. It upsets me when people act like we live in a post-racial world. It upsets me when people act like minorities are inherently predisposed to violence and poverty when these constructs are thrust upon them by society itself due to unequal wealth and resource distribution. It upsets me that countless people in African countries can be ruthlessly killed, raped, etc. and people turn the other cheek, but if something of half that magnitude happens elsewhere against white people, it becomes a worldwide problem. It upsets me that people can tell me that I sound “black” when I talk sometimes, when it is not a question of race but of where I grew up. It upsets me when white people use the n-word as if they have any right to that kind of language. All of these things upset me because it shows that people do not understand what racism is, and the many forms it takes on in our world. You can never experience racism first-hand if you are not a minority, but you can definitely work towards understanding it and thereby fighting against it. Despite the characteristically un-“white” upbringing I had, I acknowledge that I have white skin, and for that reason alone I have a privilege without even having to open my mouth. It is unfair, and it is for that reason that I am so vocal with my jokes about white people, and about my general views on racism. Because I’m talking about something very specific, and this perspective influences everything I see, everything I do, everything I think about, everything I watch or listen to.
I’m sorry for this really long-winded answer but like this is so important to me and I just wanted to explain it thoroughly even though I could just go on and on
edit: when I said the part about “white people” not just referring to white skin color but a mentality as well, I want to make clear that I am still talking about white skin color, but that it is in conjunction with the mentality. As in ”white people” = white skin + the white mentality. The privilege is attached to the skin color itself; they’re not mutually exclusive
thank you metin for being the most articulate and informed and understanding and intelligent person I know