13 April 2012

Cross Post: Dear White Liberal Allies of the Marginalized: Thanks for Acknowledging your Privilege, But…

The following post is by Idil Holif  and originally appears on her blog Afrolens. I feel like she makes some strong points that can lead to an fruitful conversation. Join in to say why you agree or disagree.

This one will be a difficult one. I’ve got a bone to pick, but I must pick it in a manner that does not
alienate our allies and brethren in social justice, but rather politely asks that you let us speak. Before I proceed, this piece is aimed at addressing a particular brand of liberal hypocrisy prevalent in many movements for social justice, and not an attack against white people (I know some one will inevitably cry reverse racism within ten seconds of reading this title). Now that we got that out of the way, let me start from the beginning. The KONY 2012 debacle is where my impending critique began to take form. The sensationalist KONY 2012 calamity personified the neo-colonist, paternalistic relationship the Western has had, and continues to have with marginalized peoples; And through the power of social media, the masses were beckoned to respond, critique, and analyze what all this meant in a globalized, post-social media world. We discussed the implications of ‘the White Saviour’, paradigm, dissected ‘white privilege’, chastised Invisible Children, and promises were made to honor indigenous voices. The marginalized masses shouted, ‘let us speak’, and but I don’t think many of you were listening. Here’s where I make enemies, and begin to formulate my misgivings about our recent and continuing conversations surrounding ideas of ‘white privilege’, ‘racial justice’, ‘representation’, and indigenous ownership about the narratives of the marginalized.


I must say, it’s wonderful to witness 1st world, white middle class citizens acknowledging their privilege, and expressing solidarity with the struggle against western hegemony and racial inequality, both serving as paradigms that have not only underdeveloped nations and peoples, but silenced non-hegemonic voices. This is a great thing. As they say, acknowledgement is the first step.I understand social justice aims call for justice seeking persons to acknowledge their particular privileges so we can collectively address these inequities. But there’s a problem. In acknowledging their ‘white privilege’, many are silencing sub-altern voices by now acting as the vanguards of indigenous experiences, and spaces. I’ve heard more non-Africans pontificate about the need for Ugandan voices in the Kony 2012 episode than actual Ugandans. Is it enough to just acknowledge your privilege, while you continue to occupy spaces of privilege? Am I the only one rolling their eyes at the sight of white liberals writing articles in left leaning publications about the importance of acknowledging and uplifting/reporting marginalized voices and stories? If you’re genuine about rejecting your privilege, then provide a platform for a non-hegemonic voice, and actively work against this system that rewards you for being white, and undermines others. I know this sounds crazy, but I have this idea that those affected by colonialism and racial injustice are better suited to critique it than you. Pretty radical, I know. That doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to partake in this conversation, but merely asking that you step aside, and not take the dominant role, especially when your dominance is the subject of inquiry. I almost feel like our concerns and demands for racial and economic justice are being satirized by the consciously privileged. It’s almost become fashionable to acknowledge one’s position of privilege while simultaneously benefiting from the same oppressive paradigms that bestowed you with spoils that come with your first world, white liberal middle class existence.

If you truly acknowledge your privilege and find flaw in the status quo, then I hate to break it to you, but you’re going to have to stop benefiting from those privileges (This will mean 90 percent of the writers, journalists, and commentators ultra-left publications would need to step down, and make way for more melanin-enriched faces). If you identify as a liberal, social justice loving white person, and happen to occupy media spaces that shun sub-altern voices, then you sir/madam, are implicit and collaborator to the same system you actively work to distance yourself from. You have no business commenting on the affairs of the Marginalized in regards to questions of representation if you’re not, wait for it, a Marginalized person. I think this is a fair demand. We all have a responsibility to not only acknowledge our privilege, but also actively work to reverse this paradigm. For example, I’m a 1st worlder, a Canadian, and a member of the Somali diaspora, and as such, I’m mindful of this unique position of power my passport allocates yours truly. My passport provides me with the opportunity to seek ngo, development industry type employment on the continent and demand a higher salary than a local, in say, Somalia. So what do I do? I don’t apply for those jobs. Drastic I know. But I believe there are locals far more equipped and qualified than I – in manners pertaining to development, and social justice on the ground; And my acknowledgement of my privilege is meaningless if I fail to reject the oppressive system that rewards me for my privilege. I’m asking you to do the same, or shut up about your allegiance to the social justice aims of the ‘Other’. This my way of saying, please step aside, and let us do the talking in matters that pertain to yours truly. If not, atleast stop your disingenuous acknowledgement of your privilege, and proudly claim, ‘man it’s good to be white’. I’ll respect you for it.