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Explaining the Privilege of being a White Man In America

Regardless of the time period, white men have always been deemed superior in society.

White Privilege doesn’t mean you haven’t struggled, it means that the color of your skin is not a factor that has made your life more difficult. White privilege is a prominent issue in everyday life and at times goes unnoticed.

According to Dictionary.com privilege “refers to a special advantage or right possessed by an individual or group.” Privilege isn’t necessarily how you benefit from something at times it’s how you don’t struggle. A person can experience privilege in many forms based on many factors that are usually beyond a person’s control.

“Citizenship — Simply being born in this country affords you certain privileges non-citizens will never access.

Class — Being born into a financially stable family can help guarantee your health, happiness, safety, education, intelligence, and future opportunities.

Sexual Orientation — By being born straight, every state in this country affords you privileges that non-straight folks have to fight the Supreme Court for.

Sex — By being born male, you can assume that you can walk through a parking garage without worrying you’ll be raped and that a defense attorney will then blame it on what you were wearing.

Ability — By being born able bodied, you probably don’t have to plan your life around handicap access, braille, or other special needs.

Gender — By being born cisgendered, you aren’t worried that the restroom or locker room you use will invoke public outrage.

As you can see, belonging to one or more category of Privilege, especially being a Straight White Middle Class Able-Bodied Male, can be like winning a lottery you didn’t even know you were playing.”

As seen through Octavia Butler’s Kindred privilege is a topic that transcends time periods. Through the life of Dana Franklin, a black woman living during 1976 and experiencing a lifetime in the antebellum South, we are able to acknowledge the privilege of Kevin and Rufus’s experience of being white men. The analysis of relationships throughout the novel portrays the effect of race and gender in different environments and time periods. These characters placed in the same situation, yet, due to factors out of their control experienced prejudices.

Gender

Interracial couples in both the past and present have to deal with societal issues that bleed into their relationships. Such is with Kevin and Dana’s relationship. They are a white man and a black woman who are together. When going back to the antebellum South, Dana experiences the loss of her freedom by taking the role of a slave for her own protection meanwhile her husband Kevin must assume the position of the white slave owner. Although Kevin deeply cares for his wife these roles that they have to play put a strain on their relationship causing a divide between them. This stirs up gender disputes between them as Kevin, a white male, clearly has more power over Dana, a black woman. Not only is this amplified during the time period they travel too, but it is also experienced in modern times.

The scary thing about white privilege is it often goes unnoticed. Kevin and Dana are married and both experience life together in the antebellum South but they are viewed differently based on gender and the color of their skin. This concept is presented through the dichotomy of Kevin and Rufus. Whereas Kevin doesn’t understand his privilege, Rufus does with complete clarity. He, a white man, knows full well of his powerful status over Alice, who is a black woman. Rufus states, “I didn’t want to just drag her off into the bushes,” said Rufus. “I never wanted it to be like that. But she kept saying no. I could have had her in the bushes years ago if that was all I wanted.” (Butler 124) In this quote, he acknowledges his power as he states ‘I could have had her in the bushes years ago if that was all I wanted.’ He gave her the illusion of choice when in fact she would be dominated by him one way or another. He has an instinct to be compassionate toward Alice, but at the same time, he has an instinct to control and have his way no matter what. This was because he was taught that skin made him superior to black people when he was younger. He was made aware of his privilege as a white male in antebellum South society. Unfortunately, this is not a rare occurrence, as many white men grow up with such mentalities instilled in them which inhibit their connection and relationships with others, especially female minorities, in the future.

Race

Kevin is a white man who went against his family’s ideals and married Dana out of love regardless of what anyone thought but through these challenges, we see that Kevin still has deeply rooted privileges. Throughout the novel, Butler contrasts Kevin and Dana based on race and gender. Kevin was used as a symbol for progressive white people during the time and we see his struggle to comprehend the viciousness of slavery. Due to his privilege, he cannot fully understand the brutality that occurred during the time, nor the race relations between white people and minorities. What he knew of the times would never be enough for him to truly understand the full depth and breadth of slavery and how brutal it was to black people.

Even when they were thrown into the complete swing of slavery, knowing all that they learned about history and slavery at that point, Kevin was still oblivious to the struggle of black people, and how deep their pain went. Although he is relatively progressive and hates slavery he has trouble understanding the experience. He seemingly desensitized to slavery and doesn’t acknowledge that slaves we’re people who had to handle the pain and suffering of being black in America. Kevin is limited in his cognizance because Dana knows there are certain things she cannot tell him because he truly won’t understand. It’s evident in the quote; “This could be a great time to live in, Kevin said once. I keep thinking what an experience it would be to stay in it — go West and watch the building of the country, see how much of the Old West mythology is true. West, I said bitterly. That’s where they’re doing it to the Indians instead of the blacks! He looked at me strangely. He had been doing that a lot lately” (Butler 97). Butler had Kevin say this to shock the readers because he isn’t realizing his privilege as a white man during this time period, and even in modern times. He said this statement with a level of causality as he genuinely considered it was a good idea because he never for a second imagined that his experience would be significantly different from his wife’s. Her reaction creates a rift between the two as the reality of race and race relations rushed into their relationship. Kevin doesn’t realize or understand any other perspective outside of himself. He doesn’t for a second attempt to empathize with others as Dana does. They realize how deeply rooted racism and its impact on society. Something that felt far away was in fact very close to them, hanging over their heads and weighing down on their relationship. Again, this is not a situation-specific only to them.

Importance in Acknowledging White Privilege in 2020

Octavia Butler touches upon a plethora of topics throughout her novel; she challenges the reader to consider perspectives as analyzed through the dichotomies of black and white, slave and master, male and female all throughout using time travel as a plot device. Kindred is timeless because it speaks upon topics that are still relevant today with the ongoing race issues in the US. First and foremost it’s important to note that “having white privilege and recognizing it is not racist. But white privilege exists because of historic, enduring racism and biases.” (Collins) At times white people are uncomfortable with the topic of white privilege because it’s the first time in American history where white people are the antagonist.

Modern-day privilege looks like learning about your race in school and not as an elective, having positive representation in media and literature, positive relations with police officers, not having negative and violent stereotypes associated, but most of all white privilege is in direct correlation with ignorance. White people have the privilege of being ignorant because racial issues don’t directly affect them and they have to encounter them in their everyday lives.

The year 2020 has been intense in regards to a global pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. Although we have progressed since the 19th-century work still needs to be done; as seen below some people being told to wear a mask in public is equivalent to having their rights taken away.

Modern-Day White Privilege

White privilege occurs on both a small scale and a large scale especially in regards to the Black Lives Matter movement. During the peak of the pandemic predominantly, white-armed anti-lockdown protests occurred in Michigan. These protesters had assault rifles and threatened the safety of all and we’re faced by police officers with non-violence. Meanwhile, while people of color; predominantly black unarmed citizens protesting for human rights were met with teargas and riot gear.

White privilege is a problem in America that will only be solved when white people realize that race issues are their problem. In the video below the Victor Lee Lewis, describes his experience living in America and having to rid of his identity to be an “American.” He states; “…until you’re as willing to be changed and affected by my experience and transformed by my experience as I am every day by yours” Similar to Kevin and Dana in Kindred there is an experiential block but until others are willing to learn, listen, and educate themselves will thing remain the same.

It’s 2020.

There is no excuse for not educating yourself on topics even if you feel they don’t concern you. It is not people of color's job to educate on white privilege; it is the individuals’ moral obligation.

A place like this would endanger him in a way I didn’t want to talk to him about. If he was stranded here for years, some part of this place would rub off on him. No large part, I knew. But if he survived here, it would be because he managed to tolerate the life here. (Butler)

Work Cited

Butler, Octavia E., and Robert Crossley. Kindred. Beacon Press, 2003.

“Color of Fear — What it Means to be American.” Youtube, uploaded by USF Urban Education & Social Justice, 11 Sept. 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nmhAJYxFT4&feature=emb_title

Crosley-Corcoran, Gina. EXPLAINING WHITE PRIVILEGE TO A BROKE WHITE PERSON… . medschool.duke.edu.

Dillard, Coshandra, et al. “What Is White Privilege, Really?” Teaching Tolerance, www.tolerance.org/magazine/fall-2018/what-is-white-privilege-really.

@jesusmireles__. “Photos from a Michigan Protests Were Armed White People Wanted to End the Lockdown v Unarmed POC Protesting against Police Brutality. This Shit Is Fucken Disgusting. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! #BlackLivesMatter #GeorgeFloyd Pic.twitter.com/AjOI0ZPAsX.” Twitter, Twitter, 27 May 2020, twitter.com/JesusMireles___/status/1265626860521582594.

Zyglis, Adam. Buffalo News Cagle Cartoon. June 2020.

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