The Myth of White Privilege

Question: As you’ve probably heard, last week, there was a “Unite the Right” rally scheduled in Charlottesville, Virginia whose stated intention was to keep a large statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from being torn down. Although this was the stated intention, the tone of the rally seemed much deeper and darker in action than on paper. The majority of protesters seemed to be white supremacists as they marched through the streets chanting racist and sexist epithets in unison. Eventually, a counter-protest assembled and violence broke out between the two groups that included a man driving his car into a mass of counter-protesters, killing one person and injuring many more.

Obviously, this kind of tragic happening in the United States has brought the topic of racial division back to the forefront of American news media. All of the talking heads are weighing in on the negative impacts of racism and proposing solutions to the racial tensions that have existed since the inception of our country. I, basically, watched the news and listened to music all weekend.

I have a playlist on one of my music apps that I titled “Race in America” – it has songs like Kendrick Lamar’s “Fuck Your Ethnicity” and select tracks from Joey BadA$$’s latest album, Amerikkkan Bada$$. The most recent song I put on the list was Jay-Z’s new one called “The Story of OJ.” In it, he points out that no matter the socio-economic status of black Americans, we are still seen in a pejorative way by the white majority that dominates our country. How is this ever going to change?

Michael Richardson-Borne: First, I want to acknowledge that I hear what you’re saying and in no way want to sound condescending or belittle the pain you’re feeling. The pain is real even if who you think is experiencing it is not. To feel like a foreigner in your own country, where most everyone around you seems to be suspicious of your beliefs and actions, to live in an environment where most of what is presented to you via media and opportunity is blatantly a land that caters to whiteness, could take its toll even on the strongest of us. It’s hard to see a way forward without hypocritically participating in something you don’t really care to participate in. It’s tough living continuously torn, continuously conflicted about how to best live in a society where you just don’t seem to fit. And that actively works against you to make sure it remains that way. I get it. But your question was how this is going to change…

So let me begin by saying this – by personally claiming a specific race, you play right into the hands of a group who also claim a specific race as an important characteristic of a separate self. No matter how hard both sides try, there is no “coming together” while assuming the autonomy of a separate self. Anything that resembles coming together will be celebrated as the real thing by individuals – but in truth, it will still be separative and tribal in nature, an exercise of the mind and its definition of what “coming together” means.

Getting entangled in or embracing these kinds of “point-counter-point” relationships with other groups or individuals guarantees conflict at some level and reveals a lack of understanding of one’s real being. Both blacks and whites are guilty of this entanglement – even the people of these groups who are calling for peace are guilty as they fail to see that the problem is in the lack of self-understanding, not in the external manifestation of racism itself. Trying to stamp out the fire of racism rather than noticing the infinite source of separative matches and gasoline we are still falsely identified with has fooled the best of us and burned the lifetimes of all of our American exemplars who gave their lives to change the problems of racial violence.

Think about this. To feel superior to one’s fellow humans, one must first feel superior to one’s true being – which is an absurdity. This is like the ocean feeling superior to water. How can one be superior to what they already are? In your case, to feel like a foreigner in your own country, you must first feel like a foreigner to your true being. This is like the ocean feeling like it’s an estranged visitor of water. Can you see how it’s ridiculous to think that you are foreign to what you already are? An outcast to what you already are? When you look at a white person, or they are looking at you – you are both the ocean looking at water. You are both looking at your own true being.

Feeling superior to one’s true being leaves one proactively violent. Feeling like a foreigner to one’s true being leaves one reactively violent – leaves one suppressed until they finally explode in violence. Feeling neither superior nor foreign to one’s true being leaves one retroactively violent. These three separative worldviews, all rooted in the separate self, create the human drama where solutions are thought to be continuously sought but only conflicting messages are ever found.

Let’s use the message in Jay-Z’s song as an example. Do you see how his solution is inherently conflicted? Do you see how he tries to make the solution a financial one, but at the same time also states that no matter how much money he makes, he will remain in the exact same boat – a boat where he is seen as less than human due to the color of his skin? He’s basically telling the black community that business acumen and wealth are the best band-aids he’s discovered so far in his 40 plus years of life when it comes to the disease of race. That hurts the heart and is very telling of where we are as a society.

What Jay Z is bumping up against is that the solution to the problem he is trying to solve, the problem of racial discrimination, is one that is not symbiotic with a belief in a separate self. The solution that Jay Z is offering the next generation fails to address the challenge that underlays all challenges – the assumption of separation. He’s discovering that the kind of freedom you can buy your way to is not real freedom. He’s finding that any sort of identification that is less than the totality leads one to the same dead end as all separative paths. Developing business acumen while on one’s path of non-separation is fine and good – but what Jay Z is figuring out is that money can’t buy your way out of separation. If anything, a wealthy lifestyle is just another pointer to non-separation – reminding him to look under the rock that is right in front of his feet.

But back to your question – how is this going to change? How is the pejorative way that blacks are seen in society going to be solved? I hate to be a downer by continuously banging on the same drum – but the only way is the realization of non-separation by all races. How will this work, you ask? Let me begin by using an example from the video. From non-separation, the story of OJ claiming he isn’t black would have a wider context that could embrace a deeper meaning that doesn’t automatically poke fun of OJ’s logic for what the separate self can only see as the obvious denial of his skin color. From non-separation, what OJ said is not so easily dismissed – and what he claimed is definitely not a laughing matter. Without this quick dismissal, a product of intellect worship, new possibilities spontaneously emerge.

From separation, all races are seen in a pejorative way because we are seeing our true being in a limited, pejorative way – race is being absolutized when it is, in reality, a false limitation. But notice that OJ didn’t claim to be white, the other side of the separative spectrum – he was trying to live into a position that was bigger than the story of race. He was trying to bust the boundaries that he felt were present, which in the dualistic world left him two choices – either claim all races or claim none. From non-separation, there is compassion for this perspective because it’s a familiar one as a person discovers that claiming all or none is the exact same position if there is still an individual there to claim it.

Without attachment to this individual and the subsequent attachments to the truth (or untruth) of race, where can the battle over skin color continue to exist? Give this a second to sink in. Can you glimpse how, from non-separation, the current narrative of your life gets flipped on itself? Can you see how the transitioning of your identity from an individual with a race to the totality which happens to observe an individual with a race can loosen the existential tension in your world? Do you see how understanding that you are consciousness itself, not a few crumbs that this consciousness dropped on an insignificant table that you take to be your self can free you from the same mistakes of your ancestors? From non-separation, the pull of the separative magnet back to the separate is no longer present in the same way. The magnet may still be active and pulling as before – but it doesn’t command your attention in the same way. The magnet is easily seen for what it is – a gnat of your true being. Right now, you are allowing this gnat to command the daily affairs of your life. How much longer do you plan on letting a gnat control the issue of racial harmony in your world?

Now, can you see how the realization of non-separation would completely change the meaning of the title of Jay-Z’s song? “The Story of OJ” would transform from one making fun of a fellow human being’s obtuse denial of race to one that is pointing to a deeper truth that he didn’t even realize he was pointing to. OJ, in fact, was correct. He is not black. He is what is aware of and speaking the claims about blackness. What he is could never be black (or white) in its totality.

This is also how I interpret the recent violence in Virginia. What happened in Charlottesville is a pointer to a more substantial truth that the protesters didn’t realize they were revealing for all of us. Unknowingly, they were giving us an opportunity to grasp a more substantial truth. From separation, the more substantial truth is the fact that racism still exists and that people need to try harder to overcome their addiction to racial discrimination. This interpretation is the stock answer while promoting peace on the arc of separation. Anyone with a heart knows that the explanations from the peaceful sound correct – but what very few of us know is that the internal assumptions of separation that are the building blocks of human society will never allow these peaceful visions to come to fruition. And the saddest part is that the peaceful visions aren’t even peaceful – as the visions are being spoken from the illusion of a separate self. From non-separation, seeing the fighting in Charlottesville is an opportunity to finally flip the narrative and see that we are not fighting against other beings, we are fighting our own true being.

So far, as you’ve probably heard on the news, this opportunity has not been seized. Notice how nobody is saying anything new in the media. Notice how it’s all different takes on “we must come together” or “we must not accept such behavior.” Do you see how all of this has been said before? And that nothing happens because we fail to realize we have reached the outer limits of what is possible from the assumption of separation? Do you ever wonder why people keep calling for the same change in the same way and think that it’s going to achieve a different outcome? It’s cliche to say, but that’s the definition of insanity according to the familiar aphorism. It’s like changemakers believe their job is to bring a message of peace, a message that has a long lineage of proponents, rather than point out that our contemporary notions of peace are still actually declarations of war on our own being.

Here’s the thing, those two groups could have had a picnic together and the protest wouldn’t have gone any better. The media may have celebrated it as a breakthrough of epic proportions – but if the participants in that newsworthy picnic still believed themselves to be separate autonomous entities, then the picnic was violent on the inside whether there was physical violence in the streets or not. The problem is that our advocates of peace are speaking from the same assumption as the people who are committing violent acts. They consider their speech non-violent when, in fact, it is violence itself. Why? Because the assumption of being a separate self lives as the building blocks of all of the words being said.

You can see the sincerity on some of their faces as they use their minds to peer as far into the problem as it can. But the solution to this problem does not live in the mind. It lives in the recognition of what is aware of the mind.

Q: Aren’t you just speaking about this from a position of white privilege?

MR-B: It’s easy to see from the perspective of separation how the case for white privilege is made and justified. It’s the same as making a case for an apple being red. It’s there if you want to take a look. But trying to reverse this privilege or make it more accepting from an assumption of separation is like stepping on a water balloon that won’t burst. The white privilege may go extinct, but the privilege of separation will not – which will leave some other group flagging down the perpetrators of injustice in their lives. Frankly, I don’t readily acknowledge the argument of white privilege and get tangled in the flatness of separative arguments or making points of separation. My work is holding a space for the real alternative both white and black people, all races for that matter, are searching for – a world where skin color is only a brush-stroke of the impersonal.

The problem of racism does not exist in the hatred of different colors of skin or histories – it exists in the acceptance of a separate self as one’s sole identity. It exists in the failure to recognize consciousness for what it is and the manner in which all objects, including races, show up within this consciousness.

Privilege of the separate self trumps all other forms of privilege. It’s what enables all other forms of privilege and is something that all races are failing to recognize. White privilege doesn’t get to the root – stopping white privilege is just trimming the weeds. And the weeds will always come back, even if they look slightly different.

Remember this – phenomenal manifestation of white privilege has not taken place separately for human beings to perceive and cognize – it merely includes human beings. White privilege is something else entirely than what the black and white communities imagine it to be. Discover what the myth of white privilege really is and you will find the end of racism.