Addressing White Privilege: Silencing Brown Voices
This post is part of a series about white privilege, in which I discuss my views on the topic and how it affects our greater community. Read part one, “Should Whites Talk About Race” and part two, “Talking to Your Kids About ‘Race“. Read the entire series here.
Recently, I talked about how whites should be included and include themselves in race talks and not only that, they should include their children. I think it’s so important that whites attain a level of comfort and awareness on the topic. It’s important because 1. Whites who are comfortable talking about race are less defensive and more open to brown voices, and 2. They are vital in spreading anti-racism sentiments that might otherwise go unheard when spoken by brown voices.
What I really want to talk about though is the systematic silencing of brown voices in America and how white privilege both creates and furthers this exclusion. There are occasions where these exclusions are purposeful, when people simply don’t want to bend to brown voices or hear their side of the story. Even more dangerous though, are the individuals who silence brown voices without any intention of doing so. This happens because white privilege prevents us from being aware of the concerns of people of color. How so? Here are some examples:
‘Defacto’ segregation is still a big problem in the U.S. Yes, it’s not accepted in the law books anymore, but that doesn’t stop if from being a continuing challenge. This practice leaves white Americans ill-equipped to understand the concerns and values of people of color or experience empathy for their challenges. White communities are sectioned off from communities of color across the nation and individuals who think otherwise would be hard-pressed to brainstorm examples of so-called “integrated” neighborhoods. The fact is, that there just aren’t many of them and the closer you get to wealth, the more segregated communities become. If we pay a bit of attention to the world around us and who we encounter, most of us should be able to see that our interactions are lacking diversity.
Awareness Challenge: Look at the layout of your community, are there clear Black, White and Latino neighborhoods? Think about whether ethnicity and socioeconomic factors are responsible for the divisions between your local neighborhoods. Why is this occurring?
White discomfort with brown individuals means that there are fewer people of color (POC) hired or promoted into higher positions like management, political office and as corporate CEOs…so to start off, fewer brown voices are in a position to be acknowledged by their white peers. The fact that brown voices are often left behind in subservient positions, puts brown voices in a place where they have much less control over their lives, fewer opportunities to yank on those imaginary “bootstraps” and more instances of failure. Failure is a feeling that POC often feel a lot of in our society, in a system that promotes white before brown. Often if hiring and promotions do occur, it can be noted that those who are chosen are often more Anglo-sized and therefore, less “ethnic” in the eyes of white employers. They are workers with lighter skin, straighter hair, more precisely enunciated speech and muted in their cultural roots. This isn’t a choice, but a fact of life for many who wish to get ahead. And while these descriptors aren’t necessarily markers of bias on their own, the fact that they play such a large role in both highering and promotions practices is. The fact is, that darker, more “ethnic” employees have far fewer opportunities available to them. As history has shown us, being “the help” in any form, is traditionally a brown undertaking and white authorities serve to keep it that way, whether or not these practices are intentional.
Awareness Challenge: Watch closely for those in positions of authority and subservience, which side are brown faces most often on? Are brown co-workers expected to work harder to please superiors than white peers? Are they given less praise and promotions and more disciplinary action? Notice whether individuals are free to express ethnicity at work or whether they are uncomfortable doing so.
Access to Education
Because of job discrimination and related income disparities, people of color have fewer opportunities to secure higher education. Since education is a critical key to the empowerment of minorities, the lack of access to education severely impacts the visibility of brown voices. It also prevents more minorities from being in positions of power where their voices can be heard and acknowledged. Equally upsetting is the fact that many in higher education aren’t taken seriously or mentored. This mirrors the difficulties that many individuals face in their careers and through workplace discrimination. Individuals are often pushed out of competition by legacy scholarships, students who are better prepared with college prep in their wealthier school districts and through the added challenge of being the first in their families to access higher education. Families may not know the steps to securing grants, scholarship and prep courses and as a result, students may be unprepared or fearful of the challenges that come with university learning. In addition, these individuals may also be excluded due to a lack of diverse recruitment by universities, dismissive and critical grades from college professors and a lack of work-study positions available to minority students.
Awareness Challenge: Devote some attention to the way that students of color are treated in comparison with their white peers. Do they face more challenges in classroom settings? Are mentors and academic counselors available to them? Are they equally praised and encouraged to seek higher education as part of their future?
Blaming & Whitewashing in Popular Media and Politics
Whether we’re comfortable admitting it or not, there is an overabundance of white faces in the media and a systematic exclusion of brown faces. All to often, the media seeks to portray brown faces as villains and degenerates. They are players, thugs, homeboys and prostitutes, among other stereotypes…but where in popular media, are the portrayals of POC as do-gooders, doctors and lawyers, college professors and scholars? Those images are limited and in most cases, if they are available, you’ll notice they’re often not produced by white media. Because of media whitewashing practices, minority-run organizations must be formed in order to illustrate diverse opinions and combat the silencing of brown voices in popular media and politics.
Awareness Challenge: Look critically at your local news stations, news papers, magazines and radio stations. How many brown faces and voices are available? In what way are they portrayed? Which media outlets exhibit more diversity? Which outlets are virtually monoracial?
Dismissing “Ethnically-Biased” Opinions
It’s interesting how a white person’s ideas or opinions can be viewed as “unbiased” or all-encompassing, and yet when a POC expresses a counter opinion, their opinions on a particular topic are often considered “biased”. If we are to look at the motivations of brown voices, we must also look at our own. If whites view brown voices as biased, we should consider why we view opposing opinions this way. Why are we unable to see the issues in the same light as POC? Maybe our thinking needs to change…maybe we need to do more listening and less talking.
Awareness Challenge: Be open to diverse opinions. Rather than challenging the views of others, devote more time to challenging your own views and uncovering what biases you may have and how to ensure that those biases don’t silence others’ voices.
Uplifting Brown Voices
Belittling, interrupting, dismissing, blaming opinions on race/ethnicity, excusing opinions as biased while not addressing our own, not valuing voices or work at the same level as others, limiting involvement in important decisions, denying jobs because of our discomfort or prejudice. All of these are ways that we silence brown voices and prevent minorities from wielding their own political strength. What needs to change is not brown voices, but white voices who too often fail to acknowledge those outside of their exclusive and privileged group of influencers.
The important takeaway from these facts should be a desire to help in uplifting brown voices. This isn’t a situation that people of color put themselves into and it’s ridiculous to assume that they should climb out of it on their own. I don’t want anyone to waste their time on feeling ashamed or being afraid of where to start. The most important thing is to do the work, and if you feel moved to take a stand, don’t hold back. Too many people have gone through too much for us to give up so easily. I’m issuing a personal challenge to everyone out there reading this, to follow through on each of these awareness challenges and to continue to discover new ways to address your privilege (which I also have) and broaden your perspective of brown voices. You are not alone and you can always come here to share your stories. I will be adding some important resources to this site for increasing awareness, so please stay tuned and thank you for taking this journey with me.
© 2011 – 2012, Chantilly Patiño. All rights reserved.