What seems like a growing number of white people have insisted on amplifying their voices in the nationwide protests against police violence and have repeatedly acknowledged the role that systemic racism plays in the entire process. After all, how else can it be explained that a disproportionate amount of unarmed Black people continue to be killed by police for being suspected of the same crimes that white people are able to walk away from unharmed?
That partially explains in part why a viral video was making the rounds on the internet Wednesday morning showing hundreds of white people gathered in public in a joint, symbolic effort to renounce their white privilege. The white people who assembled without police terrorizing them vowed not to ignore “racism, anti-Blackness or violence.” They vowed to use their voices “in the most uplifting way possible.” They swore to do everything in their power to educate their communities. They promised to love their Black neighbors the same as their white ones. It was surely a sight to behold.
On one hand, George Floyd‘s police homicide in Minneapolis has been a turning point of sorts by galvanizing people from all walks of life to demonstrate against police violence. If there has been a silver lining to his unabashed execution in broad daylight, it’s that some white people have been more vocal against the criminal justice and political systems that reward them.
But on the other hand, Floyd’s death has prompted white people to ramp up the rhetoric against racism and white privilege as both continue to proliferate, whether they know it or not. All of which renders the above white privilege renunciation as nothing more than a symbolic footnote in the American history textbook about racism: It looks good on paper and sounds good when heard, but is ineffective in practice.
After all, white people are the ones who overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump, a presidential candidate who made no secret about his embrace of racism. It can be argued that the near-anarchic state that America is in right now can be directly traced to the losing game of geopolitical chess being played by the president because of his racism.
The public swearing-in ceremony for white people renouncing their white privileges was a nice start. But after 400 years of Black people in America demanding equality, the fact that it was indeed still somewhat of a start and not anything remotely close to a finish speaks louder than any renunciation of white privilege ever could.
Simon Balto, a professor of history and African American studies at the University of Iowa, said that these gestures by white people are nice when done “genuinely,” but they don’t carry any real significance thanks to the systemic safeguards put in place by white people.
“A white person saying ‘I can’t breathe’ at a protest when they are at essentially zero risk of ever enduring a police chokehold is not a particularly meaningful act,” Balto told Stacey Patton, an author who wrote an op-ed this week in the Washington Post about white people protesting Floyd’s death. “It is a centering of the white self that at least partly dislodges focus from the matter at hand — black safety from the police.”
The battle against white privilege is obviously more than one of semantics. If the white folks who renounced their inherited privileges truly do have a desire to create the types of changes Black people have been demanding for centuries, they can start immediately by not voting for Trump. In fact, it could be argued that more white people organizing politically against Trump would be much more meaningful than submitting to their white guilt by jumping on what’s turned into an anti-racism bandwagon to ride next to Black people whose lives actually depend on the change they’re working toward.
Aside from encouraging police to not be “friendly,” Trump has endangered Black lives in myriad ways that the coronavirus pandemic has amplified and forced other Americans to feel, we well. From the economy to education to criminal justice to the environment and much, much more, Trump’s policies have seemingly been intentionally damaging to Black people in particular.
This year has been extra brutal for Black folks in a world that has always been unforgiving toward people of color. From COVID-19 to the emergence of Karens to the recent spike in the already elevated levels of police violence and worse, data shows that Black folks have been taking the brunt of this year’s misfortunes. Much of this can be attributed to Trump’s malfeasance and proven incompetence.
There has been no shortage of think pieces written about the role that white people must play in order for Black people to achieve equality and the same freedoms their racial counterparts enjoy. Many of them say that whatever white folks do to contribute to the movement for Black lives, it should involve a certain level of discomfort. Sitting among themselves pledging to renounce the same white privilege that actually allowed them to renounce their white privilege is the antithesis of discomfort.
If white people truly do want to take more than some baby steps toward ending their race-based privileges, voting against Trump in 2020 is a better start than some symbolic anti-white privilege ceremony that accomplishes little more than falsely convincing its participants that they’re making a tangible difference.