If our intention is to persuade others that what we mean is true, why would we camp out on a phrase so open to misinterpretation and that is frequently misheard as saying something altogether different? People may use whatever language they choose to use and it is not for the rest of us to dictate the kinds of words that they can use. But it is also the case that, in choosing the language that we do, we cannot dictate how everybody else must hear it.
Protests following the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis have continued across America and around the world protests of solidarity also continue unabated. I don’t intend to say anything about the specific protests here. But those protests have also led to various discussions taking place. Newspaper articles have been penned, blogs have been written and Twitter is awash (as ever) with opinions.
The internet being what it is, nuance is difficult. The available mediums make it hard to accurately convey nuance and it is similarly difficult for others to pick up. The nature of the beast is that things have a habit of becoming incredibly binary and, once they do, more than a little aggressive. Many seem more interested in bludgeoning others into agreement (no “side” or group have a monopoly on that). Irrespective of whether we agree or not, it would seem wise to at least engage with all views and parties in the discussion, not just those with whom we agree or that happen to look like us.
In response to some of the discussions that I have seen, I wrote a Twitter thread on the use of the term ‘white privilege’. You can read that here. My main point in that thread was not to say there is no difference between the white and BAME experience. I don’t think that. Nor was my point that what is often termed ‘white privilege’ doesn’t exist. My point was simply about how that term can be heard. If the goal is to help people understand the issues of systemic racism that do exist, and the struggles that are faced inherently as BAME people that white people – by virtue of their skin colour – won’t face, that might not be the best term.
That is usually met, by those who disagree, with two responses. First, that ‘white privilege’ does not mean what many people hear by that term. Second, there is a history of white people wanting to control the language that is used and this is the term that BAME thinkers have come to use for reasons they think best.