Thursday, May 28, 2009

Which privilege?

From HAT, I followed a link to Being White - a comedian fully aware of the privilege he enjoys as a white male.

There's always been a niggle when I've heard people talking about white privilege, but I've never put my finger on it. This quote from the stand-up clarified it for me:
Here’s how great it is to be white, I could get in a time machine and go to any time and it would be fucking awesome when I get there. That is exclusively a white privilege.
This is probably true, as long as you stay in the western world. Spending a tiny bit of time as very definitely the inferior race rather makes it clear how insanely western-centric this notion of white privilege is. If he gets in his little time machine and travels to Japan in 2AD, he's unlikely to find it "fucking awesome".

This is not to say that white ideals of beauty haven't infiltrated Asia, but the only advantage being white confers in Japan is less requirement to adhere to the cultural norms. You are, after all, only gaijin, and not actually capable of that level of sophistication.

I don't argue that being white isn't a "leg up" in my own society, but having worked closely with a few places in Asia for over a decade now, I have also always been aware of my inherent inferiority in those places.

One reason for my awareness is that racism is regarded completely differently in various parts of Asia. In a few places, it is fairly commonly accepted that white people are racist towards Asians, and that only Asians can do business in Asia. White people don't belong. We are too stupid and lazy to achieve anything. Asians, of course, are not racist - after all, they aren't much different to anyone else on the planet.

In Japan, however, racism is a part of life. It's fairly egalitarian racism - all those who are not Japanese are gaijin - which translates a number of ways, but "foreign trash" is the most common usage. I am called that openly and routinely.

The Filipino guy I work with is called a "yellow banana". Over the years I've heard heaps of it.

The point here is not a "who is more racist" competition - I suspect most cultures are on equal footing, they just express it in different ways and to different degrees - the point is that I can't help feeling that defining white privilege as a universal condition is arrogant. It completely disregards a huge part of the world in which white confers no privilege.

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