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Another Voice: ‘Redskins’ debate misses the larger point of white privilege

By Beth Kwiatek

Not a single article in The Buffalo News addressed the real story behind the “Redskins” debacle. While several were insightful – oppressors seeing themselves as victims, the need for educational forums, voter and economic backlash, insensitive and out-of-touch suburbanites – not one article wrote about the power that comes with being white.

Instead of teaching our students “the other side of the story” or “the right thing to do,” let’s teach our kids the real story – the story of whiteness. To be white and have white privilege is to stand up in a room full of people, look directly into the eyes of brown-skinned people and tell them what is and what is not racism. White people can ignore history. White people can ignore experts. White people can ignore their neighbors.

Using cultural sensitivity training as a means to address racism is misguided and does not work. Just ask Al Parker, the Tonawanda Seneca Nation representative who addressed mascot supporters and stated, “It is not an honor.” Or News columnist Rod Watson; he repeatedly gets criticized when he writes anything about race. The problem with multiculturalism and pluralism is that they present all cultures as equal. Whiteness is then seen as ethnicity.

This is a distortion. Whiteness is not a culture or an ethnicity. People who are white do not identify as white, unless they are in front of someone who is not white. It exists only in the presence of non-whiteness. Whiteness is a relationship. And it is a relationship of power.

Multiculturalism has taught the students of Lancaster (and Fox News) to believe that when they are asked to stop using racist language, they can argue, “What about our culture or our history?”

The power of privilege allows the supporters of “Redskins” to argue that the word can be a racial slur, but in this moment it is not. In other words, to be white is to assert that ugly, insulting and racist slurs can be separated from their intention, history or definition.

Everyone agrees that racism exists, but no one admits to being the offender. Well, what is racism but that practice of white power and privilege? To be white is to believe that you have the right to speak, be heard and be counted at all times. To be white is to believe that you can hide behind your ethnicity, gender or poverty to dismiss the voice of non-whites, disparage political correctness and even distort reality with claims of reverse racism.

It is time to educate our youth and community about how we all use, take advantage of, benefit and even encourage and promote the mantle of white power and privilege.

Beth Kwiatek was an adjunct instructor for the now-defunct Women’s Studies program at the University at Buffalo, where she taught a course titled “Radical Whiteness: Invitation to Responsibility.”