Understand Privilege—Fight Hate Wristband: A Story Six Years in the Making

by robinpar

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If you’d just like to order Understand Privilege—Fight Hate Wristbands, then click here.

 If you want to learn the backstory, then read on!

From Robin:  Greetings Everyone!

Lately, the Beyond Diversity Resource Center has been receiving hate mail and threatening telephone calls because of our work on privilege. It is astonishing that an article I wrote six years ago would generate such antipathy and cause some to act out their worst impulses of bigotry.

The article in question is The Great White Elephant: A Reflection on Racial Privilege, which was published in the Journal of Intergroup Relations in 2007 and is featured on our website. The article talked about the difficulty of keeping racial privilege in mind and offered a schematic mental model that white anti-racists could use to better address privilege in their own lives. Part of that model included a list of “reminders” that people could use to keep privilege in mind throughout the day, which included wearing a white wristband. Because privilege is easy to forget and we can’t change what we can’t remember, the list provided tools for remembering. The same schematic is also used in our workbook, The Great White Elephant: A Workbook on Racial Privilege for White Antiracists.

For six years we sold the workbooks and offered the article to the public, all without negative comment. Then in early March, A VISTA program in Wisconsin conducted a diversity training  program (we were not involved in that program) and uploaded to their website a list of resources that were offered to their participants. The previously-listed schematic was at the very bottom of that list with a click-through link that made for easy downloading.

I knew nothing about the VISTA program or website until I received a message on our business voicemail from a man who identified himself as “Tim” from Campus Reform, a group dedicated to “combat(ting) leftist abuses and bias on campus.” I returned Tim’s call without getting a response, but during the next days Beyond Diversity received several distressing telephone messages on our voicemail. Two of the messages were the playback of country western songs that prominently included the “n-word” in their  choruses. Another set of four messages were from an individual who assumed a stereotypical “Stepin-Fetchit-style” voice,  asked for the “head anti-racist in charge,” and ranted for over ten minutes about our being part of  a large, ill-defined conspiracy.

Still another caller left a message in which he introduced himself as a former military person who recently fought a “minority” opponent during a boxing match. He stated that although he had “beat the *&^!!!!!” out of his opponent,  the “minority” judge refused to award him the victory. “My girlfriend is black…I’m not racist,” he stated, but if we “thought that white people should wear wristbands,” then we should “have our hands cut off,” and didn’t “deserve to be Americans.” He also told us that we better “take down” our website. A raft of similar messages from others followed for several days.

Some especially disturbing reactions to the schematic came through the internet. One website featured a video that referred to the previously-mentioned VISTA program and then  likened our wristband suggestion to the Nazi requirement that Jews wear Star of David armbands. During the narration of the video, the site actually had an animation of a white wristband going onto an outstretch hand followed by a photograph of a Nazi officer mistreating a Jewish man during World War II. Other sites and discussion boards—including ones sponsored by Neo-Nazi groups—followed suit and continued to perpetuate four primary errors: (1) racial privilege does not exist,  (2) the Beyond Diversity Resource Center was  trying to “force” white people to wear wristbands,  (3) our aim was to make white people feel guilty, and (4) our motive was to cause racial division, or if not, our misguided ideas would do so anyway.

The above-described comments and commentary are not only nasty, they are also wrong. Learning about privilege is important and will actually bring us together as a society; but not everyone is ready for that challenge—for some people, like those I mentioned in this post, grappling with privilege requires too much humility, self-reflection, and thoughtfulness. But at the Beyond Diversity Resource Center, we want to lift up the greater number of people who think that learning about privilege and other diversity concepts will help heal our society and make it more inclusive.

Because of all that has happened, we’ve decided that it is especially important not to let learning about privilege be misconstrued as something evil or divisive. You can help us by purchasing a wristband—”Understand Privilege-Fight Hate—and telling others what privilege really means.

To buy wristbands, click here.