The Unfair Campaign

raising awareness about white privilege 

by stephanie wong

Growing up, I would read novels or imagine fiction and fantasy scenarios with predominantly white characters. I never imagined myself to be the princess in my own drawings, who was likely to resemble Barbie or one of the Disney princesses. By the way, I grew up in a community where the only white persons I personally interacted with were my teachers, who did not look like Barbie or any princess.

Why did the default individuals in my fantasies typically turn out to be white? It was not until my second year in college when I was engaged in a course that involved discussions on race that I began to understand how the history of America, Asian Americans, and my family played a major role in how I viewed and came to understand myself.

Race is oftentimes a tense topic of discussion because it seems to be stigmatized in our society, as if we are racist or discriminatory to even consider the presence of race relations today. Recent events like Trayvon Martin’s death and the California federal appeals court’s rejection to lift the ban on affirmative action demonstrate how race and racism continue to be difficult topics to address or accept in our era.

However, in 2011, community members of Duluth, Minnesota, came together to break this tension over racial discussion and formed the Un-Fair Campaign. The campaign’s mission is “To raise awareness about white privilege in our community, provide resources for understanding action, and facilitate dialogue and partnership that result in fundamental, systemic change towards racial justice.”

What exactly is white privilege?

According to Peggy McIntosh, an American feminist and anti-racist activist who wrote “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” white privilege is the “unquestioned and unearned set of advantages, entitlements, benefits, and choices bestowed on people solely because they are white. Generally white people who experience such privilege do so without being conscious of it.”

An example McIntosh provides in her list from “White Privilege” is: “Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial responsibility.” No matter what her real strengths may be, McIntosh argues that her skin color has provided her with a set of unearned privileges.

The campaign’s resources include definitions, history of race in America, external sources, and links to other guides that might help in educating the public on issues of race.

The campaign seems inspirational, especially coming from a community where whites make up 89 percent of the local area’s population. In fact, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), one of the nation’s most widely recognized civil rights organizations, supports the campaign as a partner.

Unfortunately, the website (unfaircampaign.org) is more like a dump site for resources to “facilitate dialogue” on race and to help visitor’s build a beginner’s level vocabulary and education on racism and structural racism, which are all necessary before one can truly grasp white privilege. I am not quite sure how the less race conscientious visitor would navigate the site and its sources—or how dialogue may be possible.

Furthermore, the campaign’s outreach through billboards and posters can create some “unfair” tension. I am afraid that its publicity has the potential to do more harm than good for its goals toward racial justice and dialogue. The campaign’s ambiguous and misleading outreach efforts provide potential for whites to become defensive or for persons of color to feel more silenced from conversations on race.

Every billboard has a fragment of a white person’s face, overlapped by the tagline “It’s hard to see racism when you’re white.” All posters have the statement “that’s unfair” written on the model’s face and invites bystanders to “speak up” and “break the silence” if they see racism. For all outreach advertisements, the only call to action comes from the prints’ direction for bystanders to visit its website.

Breaking apart these posters and billboards, I take up two issues with the campaign’s outreach efforts. Firstly, the way in which the statements of privilege are written above models’ faces resemble the ways in which areas for corrections and changes are drawn on individuals who are about to undergo plastic surgery, or facial reconstruction. Therefore, it seems as if the advertisements are suggesting that these privileges are flaws that can be simply fixed or corrected.

Secondly, these advertisements lack any connection between the privileges written on the models’ faces and the actual concept of white privilege and racism. The greatest danger that can come out of this is for a bystander to view the campaign as a campaign against white people or one that raises awareness on whites as a racially oppressed group. If a bystander has never engaged herself in discussions over race or prepared himself with the basic vocabulary, a blunt “It’s hard to see racism when you’re white” or “[Insert an example of white privilege here], that’s unfair” can be offensive and ambiguous. Is it unfair to the white person who carries these privileges that she may not have earned or deserved? Or is it unfair to those who do not have those same privileges, even if these privileges are more like normal standards for how people should be treated?

I fear that even the reasonable bystander exposed to these advertisements would miss the campaign’s mission to bring the public toward a more racially just society. I also fear that someone could mistake privileges for stereotypes, or use the two interchangeably. I would not find a campaign to address the Model Minority Myth to be successful or inviting if my face had statements like “I am an obedient student” or “I will excel at math” scrawled across my face.

While I appreciate the campaign’s attempts to foster discussions on race and white privilege, I hope to see their publicity attempts change. From my own experience in facilitating and participating in discussions involving the topic of race and white privilege, it seemed that what really helped me and my peers understand these concepts were the literal space and facilitation for dialogue and conversations.

Today, I have come out of these spaces and conversations with tools that allow me to be more conscientious about racial injustice and to be more comfortable discussing race with others. Now, I understand how white privilege in American society has been a strong influence on my childhood imaginations.

The default characters of my imagination’s products no longer resemble Barbie or Cinderella but take on the faces of persons of color. I have also become more sensitive toward how I perceive others without real grounds for knowing what kinds of individuals they may be.

In order for the Un-Fair campaign to reach the public and generate similar paradigm shifts, I hope they reconsider the ways in which they have been approaching the conversation. As of now, I feel like only greater harm and misinformation are added to the mix through their outreach, and that’s unfair. 

2 thoughts on “The Unfair Campaign

  1. The “invisible knapsack” is a bunch of bogus BS white-guilt babble, written by Peggy McIntosh, who is a naive, sheltered, out-of-touch, ivory-tower “academic”, who lives Wellesley, MA, which is 80% white and only 1.4% black, according to city-data.com

    Allow me to destroy its “logic” – my comments in [brackets]:

    From “The Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh

    1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time. [So can anyone of any other race. Where does this woman live? Oh yeah, a place that is 80% white and only about 1% black, which explains her naive and skewed perspective. Bogus.]

    2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me. [So can anyone of any race. Bogus.]

    3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live. [So can anyone of any race. Bogus.]

    4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me. [This is also true of anyone of any race in who lives "n an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live". It is also basically a re-wording of #3, which I already debunked. Try being white and living in a black part of Detroit, or any other black-majority city and see how pleasant your neighbors are to you. TOTALLY BOGUS.]

    5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed. [BOGUS. Whites get followed in stores all the time, especially teenagers.]

    6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented. [TOTALLY BOGUS. What kind of white-supremacist newspapers or TV does this naive, sheltered "academic" woman read or watch? I guess she never actually watches TV or reads a real newspaper, because non-whites are widely represented, usually positively. Does this woman live in the 1950's?]

    7. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is. [BOGUS. Is this woman ignorant of history? Who created Western Civilization? Who wrote The Great Books of Western Civilization? Who wrote the great symphonies and invented the orchestras of Western Classical Music? Who founded the USA and wrote its constitution, became its senators, representatives, and presidents? Whites did. Are we supposed to re-write history to assuage her white-guilt or to massage the inferiority complexes of non-whites?]

    8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race. [BOGUS. Again, does this sheltered naive woman live in the 1950's? Tons of school curriculum materials are expressly about non-whites. "Black History Month" anyone?]

    9. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege. [BOGUS. Since this woman is a liberal "academic", and since most "academics" and universities have a liberal political orientation, of course she could easily find a publisher. She is preaching to the choir, after all. Also, hate-whitey "academics" like Dr. Kamau Kambon, the former North Carolina University professor of African-American Studies, who called for the extermination of whites (on video, look it up), are readily accepted in academia.]

    10. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race. [??? BOGUS. I bet this naive woman who lives sheltered in a 1% black town has NEVER been the "only member of her race" in a group. Perhaps she should go preach her dogma to a crowd of young black men on a street corner in Camden New Jersey and see how much her "voice is heard" by them, preferably at midnight.]

    11. I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person’s voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her race. [BOGUS, this is simply a statement of this naive woman's subjective experience and faith-based quasi-religious dogmatic belief system.]

    12. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair. [BOGUS. Again, does this sheltered naive woman live in the 1950's? Has she ever even been to a real city or music shop? This is probably the stupidest "proof" of "white privilege" I have ever seen.]

    13. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability. [BOGUS. Who even uses checks anymore? People swipe credit cards or debit cards, which almost always require no ID to use. This "Invisible Knapsack" drivel is TOTALLY OUTDATED.]

    14. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them. [BOGUS. Anyone of any race can do this too.]

    15. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection. [BOGUS. White children are in put in much more danger caused by blacks than black children are from whites. Where does this woman live? Oh yeah, she is a sheltered naive "academic" who lives in an 80% white, 1% black town, and she is probably never actually around any blacks for any prolonged length of time, otherwise she would not be so naive.]

    And so on and so on. I’m not going to bother with the other ones, most of them are just as stupid and bogus as the first 15. Many of the numbered points are also just re-wordings of other numbered points that she already made, which were also bogus and don’t actually reflect REALITY at all.

    Oh! I saw one more that is SO STUPID that I can’t resist!

    46. I can chose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin. [BOGUS!!!! AGAIN, does this woman live in the 1950's? I am 45 years old, and ever since my childhood, bandages and blemish cream have been available in a wide range of skin tones. There were even bandages with multicolored polka-dots on them, and other ones with green space aliens! This is probably the second-stupidest point she tried to make, next to the one about music stores and supermarkets.]

    .

  2. Are you the kind of naive “progressive” dogmatists that believe that only whites can be “racist” because “people of color” don’t have any “power”?

    In 1991, while waiting at a red light, I was briefly carjacked and stabbed almost to death by a black man who had been standing on the corner. I naively had my car doors unlocked, and in fact, I made a conscious decision not to lock my doors when my attacker approached my car, because I didn’t want him to think I was “racist”. Now I wish I had been “racist”!

    While he was stabbing me in my back and neck, he called me a “white m*****f***er” repeatedly.

    His knife went 4 inches deep into where my neck meets my back. It cut my meningeal sheath (the ultra-thin protective membrane of the spinal cord) and cut my rib off of my T1 vertebra.

    I was nearly paralyzed from the neck down. The doctor said it was a miracle that I wasn’t paralyzed. He compared it to stabbing wildly at an orange on a table, and the knife going just between the skin and the flesh of the orange, and causing no orange juice (spinal fluid) to leak out.

    The result of these injuries are 21 years of severe chronic pain, PTSD, and sleep deprivation due to the pain.

    How dare “progressives” claim that only whites can be racist.

    The black man who nearly killed me did not need any kind of “power”, state, institutional, or otherwise, in order to qualify as being “racist”.

    All he needed was the power of his mouth to call me a “white m*****f***er”, and the power of his arm and the power of his hand holding his knife as he stabbed me nearly to death.

    I just disproved the entire basis of white-guilt “progressive” race dogma, but you are probably too blinded by your dogma and too naive to understand.

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