Anne Hathaway and the woke woman’s burden
The concept of white privilege presents black people as pitiable and powerless.
Hollywood actress Anne Hathaway has taken to Instagram to tell her followers to check their privilege. Responding to the stabbing of Nia Wilson, a young black woman, by a white man in Oakland, California, she wrote: ‘White people – including me, including you – must take into the marrow of our privileged bones the truth that ALL black people fear for their lives DAILY in America and have done so for GENERATIONS… We must ask our (white)selves – how “decent” are we really?’ (sic)
Many have praised Hathaway for ‘calling out’ white privilege and for drawing attention to Wilson’s murder. But in turning a horrific crime into an opportunity for self-flagellation and moral posturing, Hathaway’s post reveals the inherent narcissism behind the notion of white privilege.
Of course, the only person to blame for Wilson’s murder is the murderer himself. But Hathaway seems to hold all white people and their white privilege responsible. Racism was once understood as a structural, political problem which could be overcome through fighting for legal equality and anti-racist organising. White privilege, on the other hand, is spoken of as a kind of original sin, an insurmountable fact of life. All white people are supposedly born with it – regardless of whether they are a multimillionaire actress or someone struggling to get by on the minimum wage.
Apparently, the only way to deal with white privilege is to acknowledge it. But this just shows that combating white privilege has more to do with assuaging some white people’s sense of historic guilt than it does with fighting for the rights of minorities. Those who are not regularly checking their privilege are seen as part of an ignorant, racist mass, either on the verge of committing brutal acts of violence like the Oakland stabbing, or at least somewhat complicit in them. By publicly disavowing her supposed white privilege, Hathaway is able to signal that she is more racially aware and superior to those white people, at least.
But it isn’t just white people who are held in contempt by the concept of white privilege. Hathaway’s description of ‘all’ black people living in fear of ‘daily’ white violence is a bizarre fantasy, the product of an elite identity politics that has given up on genuine equality. The cultural elite see black people not as autonomous and equal to white people, but as a pitiable, childlike victim group in need of an enlightened white saviour from Hollywood. This dynamic revives the racial categorisation that progressives once fought hard to overcome, and it creates a paternalistic relationship between white and black people. White privilege is the woke (wo)man’s burden.
Fraser Myers is a writer. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers
Picture by: Getty
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