There exist four pitfalls or “faces of Whiteness” when considering white privilege: “The Torpified,” “The Missionary,” “The Cynic,” and “The Intellectualizer.”
The Torpified experiences guilt and embarrassment about white privilege. This is the person that says they had no idea how powerful and prevalent racism still was. The Missionary is impatient, wanting immediate action in helping people. The Cynic is entirely pessimistic, seeing racism as too big of a problem to address. The Intellectualizer is actively seeking information and is fascinated by it, but fails to consider experiences that relate to their personal life.
Did you find yourself trying to categorize yourself into one of the four? I did. And I’m not even white. I’m a 21-year-old Indian female, born and raised in Virginia. Yet I wanted to check if I fit into one or more of the categories, which made me wonder whether it was because I felt privileged for a reason other than race.
Well, being privileged does not necessarily mean your life is easy. It refers to the things that society rewards people based on characteristics that can’t be controlled, such as gender, race, or sexual orientation. So maybe I feel privileged because I identify as a female or as heterosexual.
It’s difficult to provide a perspective on white privilege or Whiteness. But I can provide a unique perspective based on qualities about myself, as can everyone else. The privilege you have whether it is based on race, gender, or other uncontrollable qualities is part of the reason of the existence of such diverse perspectives and can still cause people to take on those four faces.
But is that who you want to be? The one who feels too guilty to do anything? The one who is impatient and irrationally feels like something must be done immediately to fix the problem? The one who thinks the problem is too big to resolve? Or the one who fails to consider personal experiences and apply themselves?
Perhaps the way to think about this sensitive subject is through a combination of reflection and action, speaking and listening, and guilt and agency. This is what we call the Critical Democrat face — the face of whiteness (or insert another uncontrollable privilege here) that will advance us, as people, toward multicultural understanding.
That’s who I want to be. Don’t you?
— Urvi Patel