The white men marching in Charlottesville this weekend seemed to be trying to make the case that white people’s rights are somehow under attack, and that minorities are now in a position of privilege. But if anything, these marchers unwittingly proved the opposite. As a white man myself, I saw this first-hand during the fallout from the resulting terrorist attack.
The Charlottesville white supremacist march culminated in a white guy committing a deadly act of terrorism by plowing his car into a crowd. In the hours after the attack, I went out to lunch. I walked around the streets. I went about my day like any other day. No one looked at me like I was a terrorist. No one asked me to disavow the terrorist actions of my fellow white man. If anyone had asked me whether I agreed with the actions of these white supremacists, I’d have been happy to explain that I find them repulsive. But the point is that no one even asked me. Because that’s how it works when you’re white.
Now imagine if I were a Muslim, and if this terrorist attack had been carried about by a Muslim. My day might have gone differently. White people on the sidewalk might have been looking at me nervously. White people on social media might have been asking me to disavow myself from the terrorist actions of my fellow Muslim. We know this is how it works, because we’ve seen it play out that way in the aftermath of past attacks.
But since I’m white, that kind of thing doesn’t happen to me. Even though the vast majority of domestic terrorist attacks in the United States are committed by white men, we’re the only group of people in America who aren’t asked to take responsibility for the misdeeds of those who happen to look like we do. That’s the definition of white privilege. And so as these white supremacists in Charlottesville tried to paint themselves as society’s victims, they only ended up unwittingly proving that white privilege is alive and kicking.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report