Ending Racism by Enrollment Rather than Privilege and Guilt

Following is the latest from another round of replies on the same thread on Medium that I posted about yesterday. This is a rich discussion even though there is a bit of talking past one another.

  • I am challenged on whether I am diluting the original author's experience
  • I claim that writing about racism implies a goal of changing the system
  • I lay out my ideas on how discussion of privilege is often, "an underhanded way of slandering people and “being right” without affecting any real change"
  • Why I think guilt is not enough to affect change and instead we need to enroll everyone

I’m going to start by talking about what we agree on.

Miss Matti’s piece as written is perfectly fine as it is and no one is asking her to change that piece. As written, it moved me to care enough to respond.

My response isn’t neutral. I did challenge a perception. And I did make a suggestion. It’s my right to do this just as it is her right to put into words how she felt about her direct experience. It’s also her right to ignore me if she thinks I am a waste of time.

I would like to clarify that if Miss Dominique Matti feels discouraged or diminished in any way, by any word of what I have written, I will gladly apologize to her directly for this. Not that she should care about what I think other than the extent to which I make sense (which is exactly the extent to which I care about people).

You are right also that Miss Matti may not be interested in changing the system with her piece. But her writing isn’t neutral either. And it just so happens that we are agreed: We do not care to have racism exist at all. Let’s squash it.

And what good would it do to end racism if the system remained exactly the same? Changing the system is implied. This is what I see as the larger purpose.

Yes, I am presumptuous to assume she would care to hear my thoughts on the matter. I am fine with that.

You are right that I have my own purposes. I desire to defeat tyranny in all its forms, including the tyranny imposed upon Black Americans. And I intend to be really nosy and I get involved in discussions that don’t concern me directly but are interesting nonetheless. I intend to challenge perceptions when I think they do not serve the larger purpose.

Maybe I need to check this, because maybe I’m being discouraging or shutting people down. I am taking that to heart as a part of your message to me.

A Pet Peeve: Privilege and Guilt

I will also own that discussions of privilege and guilt are generally a pet peeve of mine. This is not always the case, but I find that it is common: discussing privilege is used as an underhanded way of slandering people and “being right” without affecting any real change.

Here’s how this game works: I declare someone in power and comfort to be privileged. I talk about how my people are suffering. If the privileged react, I know I’m right and I shut down anything they say as [xxx]-splaining. If they don’t react I say that they’re ignoring me/us because of their privilege.

It is sophistry: Heads, they lose. Tails, they lose.

But… The system stays the same. No one grows. No one learns. No new connections are formed. No compassion granted. None given in return.

Well, I don’t say that all Muslims need to change because of the actions of the militants who decide to kill. (Though I do try to encourage that they live-and-let-live more loudly).

And I don’t say that all White Americans deserve to feel guilty because of the actions of police officers, but I do encourage them to take on the system and challenge their own default perceptions.

Some White Americans will read Matti’s piece and experience guilt, as we see in the comments. Others will blame a system they didn’t choose, and accept no personal blame for it, and move on to the next article. I can’t say that they are totally wrong to feel this way.

Most discussions of privilege qualify as half-truth at best. And the act of name-calling detracts from the goal of offering an opportunity to reflect and change and act. It detracts from enrollment.

Enrolling Everyone

> Why should “white Americans” be included in a struggle that only people of color, especially Blacks are engaged in everyday?

Why do straight people go march in the pride parades? Why do Christians speak out in defense of Muslims after a deadly attack?



The best within us.

Squelching racism and changing the system needs to happen diligently and on all levels of society. Your words.

They are good words.

We, who care enough to combat racism, should be enrolling everyone to challenge their own racism and to care enough to work to change the unjust outcomes in the system.

Some people will need to be convinced that it is urgent and actionable to join the cause. This is why I made my suggestion in the first comment. I stand by my choice.

Matti’s voice reaching across all divides will be stronger than mine because her struggle is not one I am engaged in everyday.


You are as thought provoking as ever, Mr. Clay Rivers. I don’t expect you to agree with everything I have said. Ultimately, that’s what’s interesting about discussion.

I hope you can grant to my bits of writing the kind of open acceptance that you grant to Miss Matti’s original piece. These are my authentic responses and they come from what I hope are the best parts within me. I have no intent to shut anyone down.

I know I am not neutral, but hopefully you won’t mind if I take your advice also and write “whatever I want in any way that I want for whatever purposes I choose” as well.