Tamara, thanks for your honesty in stating your fear of losing your white privilege. I agree that this is an important part of what often prevents white people from fully "going there" as you put it, though few might admit it as readily as you have. I think that at least part of the fear of losing white privilege comes from a limited understanding of what white privilege actually entails. Indeed, there is privilege as the name implies, but there is also deficit and pathology as well, and this is a particularly under-explored and unappreciated aspect of what has been called "whiteness" or white privilege. Tim Wise is the only popular white anti-racist activist that I know of who has spent some time exploring the idea that white privilege confers harm as well as benefit, and I believe that it is crucial that anti-racist educators of all colors expand the rhetoric around white privilege to reveal these hidden harms. I believe that it is only when white people come to appreciate the harm that is being done to them because of this so-called "privilege" that they will become more willing to let it go.
Peggy McIntosh speaks of the "invisible knapsack" - the hidden benefits of white privilege. There is also, however, what I refer to as the "glass cage" - the hidden harms of white privilege. Much of Dr. Brown's research reveals these hidden harms - decreased psychological resilience, a narrowing of one's emotional life, reduced efficacy in communication, an increased sense of isolation, and often overwhelming fears of failure which trigger maladaptive and neurotic behavior. While these issues are certainly not unique to white people, I do believe that such issues are much more dominant in the lives of white people when compared to people of color because of the limits imposed on them by whiteness and white privilege.
It is essential that we all recognize that racism is a system which dehumanizes everyone who is a part of the system, oppressed and oppressor alike. We tend to focus only on the harms to the oppressed for obvious reasons, but it is a mistake to ignore that the perpetrators of oppression, most of whom are unwittingly coerced into becoming oppressors through socialization into "whiteness", are also harmed. The Milgram Shock Experiments is one study that highlights the clear and serious psychological harm done to those who are consciously coerced into participating in an immoral act by an authority figure. I think that many white people do not realize the extent to which they are subconsciously harmed by their participation in an immoral and racist system.
To that end, instead of focusing on the loss to your friend by your reticence to "go there", a convenient defensive emotional stance adopted by the privileged, you should focus instead on your own loss, and consider who suffers the greater loss because of your reticence. There is so much that you will not learn because of your unwillingness to "go there" with your friend. Yes, there is guilt and shame to be had, but also a profound feeling of intimacy, compassion, empathy and connection - the emotions and experiences at the core of being fully human. Your friend already has access to this through her relationship with her husband. The greater loss then in all of this is not hers - it is yours.
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