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Melanin, White Privilege and the Damage Wrought by the Lie
Published Thursday, December 28, 2017

White privilege serves to identify people by their appearance based on physical features typically found in countries located in Europe—by melanin deficiency. It is part of a social system designed to allocate power and privilege based on identifying people as “the other” or different, most typically by the presence of melanin in their skin. The presence of melanin affects skin tone, with those with the most melanin having darker skin tones. “Being melanin enhanced has historically been identified as negative while whiteness—being melanin deficient—is considered superior, and this distinction has been correlated with power, privilege and entitlement,” says Woullard Lett, who has shared in my work to eliminate racism in NH. This view plays a significant role in holding back the state of NH, where the majority of the population is so-called white.

Privilege is unearned, exclusive and socially assigned. White privilege, or privilege assigned based on melanin deficiency, by its very concept means other people are not privileged. The position that the lack of melanin, and the resulting skin color, makes so-called white people somehow more worthy than people of color, who are melanin enhanced, served as a rationalization of the exploitative relationships established by Europeans during their encounter with the “New World” and continues as a rationalization for the current social, political and economic arrangements. To continue to live and benefit from this arrangement, so-called white people are put in a position that they must defend the lie of white superiority. The lie is psychologically damaging.

In having the conversation about so-called white privilege, we must engage in the work that also requires the discussion of so-called Black inferiority as they go hand and hand and are connected by the view that so-called Black people are less than human.

“Numerous laws aimed at promoting racial equality have been passed. But the lie of Black inferiority (and by implication the lie of white superiority), devised four hundred years ago to justify the enslavement, colonization and subjugation of African people, has remained virtually unchallenged,”states authors Cheryl N. Grills, clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Loyola Marymount University; Enola G. Aird founder and president of Community Healing Network; and Daryl Rowe, licensed psychologist and professor of psychology at the Graduate School of Education and Psychology of Pepperdine University, in a 2016 article titled “Breathe Baby Breathe: Clearing the Way for the Emotional Emancipation of Black People,” from SAGE Publications.

White privilege holds back true growth and development for all people. It reinforces the myth that so-called white people are better than people of color merely based on melanin. People with more melanin are treated differently: followed in stores, or not given jobs or promotions, when people with less melanin are not followed, and get jobs and promotions when they do not meet qualifications. Human experiences are based on perspectives, associated with how we are raised, our culture and access to resources. As people, we all experience birth, living and death. Yet we behave and operate contrary to what we know due to the lies of White superiority and Black inferiority. White privilege is real, and it is connected to a sense of entitlement, power and control. Companies are building a more diverse workforce, but the myths continue to hold them back. There are miscommunications within businesses and missed opportunities to implement strategies that provide humane solutions.

As we continue to hold these descriptions of people who are from communities, countries and continents, we are distracted from healing the United States of America from its initial crimes. The taking of land from Native Americans and the confiscation of Africans from their native land to develop the land with unpaid labor was inhumane. This labor is the foundation of wealth in the United States and NH. The wealth unfortunately is not utilized in a manner that benefits all residents. The work required to heal the nation is not being addressed due to the continued focus on separating people by skin color. We are held back, and hold ourselves back, by deciding not to work collectively to address the lie of superiority and inferiority based on skin color.

The remedy is reparations. Reparation is about healing and addressing the initial inhumane act of enslavement. This concept of healing is how we will repair NH and the rest of the nation. Reparations are not just about a check for people of African descent. It is about the opportunity for white privilege to move us forward, as it is the responsibility of the privileged and entitled to be accountable for the growth and development of future generations.

Brenda Bailey Lett is co-author of “Race Between Us: Racism - A Human Experience.”

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