#CrimingWhileWhite, the explosive Twitter hashtag that trended worldwide Thursday morning and racked up more than 300,000 tweets since Wednesday night, is a well-intentioned attempt to expose the different ways whites and people of color are treated by police.
It is also an enduring testament to an unavoidable fact: White people can make absolutely anything about them.
The ostensible purpose of the hashtag, per its creator, “Tonight Show” writer Jason Ross, is to document racial injustice in policing … from the perspective of white people. As such, the hashtag consists mostly of Twitter users “confessing” to minor crimes for which they were never charged. It’s a head-shaking list, particularly following the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and 12-year-old Tamir Rice. Here are people shoplifting, driving drunk, swearing at police — and always getting away with it, because they “look nice.”
It’s really important to note these inequities, of course. It’s critical that we record and analyze and criticize white privilege, that oft-confounding, abstract concept that describes the pack of unearned advantages you get in life, just by virtue of your race.
But there’s profound privilege built into even #CrimingWhileWhite, which is supposedly such a force against it. Consider how fortunate and secure you must be, to feel entitled to talk about yourself in the face of someone else’s overwhelming pain and grief. To be comfortable flinging around light-hearted anecdotes about the police, because those interactions don’t represent any kind of ongoing threat to you or your family. To type 100 characters and stamp them with a trendy hashtag, unafraid of any blowback — because, as per usual, you rule the narrative; yours is the dominant voice.
To top it all off, #CrimingWhileWhite has earned fawning, uncritical write-ups on virtually every news site out there, a scale and tone of coverage we rarely see for #BlackLivesMatter or #DyingWhileBlack or any other non-white social media narrative on race.
“#CrimingWhileWhite is the only thing you need to read to understand white privilege,” Think Progress proclaimed.
But #CrimingWhileWhite doesn’t just document white privilege — it is white privilege, manifest.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure these tweeters truly do mean well. I’m sure they are genuinely outraged by the police’s treatment of Eric Garner and Michael Brown and other black men killed by white police under polarizing circumstances. But there are subtle shades of difference between being outraged by something — a sort of luxurious, twice-removed feeling — and actually living that something, yourself.
That doesn’t mean that you, as a white person, are not allowed to discuss what just happened in New York and Ferguson, and it doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to talk about issues of race in this country. It just means that — maybe this once! — don’t talk about yourself.
Several hours after #CrimingWhileWhite began to trend, the writer Jamilah Lemieux started a competing hashtag: It’s called #AliveWhileBlack, and it’s meant to document white privilege, in the justice system and elsewhere, from the perspective of people of color. As of this writing, it’s earned only a sixth of the tweets that #CrimingWhileWhite did.
… That’s our loss, honestly. Because those tweets say more about white privilege than white people ever could.