Finding Nemo – A story about White Privilege

One of my favorite movies is Finding Nemo.  It tells the story of a father’s love for his ever maturing and adventurous child.  One day in a fit of frustration with his father’s overprotective nature, Nemo ventures away from the reef to touch the bottom of a fishing boat.  He is captured by a scuba diver and taken away.  The rest of the movie tells the story of Marlin, Nemo’s father and Dory, an unexpected friend, as they search for Nemo.

One of the first “characters” they meet is Bruce the shark.  Marlin and Dory are immediately brought to an “AA-type” meeting for sharks.  The gathering begins with a pledge “fish are friends not food.”

As I have been replaying this scene in my mind, one question keeps surfacing.  When a Great White shark tells a small fish that he has become a vegetarian, who has to have the faith that the relationship will work out?  Bruce can change his convictions at any time and without any warning.  What assurances do Marlin and Dory have that Bruce will stick to his new diet?

Some of the biggest challenges facing folks who want to move beyond the evils of White Privilege have to to with relationship and reconciliation.  How do Anglos get to a place of honest peer-to-peer relationships with persons of color?

Many who are White have owned and are owning the privilege(s) which have come simply because of skin color.  We have also recognized that privilege can be costly, especially for persons of color.  We have received preferential treatment when looking for work.  We are much less likely to be stopped for routine traffic violations.  The War on Drugs has been waged primarily in communities of color.  Life has not always been easy for White folks, but our privilege has secured as world that is clearly tilted in our favor.

In many ways to be White is much like being a Great White Shark.  When we reach out to others asking for forgiveness, seeking reconciliation and honesty desiring relationship, it is critical to never forget who we are – sharks, people with access to power and privilege.  I for one never asked to be born with the power and privilege that comes to me simply because of the color of my skin.

Just because I reach out to a person of color with an honest desire to be friends does immediately imply that I have quit being scary.  It is important to never forget that it takes a tremendous amount of faith to look past the teeth of a Great White Shark and see a potential friend.

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6 Comments

Filed under Finding Nemo, respect, responsibilities, unifying, unity, War on Drugs, White Privilege

6 responses to “Finding Nemo – A story about White Privilege

  1. johntspencer

    The same is true in the classroom. I not only come from a place of power and privilege, but I have a whole system of shame that backs up my power. So, when students come in with distrust, I’m not shocked. The entire system feels contrived and at times scary to a student. The only solution I’ve seen so far is honesty about my status and humility. Over time, the trust happens.

    • Glenn Runnalls

      in regards to the classroom, there are certain privileges that come with being a teacher that can only be refused by abdicating responsibility. if the classroom (as a contrivance) is warranted, then it is also warranted for the teacher to have certain privileges. privilege goes wrong in the teacher/student relationship when the teacher takes/receives privileges not her/his due; when the teacher uses inappropriate methods to obtain/maintain the privilege (you mention shame); when the teacher insists on the privilege in other contexts (if the teacher is going to be asked to take responsibility for the student outside the classroom then the teacher should receive privileges outside the classroom).

      but while the classroom cannot function without the teacher exercising privilege, the world can get along without the white man’s burden. further, white privilege develped not only from the mistaken notion of the white man’s burden, but also from whites and especially white men embracing a predatorial identity.

  2. Glenn Runnalls

    Good illustration. Is there anything to be made of Bruce’s use of predatorial power to “save the day”?

    • Glenn

      the short answer…yes! Might be worth another blog post. I will have to think on this for a while.

      • Glenn Runnalls

        continued reflection: there are three levels at which white privilege operates. there’s the predatorial; the white man’s burden; and the residual. the predatorial used to have legislative teeth but those have largely been removed. the white man’s burden shows up in the number of white social services workers and administrators living in the suburbs but commuting to work in the “innner” city (btw, “community organizers” are a threat to white privilege). the white man’s burden has always been accompanied by the capacity for white predatorial power and this is no less true of social services workers (whether or not the worker is white).

        both predatorial power and the white man’s burden leave residual privilege. it has become part of the habitus of Europeanized cultures. in order to overcome this habitus, we have to not only reject the privilege that comes from predatorial power but also the white man’s burden and resist the freedom to exercise the residual predatorial power.

        changing predators, you can bell the cat, you can even take out its fangs and claws, but you can never take away its desire/ability to pounce without putting a leash on it. notice that all of these things make a cat less a cat, they are so unfair to the cat. but if you aren’t willing to do something to the cat, you won’t have any songbirds left in your neighborhood.

        of course if you don’t have a fully functioning cat on the farm, don’t be surprised if you have a problem with rodents. but if there is a place for cats, they have to remember they serve the farmer . . .

        wow, what a ramble, sorry . . .

  3. Glenn Runnalls

    ok, keeping going here . . . the calls for “color blindness” (especially by conservatives and neoliberals) end up cloaking residual white power/privilege.

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