If you are white you’ve got privilege. It’s just that simple. There are no if’s, and’s, or but’s to it. But that doesn’t mean you’re a racist or that you’re dressed in a white hood carrying a flaming torch screaming for the rebirth of the Third Reich. It’s how you keep yourself aware of that privilege that is critical.
I’m a white male and I’ve got a lot of privilege. I’ve got certain systemic and cultural advantages over others. When I turn in job applications I get higher stats of success. When I’m walking down the street I’m less likely to get stopped by a police officer. When I go in to a restaurant the staff will automatically address me as the head of the group. I can get a cab every time. My small loan application will have a higher chance for approval.
These are just a few of the micro-aggression’s that others face.
It’s taken me a few years to understand how the world works like this. I couldn’t see or feel it. The gender or color of my skin doesn’t make me any more special than anyone else. Since I knew this I felt this was what was most critical. If I wasn’t acting racist, if I wasn’t putting others down, then racism doesn’t exist.
The true racists of the world aren’t doing the most damage for equality and privilege, it’s the average person who doesn’t realize they’re perpetuating a system. It’s a system that follows the examples I put up above. It’s when someone gets stopped for stealing for no reason other than being black.
My wake up call came when I moved to Washington, DC. When I realized just how white washed things were where I grew up. Then I lived in to a house of about eight guys, most of whom were black. I also had my two sisters, one of whom is an avid social justice advocate. I can say there were more than just a few heated discussions. Most of which I just “didn’t get” why she was so mad. Why was she so mad that I didn’t think the N-word was a big deal? To me it only had power if you gave it power. Racism was so last generation. We’re the generation that “doesn’t see color.”
The problem is that even IF we’re the generation that doesn’t have racism we still have to deal with the generations that did (which our generation does have racism. A lot of it.) Slavery was around for 250 years and the Civil Rights Movement only happened in the 1960’s. There’s a lot of racism and a lot of it is systemic. Sorry old self, the “it only has power if you give it power” argument doesn’t work. I wish it did.
Then there is hearing stories of the discrimination. I sometimes became the token white friend when we went out so that there wouldn’t be any issues with clerks at the liquor store, bouncers, or cops. That was real. One day one of my roommates was coming out of the liquor store after having bought a bottle and cops stopped him. They told him to get on the ground because they thought he’d stolen something in his backpack. He hadn’t, he was a good guy. Later when he told me this I was shocked and angry. He and the rest of my roommates just shrugged and said it happens.
My experiences just got more dramatic as I saw more widespread and systemic poverty, violence, and police brutality in the worst areas of DC and Baltimore. Just look at the Baltimore riots as an example. If you think that that level of despair is something new you’ll be in for a shock. That level of repression doesn’t happen out of thin air. It happens through structural violence and discrimination of whole communities. It happens through unintentional bias and the complacency of the status quo.
Next came the white guilt. I think this is where a lot of people have trouble. Either you don’t know how to handle unintentionally being part of such a devastating system or you refuse to accept it. A lot of people do that. A lot of people say “I’ve had struggles too, bro.” Yeah, me too. We all have, but minorities get it worse. Whether it’s a little or a lot.
A great analogy I heard for privilege is that you are in a classroom with other students. There’s a wastebasket you are all shooting at with paper balls to try and make it in. The ones seated at the front have an easier time trying to make it in and therefore have the most privilege. The ones shooting from the back of the room have the least chance and therefore the least privilege. Here’s a great video between Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly too:
All being said and done that doesn’t mean things are hopeless. You shouldn’t give up and donate everything just because you’re white or a male. It’s about creating a fair chance. It’s about being aware.
Check your privilege. Maybe you’ve heard that term before. It means that something you are saying/doing is conveying your privilege in a detrimental way. Maybe you are overpowering others from really being heard in a conversation. Maybe you are adding assumptions based on your own privileged experiences. Maybe you are discounting the discriminatory experiences of others because you’ve never had them. It’s powerful because that is a powerful tool in fighting discrimination as a person of privilege.
I began hearing it at the start of the Black Lives Matter movement. I went to a few training’s and heard a lot of new things. A lot of it made me uncomfortable and that’s the point. This is something I am constantly fighting. I have the privilege to stop talking about discrimination and leave the fight anytime I please. Do I no longer want to deal with racism? I’m not really affected by it as a person of privilege, so I will simply pretend it doesn’t exist. That is how these systems survive.
A part of this is about respecting spaces. Take this story for example. This was a hard concept for me to understand and I’m still not all the way there.
Now imagine you are riding the DC metro green line from Anacostia up through DC. Black students get on from being out of school and are talkative and rowdy. As the train goes it begins hitting downtown and the train gets noticeably more white. The students start getting very quiet and grouping up in to small clusters. Halfway through the train line they are the minority and are talking quietly among themselves. The train gets farther north and more people of color get on. The students get louder once again. This happens every day.
This story was told to me by a Black Lives Matter activist about the power of spaces. There are very few spaces in this country that aren’t influenced by the majority. It stifles voices and their power to fight. This isn’t our fight, it’s theirs.
Anyways, I’m by no means an authoritative figure on social justice and it’s something I fight with every day. These are a few of the impactful experiences I’ve had that I wanted to write down.
“You don’t stick a knife in a man’s back nine inches and then pull it out six inches and say you’re making progress … No matter how much respect, no matter how much recognition, whites show towards me, as far as I am concerned, as long as it is not shown to everyone of our people in this country, it doesn’t exist for me.” -Malcom X