Brave Ideas: Understanding White Privilege

Whoo-wee. If ever there were a term that sets white people’s teeth on edge, it’s this one. And I get it, because the folks who want us to remain segregated and mad at each other have done an excellent job of using the term to suggest that white-European folks should be ashamed of ourselves; that we had everything handed to us on a silver platter and never did an honest day’s work in our lives. I’d be mad about that, too, if I believed it. But I know better.

The term white privilege means that, while I have had hardships in my life – I have faced discrimination, bullying, being denied jobs, etc. – those difficulties did not happen as a result of my skin color. Then it’s just a tiny step further to be willing to acknowledge that yes, okay, having white skin does make *some* things in my life easier, but they might be things I don’t think about very often. Here are a couple of possible examples:

  • All the money I use – bills and change – has people with my skin color portrayed on it
  • When I learn about “civilization,” I am shown/taught that people with my skin color made it what it is (this includes art, music, literature, math, science, etc.)
  • I can be pretty sure that if I ask to see the “person in charge,” I will be met with someone of my skin color
  • I don’t need to worry that people will assume I am poor or a criminal because of my skin color
  • I can easily buy posters, magazines, greeting cards, etc. featuring people of my skin color
  • I am never asked to represent or speak for my entire “racial” group, nor am I judged as an “example” of my “race”
  • I can do well in a challenging situation without being considered a credit to my “race,” or an exception to a rule
  • I don’t have to worry that if too many people who look like me move into a neighborhood, its value will decrease

Someone once said, “I don’t know who discovered water, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a fish.” Part of white privilege is not having to recognize how I am centered by society, how whiteness is upheld as the desirable standard against which no other skin color can compare. I might not have even realized I was white until later in my life, whereas people of color are awakened to their skin (often quite harshly) from a very early age.

I do not know what it is to live a life where my skin color is either rendered invisible or associated with poverty, criminality, public assistance, and so many other negative traits. As a part of the group that doesn’t have to experience that, I believe it’s my job to extend the sense of belonging that I feel to everyone else. How to do that is fodder for another post. Or nine.

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