We Need to Talk About White Privilege

Last week, I had an encounter which reminded me that not everyone is on the same page about white privilege. A white acquaintance, who in the past, has said things like, “If I was in a room full of black people, I would not have privilege” and “I believe privilege is situational,” said “that just debunked white privilege” [in regards to a video she watched]. I overheard and shouted out, “white privilege does exist,” to which she responded, “y’all hear something?” 

I am not sure if she was just trying to ignore me or still doesn’t believe in this concept, but it really threw me. She made a serious issue into a joke and continuously was unwilling to learn and listen. This article is not about her though. She’s one of many who have spoken out about this privilege incorrectly and let it impact their lives. This interaction made me take a step back and think about why people, especially educated people who are aware of this country’s history, still do not believe in white privilege and are unwilling to even talk about it.

Firstly, the term white privilege is not trying to connote that white people have not struggled, or that life has only been easy for them. It is brought up to explain that white people have not struggled because of their race. Other factors like sex, sexual orientation, able-bodiedness, and socioeconomic status may limit advantages and influence their lives, but race is an advantage separate from their level of effort and abilities.

There are day-to-day factors that constitute racial privilege, like the “flesh” color of band-aids that match lighter skin and ballet shoes only being a pale pink or nude. These normalized privileges sneak into daily lives and if they don’t affect you, you don’t notice. I didn’t notice these things growing up, but I listened, got educated, and used empathy to look at life from a perspective other than my own bubble. I still learn things and take steps back to listen. 

Then there are the arguably more serious consequences. For example, because of their skin color, white people are less likely to be stopped and searched, kept out of certain neighborhoods (yes, redlining is still happening, an example of this is how Facebook recently allowed advertisers to target their housing ads to whites only), and are continuously able to hold power. 

I get it. It is uncomfortable to talk about race. It can be hard to think you got somewhere just because of your skin color. But news flash, some people’s lives are in danger because of their skin color. Additionally, being white doesn’t mean you didn’t earn your spot ─ it just means you weren’t held back because of it. 

In case you don’t get it yet, here is an amazing source on acknowledging privilege called “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh.” It brings up the everyday seemingly unnoticeable things you may not recognize as privilege and just expect because that is the way life has always been for you. Don’t take it personally or use it as an excuse to disengage from the discussion. The more we talk about it and listen, the easier it will be to understand it and hopefully take away its influence. 

It is 2019, we are humans, and I am tired and angry at people that lack the common sense and empathy to understand what it would be like to grow up in America in a different body. Additionally, I need to use my privilege and voice to speak up when I hear something wrong; otherwise there is never a chance for things to change.