If you identify as white and you are reading this, chances are it’s going to make you a little uncomfortable. But discomfort isn’t always a bad thing. Discomfort can be a place where learning and enlightenment happen. It has been for me in the past and continues to be for me in the present. Anyways, today I want to talk about white privilege.
Yesterday, I posted a graphic on Facebook. It said:
It got a few likes, but what really stood out was the person I have known for over eighteen years commenting on it and claiming that white privilege isn’t real but that people are racist against this person all the time for being white. I tried to be patient. I tried to be kind. I tried to explain that white privilege doesn’t make you a bad person or mean that you don’t have difficulties or that no one is prejudiced against you, it just means that you started your life (and live your life) with several advantages over people of color.
I tried to explain that reverse racism isn’t real because we, as white people, have not been oppressed on an institutional level for hundreds and hundreds of years. We have not been enslaved in the millions because of our skin color. We didn’t have to suffer through the indignities of Jim Crow. We haven’t been lynched because of our skin color in the thousands (though some white people have been lynched for siding with and helping people of color). We are statistically less likely to be incarcerated. We have representation in all forms of media that look like us. It’s easy to go into a store and find a barbie or doll that looks like us. Most of our favorite tv shows and movies have main characters that look just like us. The vast vast majority of “heroes” are white. We get to learn about many many people of our own race in school.
Our parents don’t have to give us “the talk” about police safety because we are less likely to be shot and killed by police officers. According to Vox, “An analysis of the available FBI data by Vox’s Dara Lind found that US police kill black people at disproportionate rates: Black people accounted for 31 percent of police killing victims in 2012, even though they made up just 13 percent of the US population. Although the data is incomplete because it’s based on voluntary reports from police agencies around the country, it highlights the vast disparities in how police use force.”
Someone may have biases or prejudices against you because you are white, but that is not racism. (Please see video #2 if you are having a hard time with this concept). I tried to put it in simple terms that could be easily understood, but this person continued to argue with me, at which point I ran out of spoons and had to end the conversation. I just didn’t have the energy to continue at that time. I unfriended the person for a variety of reasons, but one of them is that we aren’t that close to begin with and I really have no desire to be friends with someone who won’t even entertain the idea that white privilege exists even though it has been explained and pointed out to them. I wish that I hadn’t unfriended them. I wish I had said, “this is emotionally exhausting work for me and I need to take a break and come back to it.” But that isn’t what I did and, as a result, I had an even harder than usual time falling asleep last night, wondering if I had just been able to come up with the right sentence, if maybe I could have changed this person’s mind.
I know it’s possible, because I, too, once didn’t believe in white privilege and was very defensive the first time someone tried to explain it to me. I know it’s hard to believe now, but I was actually in the College Republicans my freshman year at WCU and used to call Feminists “Feminazis.” I’m not proud of the person I was, but I’m proud of the person that my college professors (Dr. Pete and Dr. Herzog), graduate school friends (Monica, Hanna, Jen, and Shyra), and graduate school professors (Lisen, Russ, Heather, Phyllis, Melody, and Valerie) helped shape me to be. I care about others, I’m empathetic, and I understand that my ability to even type this up on a computer and post it to the internet with my name on it reeks of privilege. I could tell you of so so many instances where white privilege has benefited me, but I find myself again running out of spoons. Perhaps I’ll revisit this post later. Just in case I don’t, please do me a favor and watch these three videos: