White Privilege


I’ve always been frustrated with the institutionalized racism so prevalent in my country. The fact that even though white women are more likely to get breast cancer, black women are more likely to die (1). The fact that a black family making $100,000 lives in a more disadvantaged neighborhood than a white family making $30,000 (I learned this statistic today and cannot get it out of my mind) (2). The fact that an unarmed black man is 7 times more likely to be shot by the police than a white man (3). The astounding incarceration rates of African American men compared to white men charged with the same crime (4). I could go on and on about the inequalities in every aspect of American life. The point is that there are structural and economic barriers that inhibit minorities from living lives of equal quality in the United States.

The recent murders of Eric Garner, John Crawford III (in the town next to mine), Michael Brown, the Charleston massacre, (and many other deaths not receiving the attention they deserve) have finally gotten people to talk about an ongoing problem in the United States. Unfortunately, though, these murders were pegged on individuals when in reality it is a structural, institutionalized issue embedded in our society.

The Black Lives Matter movement has enhanced the conversation of race in the United States; a conversation that needs to continue. For white people it is so easy to unconsciously sweep these problems under the rug, because we are the ones who benefit from the inequalities. Feeling the need to be “sensitive” about racial discussion is protecting white feelings over black lives, as so frankly put by John Metta (his blog entry included below). It’s a tough pill to swallow but accurate all the same. No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels the responsibility of destruction, and yet it is a significant part of the cascade.


The silence is deafening.


This blog is following my journey with Global Health Corps. Racial and socioeconomic inequalities are inextricably linked to health outcomes. This is a part of my work and passion for doing what I do. Someone’s physical, mental, or social wellbeing should not be defined by race, gender (to which I will dedicate another blog post I am sure), class, or other constraint.

My experiences in Malawi thus far have made things very clear: white privilege transcends borders. As a white person in a predominately black country I have become inundated with my own privilege. Things are made easy for me. The visa process is simple. In general I have no safety concerns, and if I am in trouble I know someone will come to my aid (and that is a huge privilege). I am respected and even have been called the “honored guest.” Wait… what?? There is nothing special about me. This all was hard for me to understand. That’s when it hit me: white privilege transcends borders.


BUT WHAT DO I DO?


Racial oppression is a global problem, and racism is embedded into societies and social structures all over the world. I’ve spent many nights wondering what I can do about this. I try to stay informed and educated which is an essential first step, but I also need to do something.

I taught a media studies course at the University of Michigan that sparked my interest in the media portrayal of black men and women in America. Not just the news, but also television shows, commercials, films, and more. The psycho-social impact of what is perpetuated through film plays a significant role in society. So that’s my first action item: Be aware of how people are represented and say something.

Having the discussion is also an integral component of change. It is important to remember that not having to do anything is a privilege, thereby we are obligated to do something. Being able to close your doors to this issue is a freedom that many people don’t have. And the silence is contributing to the problem.

I am often at a loss for words or actions, and have been reading advice from many other people. I would love to hear thoughts on this topic, because something needs to change.