An attempt to explain white privilege

The first step to promoting dialogue is to make sure we’re speaking the same language. You don’t seem to understand the definition of white privilege, so let me do my best to explain.

If I say you have white privilege I am not saying you are privileged.

White privilege does not mean that all white people are privileged. But all white people in the US benefit from being white.

These benefits are hard to see because they’re less like benefits and more like disadvantages you don’t have, which are admittedly hard to appreciate. For instance, I never appreciated what a privilege indoor plumbing and regular electricity were until I lived without them as a Peace Corps volunteer in a rural community in Malawi. None of my neighbors had electricity and all the girls and women had to carry water from the bore hole. Since then, I’ve never not been grateful for toilets and taps indoors.

Similarly, it may be difficult for you to recognize your privilege (or rather, lack of disadvantage) until you get the opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes.

The impact white privilege has had on your life may be difficult for you to pinpoint. Check out my favorite and oft-referenced article on Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack as a starting point.

The concept of white privilege is not racist or prejudiced against YOU. My labeling your statements as white privilege is not a racist act, or even a personal one. Calling out white privilege is not the same as calling you a racist.

Calling out white privilege means pointing out to you that you have disproportionately benefitted from a system that is set up to benefit white people at the expense of people of color.

Does acknowledging that white privilege exists mean that you haven’t worked hard to earn whatever you have? No. This is less about you and more about the people who don’t get to enjoy white privilege because they’re not white.

Does white privilege mean there are no rich people of color? No! But does white privilege mean that no matter how much wealth a person of color may amass, they can still fall victim to racial prejudice? Yes.

You may not feel particularly privileged in your current life situation, whatever that may be. “BUT,” I can already here you saying, “There are other ways in which I am disadvantaged!” You’re right. You could be poor, you could be differently abled, you could be dealing with so many struggles I can’t even see or conceptualize. This might be why you feel confused/hurt/personally attacked when people like me use the term white privilege when analyzing a recent Facebook post of yours.

Saying you have privilege because you are white is not the same as saying you have no problems, cares, or set-backs of your own.

You may have had struggles through your life, but as a white person in the US, those struggles WERE NEVER AS A DIRECT RESULT OF YOUR RACE. That’s the point. Saying you have white privilege does not mean you have privileges across the board, it just means that any disadvantages you may have are not a direct result of your race.

People of color, on the other hand, face challenges that they would otherwise not face except for their race.

“5 times as many Whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites.”

That is white privilege. The fact that you can commit the same crime but face a smaller chance of fewer consequences is because of the color of your skin and that is a privilege.

“While the poverty rate for the population as a whole is 13.5% the rate varies greatly by race. Blacks have the highest poverty rate at 24.1% and Non-Hispanic whites the lowest at 9%. 
 The Poverty rate for Blacks and Hispanics is more than double that of non-Hispanic Whites.”

Women of color face a higher risk of dying from cervical cancer.

So white privilege is just the opposite counterpart to racial injustice. White privilege is the effect and the cause of continued and systemic racial oppression.

If you believe that people of color are disadvantaged because of their race, then you must also believe that white people are ADVANTAGED because of our race.

If you don’t yet know, in your heart of hearts, that the system is unfair to non-whites, then you need more non-white friends. (In the meantime, here’s a great shortcut I found: some helpful videos from Race Forward)

If after watching those videos and reading those articles or just thinking on this for a minute, you conclude that it is wrong that people of color suffer higher rates of poverty, disease, and incarceration than white people do in the US, then you’re on your way to better understanding systemic racism, and by extension, white privilege.

You can choose to believe that you have not benefited from your race, but that’s an “alternative fact”. Choosing not to believe in white privilege means participating in systemic violence.

For you to respond to a charge that some of your comments reek of white privilege with “That’s racist to me! I’m offended! That’s hurtful!” sends me the message that you find the term white privilege itself more offensive than you do the harm caused to people as a result.

Why does the term white privilege make you bristle in anger but the impact of white privilege, (e.g. systemic racism), doesn’t elicit the same blood curdling rage in you?

I do not have the skills or the patience to teach you empathy, and I won’t attempt to here. But I encourage you to think about what makes you angry, what doesn’t, and why.

I’m frustrated that I don’t know how to convince you that white privilege is a problem. But then again, there’s probably a lesson here for the white savior in me: not every problem is mine to fix. It’s not my job to open your eyes to injustice if you’d rather remain in your bubble of “alternative facts” instead of face uncomfortable truths.

But if I give up on you as an unteachable insufferable willfully ignorant bigot incapable of change, then who does that make me?

If I’m not relentlessly dedicated to shining a light on ignorance when I see it, then I’m perpetuating the very violence I speak against. I’ve decided that for me, I can’t say I LOVE my friends of color and NOT get angry to the point of action about the injustice they face. If my friends’ problems are not my problems, it’s not love I have for them, it’s a parody.

[Sidebar: this is what intersectionality is all about and it’s on all of us to get better. Here’s a great piece I just found that’s a good starting point. And here’s a personal example from just last week: I didn’t see a problem with using a uterus as a symbol of femaleness until it was pointed out to me that it excludes trans women and others from the definition of womanhood. I hadn’t thought about it from a trans person’s perspective before. Mind. Blown! I stood and stand corrected].

So I’m not going to let ignorance go unnoticed and un-called out.

I also don’t believe you’re a lost cause.

If I didn’t care about you, I wouldn’t engage. I know that probably seems ass-backwards, since you perceive my comments as hurtful personal attacks. Antagonizing, yes, I’ll grant you that. Meant to make you feel uncomfortable? Definitely. But a personal attack? No. It’s not personal that you benefit from a system that was designed to benefit you. I do too!

You can unfriend me, but as much as I want to sometimes, I won’t unfriend you. I want to be here someday to welcome you to the cause of justice when you’re ready to join me. Until we are all free, none of us are free.

This is not the beginning nor the end of the struggle for justice. It’s an opportunity for us all to decide who we are, who we aren’t, and what’s worth fighting for.

These are my opinions. I acknowledge that they could probably stand to be refined, and welcome constructive thoughts and links to other helpful articles to further this conversation.

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