White privilege doesn’t mean you’ve never had to struggle

The phrase “White privilege” has almost become fighting words for a lot of White people.

I read piece after piece of People of Color (POC) trying to explain what it means to have privilege as a White American (sometimes in direct response to a slightly antagonistic request from a White friend) and it is usually followed by a deluge of comments from White people telling you how hard their life has been.

As I read the latest one I came across (linked above) and saw the exhaustive response this woman gave to a man who was practically egging her on, I took a deep breath as I dove into the comments.

In my profession, the number of CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERS™ who are also People of Color is staggeringly low.

When the president of the CFP® board came to speak at a conference, he revealed numbers that haven’t been published anywhere — 4% of CFP® certificants were POC, with 2% being Asian, 1% being Black, and 1% Latinx (these were preliminary numbers because they never thought to take into account these demographics in the past).

When someone in a professional FB group I belonged to suggested that we consider setting up diversity scholarships or diversity programs geared towards getting more POC and women in the profession, I started to follow the thread.

A White male financial planner jumped in and said he didn’t think a program like that would be fair because it would exclude him.

He said:

I disagree with [making opportunities realistic to underrepresented classes (women, people of color, etc.) ], you would discriminate against me as a middle aged, white, male. Just welcome all to the profession… So you’re saying you are going to discriminate again[st] me as a white middle aged male so that you can create an opportunity for an underrepresented person?

And I responded:

it’s one thing to say everyone is welcome and it’s a whole other thing to actually make it possible for everyone to be welcome. this is why we need special programs and events for folks who are traditionally underrepresented that actually take into account our common barriers and obstacles, so we can catch up. while the current model clearly works for White men, the stats tell us that this model doesn’t work for everyone else.
I understand why you may feel discriminated against by these kinds of programs — it can feel like a personal attack on you. That is by no means the intention. It’s hard to explain the kind of privilege it it to be white and male because i’m sure you work very hard too.
it’s hard to explain that i’ve had to work harder than you to get the same things you have because i am a woman of Color. simply knowing that people are underestimating me when i walk into a room is something you may not have to deal with. what you don’t see are the time when i’ve have to smile and nod along so no one thinks I’m a bitch, that you speaking up is seen as assertive and me speaking up is seen as aggressive, that people ask me questions about my race as if I speak for all Asians, that I get invasive questions about my culture and background because I look different.
I can’t even count how many times I’ve been asked “no where are you really from?” and make me feel like I don’t belong. When I walk into a room where I can count the number of PoC and/or women, on my hand, it’s hard to feel welcome.
these are the intangible things that we try to fix with concrete programs and dollar signs and it can feel unfair because it can seem like we didn’t have to work for it to get it, that it’s just being handed to us because we are women or PoC, even if you’re technically more qualified. the “technically more qualified” thing doesn’t take into account is how many more opportunities you’ve had to get that qualification that women and PoC don’t usually have access to.

His response was:

Give it a shot, tell me the privilege I’ve been given. I’ve worked for every dollar, I’ve paid every bill. I started this business with zero clients and 3 months later my wife who was given nothing was diagnosed with breast cancer. I am now a single father raising a daughter trying from scratch to grow a business. I would like to drop this.

I didn’t say what I wanted to say.

I didn’t say White privilege looks like you never having to wonder if your wife wasn’t getting adequate care because she was Black.

White privilege looks like you not having a genetic memory and history of doctors experimenting on Black bodies, so you don’t have a physical distrust of western medicine.

White privilege looks like you not needing to hope that someone in the hospital speaks your native language so you can communicate properly.

This man was willing to drag his dead wife into the conversation to prove that he too, has suffered, so diversity programs are just unfair. I dropped it.

I see this come up over and over whenever a POC has tried to explain White privilege to a White person. Their response to a POC sharing their personal, painful, experience with White supremacy or systemic racism is often to tell an unrelated story about their personal struggle or how they were treated badly as a White person in a predominantly non-White setting.

Privilege doesn’t mean you’ve never had to struggle.

Privilege doesn’t mean you don’t work hard.

Privilege doesn’t mean you’ve never had tragedy in your life.

Privilege doesn’t mean you’ve never had to suffer.

Privilege doesn’t mean you haven’t been discriminated against in other ways (including, yes, for being White).

Privilege means there are a lot of things you’ve never had to think twice about that other people have to think about every day.

Privilege means you’ve never had to wonder if you’ve been held back or passed over or treated differently because of your skin color, race, gender, or sexual orientation, of things fundamental to who you are as a person.

As an Asian-American (and a light skinned Asian-American), I straddle the line. I am a POC, but I’m also considered a “model minority,” so there are a multitude of privileges that allow me to maneuver through life much more easily.

I’ve never had to wonder if someone was following me in a store, I’ve always been taken seriously as a gifted student in school, I’ve never had to question whether a bank denied me a loan because of my skin color, I’ve rarely felt the need to code switch my language or change my voice to fit in, I’ve never had to wonder if I didn’t get the job because of my name or appearance. I could go on.

I know I have these privileges because I’ve had enough conversations with my Black and Brown friends, read enough of their stories, and believed them. I was willing to put away whatever feelings of guilt or one-up-manship or incredulity came up for me and STFU.

You don’t think my inclination in these situations was to tell every story I had about being discriminated against or how hard I worked to get to where I am? It was and it has been.

Of course I wanted to trade stories about all the times I was called chinky-eyed or had someone ask to touch my hair (for very different reasons) or whatever.

At first, I thought it was just because I wanted to relate, but then I wondered if I was trying to prove something too. Like I wanted to show that I had suffered or struggled just as much.

I’m still working on letting go of this knee-jerk reaction. Instead I work on actively reminding myself that when someone is sharing some of the most painful moments in their memories, moments where they felt helpless, small, unworthy, and vulnerable, that they are not trying to tell me I haven’t suffered.

They are revealing the rawest parts of themselves in the hopes that we can start to come to a deeper understanding of what needs to change in this country to truly move forward in unity.

When I witness moments like this, I consider it a privilege to be in the room.