White Privilege: Will YOU Turn Around?
I recently came to a realization. No one really talks about white privilege here in college. Maybe they do in other schools, but here, I don’t really feel like it’s a frequent topic of discussion. Don’t get me wrong, we in Santa Cruz like to talk about racism all the live long day! There is no shortage in that area. And no one denies that white privilege exists, not at all. But it doesn’t seem like people are talking about white privilege as its own issue to be addressed, and worked against.
At my high school, we had a White Consciousness Club. It was an affinity group, meaning that only people who identified as white could go–which was rather controversial, but let it be noted that we also had an affinity group for people of color. And no, this was not a White Power group, not at all. It was a space for white people to address what it means to be a white ally, how to deal with white guilt, or how to even acknowledge that you are privileged. And I think that conversations like this are important. We can fight all day to end discrimination and racism, but that won’t change that at the end of the day, white people hold significant privileges over people of color. Sure, I won’t say racist things about you, and I’ll give you equal access to jobs. But does that change the fact that my family has the financial means, and social network to give me a great education, get me a great job, and put me at an advantage to you? Not so much.
I think that white privilege is a really important discussion along with racism. I believe that Ethnic Studies departments at universities should be complimented by a White Studies department. It is particularly important, because so many people have such a hard time pinpointing exactly what white privilege is. Try coming up with specific examples that are relevant to you right now. So no, you can’t include slavery, or anything with the Civil Rights movement, I want you to think about this moment, walking around in your daily life.
Can’t think of any? Well, there is one particular article that I LOVE that provides some great, tangible examples for looking at white privilege. One of my favorite teachers in high school always recommended it, and it is now my default question when white privilege comes up: “Have you read the Invisible Knapsack?”
In it, Peggy Mcintosh lists 26 ways in which the color of her skin advantages her over people of color. Some of my favorite examples are:
When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of my financial reliability.
I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.
Take a look at the piece, it’s short, and an easy read. Also, she does a great job of explaining her thought process in writing it; I’d recommend reading her analysis as well.
So, I am on a new campaign to talk about white privilege, not just as something that causes racism and disadvantages people of color, but also as its own entity and something that advantages white people. Us white people need to talk about our own role in this dynamic, not just in avoiding saying or doing racist things, but how we benefit from institutionalized and cultural racism without even doing anything. It’s important to move away from this mentality that racism is something that a few bad people do, bad people that we have to stop/punish. Racism is something that we ALL practice, most of us unconsciously. It doesn’t make you a bad person. I’ll end on an example that bell hooks gives to explain privilege, in this case white privilege.
Imagine that privilege is one of those moving walkways in the airport. By standing on it, without exerting any effort whatsoever, you are propelled forward. It is not unless you force yourself to turn around, and see all the baggage behind you that you realize that not everyone is on the walkway with you. Some people have to run alongside the walkway in order to keep up with you.
Here’s the thing: if you don’t want to, you don’t have to turn around. You can continue to believe that everyone is able to move as fast and effortlessly as you do.
It’s your choice. Are you going to turn around?