Why White People Need to Acknowledge Their Privilege

Let me start this out by saying that I’m pretty much as white as it gets. I was born in Canada, but as far as I can tell, my ancestry is linked almost exclusively to the British Isles. Therefore, I lack the lived experience to completely understand what I’m talking about, and if I put my foot in my mouth and say something offensive, allow me to apologize for that right off the bat, because I might not recognize it if I do.

But more and more frequently, I can’t help but notice my fellow white people refusing to awknowledge or even denying the existence of white privilege.

And I think I understand where this denial comes from. They hear the word ‘white privilege’, and automatically, they assume it’s something they’ve personally done wrong. They feel like they’re being called out on something or attacked, when that really isn’t the case at all. And I think a lot of this feeling comes from misunderstanding what white privilege is.

Put simply, white privilege is something that exists within a society that accepts white people as the norm or the ‘superior’.

White privilege is a systematic imbalance that inherently benefits white people (hence the name ‘white privilege’).

White privilege is being able to watch pretty much any Hollywood film and knowing that someone of your race will appear at some point, and they will not be represented as an offensive stereotype.

White privilege is being able to forget that racism exists if you want to.

White privilege is, god forbid, having your daughter not come home after a night out, and not having to wonder whether the police will actually investigate her disappearance or not.

And, of course, simply being white does not mean that your life is easy, or that you don’t face inequality. There are an infinite amount of other factors that alter your experience within society – gender, class, sexual orientation, disability, mental illness, etc. – but being white does mean that you experience privilege in that regard. It is possible to be privileged in some ways, and not in others. Nobody is dismissing your experience when they accuse you of having white privilege.

And it is important to recognize your privilege – not because it makes you any lesser of a person, but because it might help you to understand your standing in society, and the standing of others.

For example, let’s say that you’re in line at the supermarket. You go through, the cashier is incredibly courteous, you go on your way and all is well. Yet, the black woman behind you goes through, and the same cashier is dismissive, abrupt, and overall difficult. In that specific scenario, you experienced white privilege, but it was not something that made you any lesser of a person. You reaped the benefits of it, most certainly, but it was the fault of the cashier, who expressed blatant racism, as well as the fault of the society that told her that that racism was okay for her to feel and act on. You only become at fault in this scenario if someone afterward tells you that you experienced white privilege, and your response is, “that wasn’t white privilege! That’s just how she should treat every customer! Why do you hate white people so much?”

Because that response isn’t helping anything. That response dismisses the fact that there is a problem, and places the blame on the person who is simply trying to call the problem out. Because, yes, that is how the cashier should treat every customer, but she didn’t. Saying that what you experienced was white privilege does not mean that you should have been treated worse, and it does not mean that the black woman should have been treated better than you. It means that you should have been treated the same and you clearly weren’t.

Too many white people hear the words ‘white privilege’ and immediately associate it with hate. It’s clearly demonizing white people, saying that they’re evil because they receive privilege – but that isn’t the case. The purpose of calling out white privilege is to point out that there is an imbalance in society, and that imbalance needs to be fixed. It’s not necessarily the white person who is malicious (unless they are the one upholding it) – it is the society that said that it was okay for a white person to be treated better than a person of colour. That is what is being called out with the words ‘white privilege’. That is the problem.

We need to stop immediately assuming that any attempt to change society is made out of hate. We need to stop allowing these systems to continue because we feel uncomfortable when they are questioned. And we need to stop dividing ourselves between ‘us’ and ‘them’, assuming that every attempt to become equal is actually an act of hate and oppression. What we need to do is acknowledge our differences, acknowledge the ways in which we are privileged and in which we aren’t, and we need to fight to create a world where no one is systemically privileged over another.

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6 thoughts on “Why White People Need to Acknowledge Their Privilege

  1. I don’t deny that white privilege exists – it certainly does. However, the problem is that the way it is portrayed makes it seem aggressively anti-white (even if it is not meant to be fundamentally). Unfortunately, its growing emphasis has led to an increase in “us vs them” thinking from people across the board. Yet another of the divides which is breaking our civilisation.

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    1. I understand your perspective, and I agree that the “us vs them” mentality is a huge problem. However, I still think that the idea of white privilege is something that needs to be discussed, and the “us vs them” mentality, while connected, is also a completely separate issue that permeates throughout multiple issues with social justice (you see it a lot in issues of gender too). So we can’t just ignore the idea of white privilege – that won’t fix either the problem of racism or the problem of “us vs them”. What we need to do is deal with the “us vs them” mentality so that we can get to a place where we can discuss these issues without pitting ourselves against one another.

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  2. I would add that at this current moment, talking about white privilege (as real as it is) is unhelpful. The breach between people who swept Donald Trump to power and those who find him abhorrent is not going to be mended by (I generalise here) ‘lefty-liberal’ types constantly debating white privilege. A lot of people find that alienating, whether rightly or no. We need at the moment to focus on the fundamentals similarities that bring us together as a society, not the lesser divisions.

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    1. I wouldn’t disagree. It is very important to recognize the ways in which we are all similar, especially now. My only concern with that is the possibility that people get so caught up celebrating the ways in which we’re similar that they forget to awknowledge (and therefore fix) the ways that we are not biologically different, but societally different.

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