The term “white privilege” has entered the common vocabulary when discussing issues related to race. We hear it all the time, but today we want to take a minute to really explore the topic. What is “white privilege” and what can we do about it?
White privilege is the idea that white people in America have certain advantages that people of color do not have.
White people often don’t have to worry about certain issues that people of color do. White people can travel to any city, move into any neighborhood, attend any school, feel comfortable at any place of employment and shop at pretty much any store without harassment. White people see people like them in leadership positions across the board, from politics to the workplace. White people can choose to interact only with other white people. White people can choose not to think about race.
All of these are examples of privilege. They are freedoms inherently afforded to white people.
“BUT NOT ME!”
Some people struggle with the topic of white privilege because they think it doesn’t apply to them.
White privilege does not imply that white people do not have to work hard or that everything is just handed to them. It’s not about economic status or a life of ease. A person can have white privilege if he’s never been the only one of his race in school, at a job or at an event, has never been called a racial slur, or never had to wonder if he’s being treated a certain way because of his race.
It can be difficult to confront this topic. It isn’t easy to think about systems that we all participate in every day, and even more challenging to recognize when we may be perpetuating injustice. But it is important that we take the time to really challenge our beliefs and assumptions, understand what part of the racial conversation we hold, and move forward towards healing and reconciliation.
SO WHAT CAN WHITE PEOPLE DO?
The most important first step is recognition. Admit that racism exists. That people of different cultures and races are not treated equally and do not have the same opportunities.
Then, pay attention to what racism looks like in your context. What is the racial makeup of your social group? Your colleagues? Your neighbors? Notice who is around you at social events. Notice how people are treated. Just start paying attention to who is – and isn’t – around you.
Lastly, honor other people’s experiences. When a person of color tells you that he or she has experienced something that feels like racial discrimination, white people don’t get to tell them that they’re wrong or that it’s not racial. White people don’t have the same experiences and backgrounds to put one incident in context. What may seem trivial to someone with white privilege may not be to a person of color who has a lifetime of incidents piled up on top of each other.
White privilege is not something you caused that you personally need to be ashamed of, but it is something to be aware of and not perpetuate. When white people recognize that they were born with an inherent privilege, they can use that to understand the racial climate and be aware and honor the experiences of others.
Want to dig deeper? White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack is a great starting place and includes a list of common white privileges. How many apply to you?