“I wish I was one of those white people who were oh so privileged. My life was hard, too.”
Sound familiar? The above was a recent dismissal of white privilege I recently saw on a friend’s Facebook post. It’s a phrase that has become a common cry for those who don’t know the definition of white privilege. It was so glaringly obvious that the respondent had no clue what white privilege actually is and I have come to realize that a lot of white people just don’t get what white privilege means.
“White Privilege” is not the same as “white people have it easy.” Not one bit. White privilege is not common, everyday speech. It’s an academic term and is a simplified name for “the difference of racial profiling towards white/presumed white people in everything from assumptions on intelligence to work ethic to anything else.“
I used to work as a loss prevention manager and trained undercover security officers that were new to the field. They would inevitably make the (sadly common) rookie mistake of watching a black guy who was showing no theft behaviors because he was a black guy. I’d ask why they watched him and most of the time, they didn’t have an answer other than “he looked like he could be a shoplifter.” After I trained them to look at behaviors over race, their arrest rates would go up. In fact, our number one demographic of shop lifters in our market? Middle-aged white women. That’s an example of white privilege: being the number one theft demo and the least thought of as criminals.
Understand that “white privilege” is not something that means “I have it easy,” it means “the overarching stereotypes of my race does not work against me.”
Some further examples:
If you had a white teenage female and a black teenage male that were each walking down the street at 2am, don’t pretend that MOST people would guess absolutely different reasons for each to be out, that difference in guessing their motives is white privilege.
If a hiring manager sees a “Jennifer Smith” and a “Lawanda Brown” on resumes for the same position and calls in Jennifer based on her “white sounding name,” and ignore’s Lawanda’s because her name is “too ethnic,” that’s white privilege.
Though, of course there are exceptions, these perceptions are the norm.
I grew up raised by a single mother on welfare and food stamps. No one called my mom lazy or a freeloader. White privilege.
My dad skedaddled when I was a baby and is now on his fourth or fifth marriage (I can’t keep up), yet the perception remains that black men leave “baby mommas” left and right. White privilege.
I can generally walk through any store in a hoodie and not be watched by security. White privilege.
White privilege is about a baseline assumption of you, it’s the lack of stereotyping. That’s it.
“White privilege” may be a stupid term, but it’s easier to use than “societal privileges that benefit people identified as white in Western countries, beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances.”
Of course, there are white people who are followed at stores. There are white people who will have their motives questioned. There are white people who still get pulled over and white people who have problems finding jobs. There are white people who will have it tough. White privilege does not mean you never have problems, it means you are seen and treated differently while in the exact same situation as a person of color.
A group of angry white people with guns took over a wildlife refuge, wrecked it, and said “we’re patriots, and if Law Enforcement tries to come here, we’ll shoot them,”. Yet, when law enforcement agents came there were handshakes, guns firmly in their holster. Law enforcement wanted to hear what they had to say. Black men & women, without guns, take to the streets and say “Don’t shoot us,” are labeled “thugs,” and told “well, if you weren’t violent, we might listen to you.” That is white privilege.
In 2001, I rented a room from a wonderful Indian couple in San Diego. They were kind, helpful, polite, and overall just great people and I was having a great time. Then 9/11 happened. After a group of hardline Islamic radicals orchestrated a large-scale attack on American soil, I saw a huge change in our community. Our apartment was egged. My roommates were called “terrorists.” They stopped leaving the house except for work and school. They stopped meeting up with friends. They even stopped going to the local Indian movie rental place, which was their main entertainment each night. Their lives were disrupted for something someone else did, someone who wasn’t even their same nationality nor religion.
Yet, after Timothy McVeigh blew a hole in the side of a government building in 1995, my family didn’t change our routines. A white male adult killed 168 people and injured over 600 people. No one gave my white family a second glance. That, by itself, is an example of white privilege.
When people of color or people in the LGBT community ask straight white people to “check their privilege,” they don’t mean “you have it easy so shut up.” They mean “can you imagine, if you were in my situation, and were being treated as I am, not standing up for yourself?” The answer should be “fuck no.”
When people mention “white privilege,” it takes nothing from you. No pride, no social status, nothing. They are saying “I am being treated differently and I wish you’d acknowledge that.” The response to that should never be, “yea, but one time I was treated unfairly.” I implore you not to dismiss each other’s concerns, but rather stick up for each other, stick up for what should be true equality.