Monday Author: Susanne Skinner
White privilege is the unearned, mostly unacknowledged social advantage white people have over other racial groups simply because they are white.
My June of 2020 blog Waking Up to White Privilege is my ongoing commitment to become more conscious of racism and privilege. I am re-educating myself, exposing the limited and often incorrect black history of my childhood.
Let’s Talk About White Privilege
If you are a white person believing white privilege doesn’t apply to you, you are confused. When you are white like me you are wired to deny such a thing exists.
John Amaechi, a psychologist and former NBA player, said of white privilege, “When you have it, you don’t notice it.” He’s so right. Having white privilege doesn’t mean that we do not have challenges, It means that our struggles are not caused by the color of our skin.
I am a white person who benefits from white privilege, but that does not make me (or others like me) a racist. It does imply that I don’t know what I don’t know.
When you’re white and want equality for all races, the first step is acknowledging that white privilege exists. So here I am.
Where Does it Start?
White privilege is not a new term. It was coined by activist and scholar Peggy McIntosh in 1988. The term evolved to define biased systems of authority and influence in government, politics and education, intrinsic to American society. These systems unfairly benefit white people while putting people of color at a disadvantage. Because it is not new, it’s easy to accept it as the status quo.
We can also call it by its original name—discrimination. What we must not do is confuse it with White Supremacy—the belief that the white race is superior to people of any and all other races,
I grew up in a non-traditional military environment, attending high school and college overseas. I can honestly say I did not see or feel this systemic inequality until I returned to the United States. My friends of color will likely agree with me. Suddenly my normal view of life became a privilege—a head start many are denied.
Inequality Around Us
My parents instilled my belief of equality. We did not view people of color with a one up/one down filter.
When I began my high-tech career in Boston, I joined a company with 80,000 employees. People of color were part of my work family. I lived near MIT, Harvard, Tufts, Brandeis, Bentley and WPI. Black- and brown-skinned students were actively recruited to meet corporate EEO quotas.
I began to see discrimination and privilege when I realized my company boasted all white male executives, leadership teams, and a board of directors. In the 1980s if a person of color was a CEO it’s because they started the company and built it from the ground up.
When our youngest son enlisted in the Army, he applied to Officer Candidate School. The recruiter offered slim chance of acceptance because my son is a white male—not what they were looking for. It was minority-focused recruitment. No privilege comes without its counterpart—in this case, white skin, no privilege.
Getting Comfortable with Uncomfortable Conversations
Racism isn’t an easy or a one-and-done conversation. Every dialog has a starting point, and we enrich ourselves by listening to those living in this truth. Their stories shine a light on untold history and whitewashed (literally)stories.
Volatile issues become flattened for the sake of reporting and opinion. As media coverage of racial violence unfolds around me I become conscious of my own biases. I see the ugly face of white privilege and I feel ashamed.
White privilege is a hard concept to understand let alone act upon. If you’re white, start by asking yourself, “If I were a person of color, how would my experience be different?” You will arrive in the same place I did—unable fully understand racism I will never experience myself. But we can teach ourselves to recognize it when we see it. If we don’t see it or refuse to see it, we’ve got it.
The Color of Your Skin
White fragility describes white people becoming angry, defensive, or hostile when confronted with the idea that they are complicit in systemic racism.
We argue we’re not privileged and in some cases this is an economic reality. White communities also struggle with poverty, single-parent families, affordable health care and employment.
Not all white people have the privilege that comes from education, money or family connections. But they still benefit from white privilege because they’ve never been discriminated against for the color of their skin. The lack of that kind of privilege entitles people of color to be angry. It’s a double standard.
When we acknowledge and understand our white privilege, we’re able to use that advantage to raise awareness and be agents of change. You can’t change everyone but you can change yourself, and that’s a great place to start.
Much of the racial stupidity we encounter in everyday life derives from the fact that people think of racism as individual prejudice rather than a broader system and structure of power ~ Crystal Fleming
Resources for Children
- Black Like Kyra, White Like Me by Judith Vigna
- Race Cards by Charnaie Gordon
- Not My Idea by Anastasia Higginbotham
Resources for Adults
- White Fragility – Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
by Robin DiAngelo
- Waking Up White by Debby Irving
- White Like Me by Tim Wise
- How To Be Less Stupid About Race by Crystal Fleming
- Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver
- Black Like Me by John Griffin
- American Racism: Over-Coming White Privilege: by C.K. Justice