I grew up in a predominantly white, small town outside of Aurora, IL. I was only ever exposed to a person of color once while I was in high school, and I was taught to believe (by my white teachers) that everyone is equal and that we left racism and prejudice back in the 1960’s. So when I entered college, I had no idea that “White Privilege” even existed, much less that it was extremely relevant and completely pertained to me. I had never even heard the term before.
Basically, “White Privilege” is a term that speaks on the benefits of being white in a western community, and describes why white people have certain privileges that by birth other races do not possess.
So naturally, I became uncomfortable and wanted to deny it– probably the exact thing you are subconsciously doing in your seat at this very moment. I wanted to say, “There’s no such thing because we have a black president!” or “There’s no such thing because there are no ‘scholarships for white kids’ out there!” But after executing an activity called “the Invisible Knapsack” and having a discussion about it, I began to realize that I was closed-minded without even knowing it. I learned that no matter how much I wanted to deny it, peel the idea off of my white skin and throw it away, I was born with a certain privilege that people of other races do not possess.
Don’t agree with me? Here’s five reasons why “White Privilege” is still a completely relevant idea today:
1. Because of the color of my skin, I will never have to worry about being followed in a store by the owner who thinks I am going to steal something.
Hypothetically I could walk into a convenience store, put something in my pocket, walk out, and the cashier at the front desk will simply flash a smile as I leave. But if a person of color were to walk into a store, he would immediately be followed, watched, and asked microagression-esque questions such as, “Are you going to buy that?”
2. Because of the color of my skin, the odds of ending up in jail are significantly lower than a person of color’s odds would be.
Statistics say that at least one-third of black men will go to jail at least once in their lifetime. The sad thing is that statistics also show that once a person is in the system, it is extremely hard to get out. And no, this is not because people of color tend to commit more crimes. It is because it is easier for white people to get away with it (refer back to number one).
And the scariest fact about this is that there are more people of color imprisoned now than there were slaves in the 1850’s.
Try and tell me that systematic oppression and segregation don’t still exist.
3. Because of the color of my skin I do not have to explain to my peers about how I got into college. I do not have to defend my intelligence because I am white, and in our society that is synonymous with intelligent.
There are so many obstacles that people of color in higher education have to face every day that white people may not know even exist or that they are even causing it.
People of color get asked on a daily basis, “Oh, did you get the multicultural scholarship?” or get told statements like, “Wow, you speak really articulately!”
Then there’s the passing comments such as, “He/She just got in because we have to meet a quota.” Every day people of color have to defend their right to be in higher education because the color of their skin immediately determines the level of their intelligence, and God forbid they break a stereotype (that whites put in place to begin with, might I add) without a hassle.
4. Because of the color of my skin, if I mess up and get into trouble, no one is going to stereotype my entire race according to that incident.
For example, I saw a meme on Buzzfeed that said “If the Boston Marathon Bomber turns out to be white, no one will label all white people as terrorists.”
Yet, because a few Islamic men caused 9/11, we label ALL Muslims as terrorists.
Or because a black person commits a crime, we label ALL black people as thugs.
Or because we don’t allow Mexicans to have the same chance at jobs as we allow ourselves, we label ALL Mexicans lazy.
Yet, if that were to happen to a white person, it would be that singular white person is a terrorist, thug, lazy, etc.
5. Because of the color of my skin, I will not have to teach my children about systematic racism for their protection.
We have all heard the stories of the untimely deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.
No matter what side you take on those, it would be ignorant not to acknowledge the fact that both of these cases had to do with systematic racism. Even if both of these teenagers (and YES, TEENAGERS) were acting out of line, did that give anyone the right to take their lives, the most precious thing anybody owns, away from them? That’s not something a person can give back. That’s not something the system, no matter how high and mighty they think they are, can give back. On average, an out-of-line white person gets far more time before the gun shoots (if it does at all) than an out-of-line person of color.
Yet the media tries to suppress the cries from Ferguson. They frame it to look more like police brutality, that it could happen to anyone, instead of a racial issue.
Because it’s 2015, and there just can’t still be racism.
And the fact that the above statement comes from anyone’s mouth is perfect proof that “White Privilege” exists. Because, quite frankly, I don’t have to acknowledge that racism still exists because my life is not on the line. I could go every day without thinking about racism, and my life still be the same.
People of color cannot.
Now, let me get this straight. This is NOT the blame game. I know you and I “can’t help being white”. But you and I CAN help being ignorant. We CAN help the fact of whether or not we acknowledge it exists. And we CAN help those whose voices have been silenced.
We have the privilege. We have the power.
Now let’s walk hand-in-hand and DO something with it.
If you want to learn more about instances of privilege you can click on these links: