It was one of the last days of my senior year of college. It was a beautiful day. I organized a group of my girlfriends to go down to the closest lake, rent a boat, and spend the day soaking up the warm Georgia sun while reminiscing on our college days.
One of my girlfriends had a close family friend who owned a marina and would let us use one of his boats for the day. We went into the room to sign the paper work and go through a brief safety course. They asked us for our I.D’s.
Wait, you aren’t 25?
*Smiling* Nope we are like 22. But we’ve done this once before???
Who did you say you knew here?
Mr. So and So.
Oh! That’s right. Of course. We can make an exception.
Ohhhh privilege. The dirty P word. I’ve been afforded many forms of privilege throughout my life. I’m privileged in that I’m white and I’m privileged in that I am a relatively pretty female.. But the story above was the first time that I clearly saw the effect of privilege, and recognized it for what it was as it was happening in my life.
It has taken me far too long to write this post. I was mulling over why I have been subconsciously putting off engaging this topic and it hit me. I think it is really difficult to engage this topic because identifying something as white privilege can feel so much like an accusation. As Jeremy Dowsatt so eloquently explained, “the phrase “white privilege” kind of sounds like, “You are a racist and there’s nothing you can do about it because you were born that way.”
Until sometime in college I never even knew the term white privilege but it is something we should all be clear on.
In Tim Wise’s book White Like Me he discusses what white privilege is on numerous occasions but here are a few ways he defines it that helped me to grapple with it:
1: “Privilege: Wherever you are, it’s taken for granted that you must deserve to be there. You never spoil the decor, or trigger suspicions of any kind.”
2: “Whiteness, as I was coming to learn, is about never being really out of place, of having the sense that wherever you are, you belong, and won’t encounter much resistance to your presence.”
3: “Privilege makes its recipients oblivious to certain things; we receive unjust advantages at the expense of others.”
In lieu of the Ferguson decision I have thought of more palpable ways that white privilege is relevant to my life…
-White privilege is knowing that if I marry a white man I will not have to worry that my children will be in danger every time they leave the house in a hoodie (or every time they leave the house regardless of the hoodie..).
-White privilege is feeling angry about the lack of an indictment in the Ferguson case instead of being terrified.
-White privilege is knowing that if I am stopped by a police officer, it’s probably because I WAS doing something wrong (read:speeding) not because I was being racially profiled.
-White (girl) privilege is knowing that even though I am stopped for a speeding ticket I might be able to cry my way out of it.
-White privilege is never having to worry if my name on my resume will deflect someone from hiring me.
-White privilege is being able to ignore that something is going on in Ferguson at all.
-White privilege is not having to discuss race with your friends, parents, co-workers, and children, because it isn’t “relevant” because “racism doesn’t really exist anymore”.
This buzzword or buzzphrase is so real and palpable. If you still don’t understand what it is you can look here.
I have had to come to terms with guilt that I have associated with this privilege. As Gina Crosley- Concran explains in her piece on white privilege.. “You can see how white people and people of color experience the wold in two very different ways. BUT LISTEN: This is not said to make white people feel guilty about their privilege. It’s not your fault you were born with white skin and experience these privileges. BUT, whether you realize it or not, you DO benefit from it, and it IS your fault if you don’t maintain awareness of that fact.”
So becoming aware of white privilege as a white person comes with a responsibility. A responsibility to speak when others can’t and use your privilege for the good of others, and to educate others when you can.
Since moving to Taiwan I’ve experience very interesting forms of white privilege which you can feel free to check out here.
This is about all I have on this right now. But I suppose I have a challenge for all us white folk out there: be aware of the institutions, policies and cultural practices that are set up to favor us. And if you aren’t aware of them, educate yourself. A place to start? Perhaps here.