What is White Privilege?

What is “White Privilege”?  Privilege can mean many things. There is economic privilege, there is straight privilege, there is abled privilege, there is male privilege, and there is white privilege, amongst others.  Even those with all of those – a straight rich abled white male – can have really hard times in life.  We all have our burdens and sorrows.  Seeing what white privilege is does not in any way detract from the true pain of growing up in a dysfunctional family or growing up feeling you are of a different gender. It doesn’t detract from the unequal treatment women still have to deal with in all areas of society. It is just acknowledging that there are some pains we don’t need to feel because of our whiteness.

It is definitely of worth to see and acknowledge our white privilege specifically while we are looking at the oppression of our Black neighbors. We need to see our privilege before we can figure out how to share it.

I really like the “Privilege Walk” exercise below because it has widened my view of what my privilege is.  I grew up without much money, but with the ability to take a day off from school to go a museum or walk into the lobby of a fancy hotel and partake of their free high tea laid out for guests without anyone questioning us.  When I was a child, we went to that high tea, sat in the hot tub at a fancy hotel, or tried on fancy dresses at Macy’s, with my father being very clear that we were overtly abusing a system of white privilege.  He wanted to push it to see what it would take for them to question him.  We even ordered room service from the hotel hot tub and no one did.

In contrast, my husband doesn’t swim because he wasn’t allowed in the pools. He went to a segregated Black school.  They couldn’t eat in restaurants or go to movie theaters. To this day, the difference in treatment is obvious.  If we’re taking a bottle of wine to a park event where you shouldn’t have glass, it will be fine in my bag.  My bag gets tapped gently.  His gets searched.  Over and over It’s so obvious when you look at the differential treatment we get, even in this liberal Bay Area. 

White privilege doesn’t mean you necessarily have financial privilege, but it may well mean you have fewer impediments to getting it.  It also may mean that you can function better without it because of having easier access to other societal resources.

Here’s a good little video about historic privilege and how it affects someone’s options today. The Privilege Walk list is below.

See how you come out in this “Privilege Walk” and share it with your friends.

The Privilege Walk

  • If your ancestors were forced to come to the USA not by choice, take one step back.
  • If your primary ethnic identity is “American,” take one step forward.
  • If you were ever called names because of your race or ethnicity, take one step back.
  • If there were people who worked for your family as servants, gardeners, nannies, etc. take one step forward.
  • If you were ever ashamed or embarrassed of your clothes, house, car, etc. take one step back.
  • If one or both of your parents were “white collar” professionals:  doctors, lawyers, etc. take one step forward.
  • If you were raised in an area where there was prostitution, drug activity, etc., take one step back.
  • If you ever tried to change your appearance, mannerisms, or behavior to avoid being judged or ridiculed, take one step back.
  • If you studied the culture of your ancestors in elementary school, take one step forward.
  • If you went to school speaking a language other than English, take one step back.
  • If there were more than 50 books in your house when you grew up, take one step forward.
  • If you ever had to skip a meal or were hungry because there was not enough money to buy food when you were growing up, take one step back.
  • If you were taken to art galleries or plays by your parents, take one step forward.
  • If one of your parents was unemployed or laid off, not by choice, take one step back.
  • If you have health insurance take one step forward.
  • If you attended private school or summer camp, take one step forward.
  • If your family ever had to move because they could not afford the rent, take one step back.
  • If you were told that you were beautiful, smart and capable by your parents, take one step forward.
  • If you were ever discouraged from academics or jobs because of race or ethnicity, take one step back.
  • If you were encouraged to attend college by your parents, take one step forward.
  • If you were raised in a single parent household, take one step back.
  • If your family owned the house where you grew up, take one step forward.
  • If you saw members of your race or ethnicity portrayed on television in degrading roles, take one step back.
  • If you own a car take one step forward.
  • If you were ever offered a good job because of your association with a friend or family member, take one step forward.
  • If you were ever denied employment because of your race or ethnicity, take one step back.
  • If you were paid less, treated less fairly because of your race or ethnicity, take one step back.
  • If you were ever accused of cheating or lying because of your race or ethnicity, take one step back.
  • If you ever inherited, or expect to inherit, money or property, take one step forward.
  • If you had to rely primarily on public transportation, take one step back.
  • If you attended private school at any point in your life take one step forward.
  • If you were ever stopped or questioned by the police because of your race or ethnicity, take one step back.
  • If you were ever afraid of violence because of your race or ethnicity, take one step back.
  • If your parents own their own business take one step forward.
  • If you were generally able to avoid places that were dangerous, take one step forward.
  • If you were ever uncomfortable about a joke related to your race or ethnicity, but felt unsafe to confront the situation, take one step back.
  • If you were ever the victim of violence related your race or ethnicity, take one step back.
  • If your parents did not grow up in the United States, take one step back.
  • If your parents attended college take one step forward.
  • If your parents told you that you could be anything you wanted to be, take one step forward.
  • If you were ever in a situation where you were the only one of your race or ethnicity, take one step back.
  • If you were ever called names because of your race or ethnicity, take one step back.
  • If you purchased your first home with help from your parents, take one step forward.
  • If most of your teachers were from the same racial or ethnic background as you, take one forward.
  • If your parents spoke English as a first language, take one step forward.
  • If you have at least one parent who earned a Master’s or Ph.D. degree, take one step forward.
  • If U.S. laws prevented members of your same racial or ethnic identity from voting, take one step back.
  • If you come from a racial or ethnic group that have ever been considered by scientists as “inferior,” take one step back.
  • If your ancestors’ land was made part of the U.S., take one step back.
  • If you believe you have been harassed by the police because of your skin color, take one step back.
  • If you see people from your same racial or ethnic background as CEOs in most Fortune 500 companies, take one step forward.
  • If you can have a candid conversation about racism at your family dinner table without being shut down, take one step forward.

How did you do? How could we share the privileges we easily enjoy? What societal changes need to happen for that to be possible? We all need to struggle with these questions.

Resources to read/watch about whiteness and white privilege:

Book: Waking up White by Debby Irving (Video: Speech by Irving)

Book: White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo (Video: Speech by DiAngelo)

Video: Interview with Toni Morrison about the White Gaze

2 thoughts on “What is White Privilege?

  1. Thank you, Deborah, for this excellent post! “We all have our burdens and sorrows”, but white people have “some pains we don’t need to feel because of our whiteness.” This language and concept will very helpful when I talk to someone who may not feel “privileged”. The short video conveys so much in 4:23 minutes! It will be really good to share with folks I know who are new to systemic racism, but want to learn.

    Like

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