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What is White Privilege?

Updated: Aug 5, 2020

White privilege: "inherent advantages possessed by a white person on the basis of their race in a society characterized by racial inequality and injustice"


If you don't believe that being white has its privileges then, this article is for you.

 

Every time an incidence of police brutality has surfaced (aka went viral), I have educated myself. Researched. Been made aware of the events and laws that allowed these issues to happen. 

Yet, that is as far as I went.


But, that will no longer be the case.


PLEASE NOTE:

*If you choose to read this post, please read with an open mind.

*The information and ideas I am about to share does not apply to 100% of the population or 100% of situations so, please keep in mind that I have done some generalizing for the sake of keeping this post concise. 

*Lastly, if you choose to read this post, please read the entire post, and thank you for taking the time to do so.

 

I'm White, REALLY White


I'm probably the whitest person you know, or will ever meet.

And I'm not talking about the social characteristics of being white, I am ONLY talking about the colour of my skin.


I am pale. Very pale. I stand out even in a crowd with other white people because of how pale I am. I have even been made fun of because of how pale I am..

(Like, even if you didn't know what I looked like, I'm sure it would be easy to find me)


But, I've also been praised for my "porcelain-doll" like appearance.

 

Throughout history,

and still today, there are cultures and people who want to look white. Who will bleach their skin. Stay out of the sun. Carry an umbrella while being in the sun. 

Because, throughout our history, white people have been in power, and in powerful roles. 

Throughout history, white people have been able to stay inside while POC (people of colour) have been hired to work for them.


Throughout history, white people have made the rules and not much has changed since then.

 

So, I AM privileged to be white.

And, if you are white, so are you.

And, if you disagree, it's okay, I know what you're thinking.

Because I have thought it too.

 

I don't come from money.

My family isn't wealthy.


I come from a middle-class neighbourhood.

I grew up in a house that I was ashamed to allow others to see. 

I wore hand-me-downs and shopped at second stores.

I felt poor.


We didn't go on fancy vacations.

My parents didn't drive nice cars.

So, how could I be considered privileged?

I'll tell you how. 

 

That house I was ashamed to live in was in a nice neighbourhood.

As I child I could easily walk around my neighbourhood and feel safe.

There weren't any gunshots, police cars, or sirens constantly in my neighbourhood.

The only time the police were out was during high times of drinking, aka ride programs, ensuring the safety of other drivers so that no drunk drivers were on the road.


Both of my parents also had their own car, decent-paying jobs, and are well-liked in their careers.

When my mom lost her job during the financial crisis of 2008, she was able to easily get another job.

And why am I mentioning these things? Because these are all signs of white privilege. 

 

Other races don't always have the ability to move into nice houses.


Other races have been denied mortgages and therefore couldn't move into nice neighbourhoods. 


Other races don't always have the option to own their own car. 


And other races might not have the ability to easily get another job after being let go.

If you still don't believe in white privilege, keep reading, it took me some time too.

 

The examples mentioned above I had to learn on my own.


No one talked about systemic racism when I was in school.


None of my friends ever brought up these issues.


So, as a white person, you sometimes don't even realize these things exist.

I actually only learned about the housing issues (systemic racism) because of a Netflix documentary I stumbled upon only 3 years ago!

You see, this is ALSO white privilege.

The fact that we (some of us) don't even know these issues exist. 

If things were the other way around and white people had been slaves, and white people were being disproportionally killed by police, and white people were being systematically oppressed, we would have been educated on these topics. 

But, we haven't been. 

And the news doesn't teach us these things.


Movies and TV shows can be teachers however, they are often only viewed as entertainment.

You watch, become entertained, and then go back to your normal lives.

(*Remember, generalizing for the sake of being concise, as I know NOT EVERYONE lives this way or thinks this way)

 

For me, it wasn't until August 2016

when I moved to Indianapolis, Indiana where I would TRULY understand the extent to my white privilege.

Now, some may label it "southern" hospitality or good manners but the story I am about to share with you, in my eyes, is labeled to me as white privilege.

 

I had just moved into my dorm and I was picking up groceries at the small grocery store down the street from where I was living. 


I was just picking up a few things, as the private university I was attending for the semester would be providing all of my meals as part of my exchange program.

But, my hands quickly got filled as I wanted to make sure I had enough food for the next couple of days. 

Normally I don't mind struggling to carry food but I was carrying food that, if it had fallen, would have spilled on the floor, and cause a mess.


I knew I needed a basket, so I could easily grab maybe 1 or 2 more snacks and head back to my dorm.

 

And what happened next, I will never forget.

I went to get a basket, from the stack of other baskets and a black man picked one up for me. As I went to thank him, and take the basket, instead of just handing me the basket, like most would do in this situation, he held the basket and gestured for me to place the overflowing items I was carrying in the basket. He waited. He didn't just hand me the basket and go on his way. He waited for me to be able to take the basket from him, easily, and without having to struggle further with my groceries and the basket. I was surprised by his act of kindness. Even as a Canadian, a complete stranger has never been this kind to me.  And I come from a country where people praise and joke around about how nice Canadians are.

Yet, in this area of Indianapolis, I was met with kindness I had never experienced before.  Now, you might be reading this and thinking that this was just kindness or just the hospitality of the people who lived there but,

I truly believe it is white privilege.

 

And here's why.

The private university I attended was predominantly white people.  Rich, white people.  They were kind, and they were friendly, to me. And I would have left there thinking no differently if I hadn't been an international student. Why?  Because international students are paired with a club on campus called The Diversity Centre. And this group is where students, predominantly POC gather to socialize. This was where I met many amazing friends, most of whom I still keep in contact with today. And, it was through this group that I gained the invaluable friendship of 1 male, who shared with me what it was really like to be a black man in Indianapolis. The kindness and friendliness that happened to me, didn't happen to him. He was not poor. He did not dress poorly.  Like most of the students who attended this school, he had a fancy car, wore name-brand clothing, and seemed well-liked and well-treated by everyone. 

But, he wasn't well-liked or well-treated by everyone.  No amount of money stops racism. No amount of nice clothes or a nice car stops racism.  And this was what made me realize that I am privileged. I am privileged to have white skin.

 

Who knows if that black man in the grocery store helped me because I am white?  Who knows if every guy in Indiana who stepped to the side while opening the door for me did so because I am white? Who knows if these things were done because of the colour of my skin.

But, what I do know is that not everyone has had these experiences. Not even every female has had these experiences.

So, I do feel the colour of my skin has played a role,

EVEN SUBCONSCIOUSLY.

 

Because think about it.

So many of us grow up seeing POC on the news, shootings, gang violence, robberies, etc. and even if it wasn't verbalized in our childhood, subconsciously, these things get programmed into our brains. WE EVEN SAY "black cats are bad luck" or, "don't let a black cat cross your path" - SO WHAT IS THIS SUBCONSCIOUSLY TELLING US ABOUT BLACK PEOPLE?

Even the jokes about white people aren't really mean or degrading. This is privilege.

 

And if you have gotten this far and STILL are questioning whether being white has its privileges,

I am going to wrap this up with personal examples,

followed by examples I have seen in my community and in the media.

White privilege is not being afraid when getting pulled over by the police.


White privilege is having the police called on your house party and calmly talking to them. 

White privilege is being able to sit in the back of a police car because you were cold as the police calmly looked through someone's bag for weed.  White privilege is not being followed by a police car after stopping to get gas. White privilege is being able to hitchhike in a foreign country.

White privilege is being given a speeding ticket that has been reduced.  White privilege is the ability for strangers to feel comfortable saying hello as they pass by on the sidewalk.  White privilege is having the police called on you while driving home and easily talking to them about the misunderstanding.

White privilege is being able to use "employee only" bathrooms. White privilege is being able to go door to door to sell cookies, and people aren't afraid to open the door to you.

White privilege is easily being able to get help from a stranger, without them being afraid of you. White privilege being able to carry a large purse into a store without people thinking you'll use it to steal stuff.  White privilege is being able to get mad at a customer service worker without being escorted out or having security called on you. 

White privilege is being able to bring important documents home with you from work. White privilege is having a professor profusely apologize after making fun of you.  White privilege is receiving a passing grade for a class you should have failed, after explaining to the teacher what happened.

White privilege is people being kind and understanding when you may not know the rules of a foreign country. White privilege is being able to call the police and talk to them when there is a problem. 

White privilege is being able to say you're the one who called the police when the police show up to help the situation.

White privilege is getting help from the police while filing a police report for a hit and run. White privilege is being able to enjoy the most vulgar rap music without other people complaining or being afraid of you.

White privilege is being able to get others to bend the rules in order to achieve your desired outcome. White privilege is being able to easily find a colour of foundation for your skin tone. White privilege is being able to receive excellent customer service. 

White privilege is getting caught drinking underage and only having the police take the alcohol from you. White privilege is setting off a security system alarm and the police showing up and understanding it was a complete accident.

White privilege is the police officer letting you off with a warning when you do something that was a complete accident.  White privilege is being able to hang out in large groups in a park without people being worried or concerned that you're doing something bad or wrong.  White privilege is being able to leave your house unlocked when going out for a short time period. 

 

Other examples of white privilege I've personally seen:

White privilege is people trusting that you returned the car rental at the time you said you did. White privilege is getting away with shoplifting because no one suspects you're doing it.


White privilege is being able to start a fight in a bar, and going back to normal after the fight. White privilege is being able to hang a confederate flag on your lawn.  White privilege is being calmly detained by the police for drunk driving. 

White privilege is the police following up with you on a problem you called them about. 

 

What I've seen in the media:

White privilege is being able to peacefully protest. 

White privilege is being able to shop without someone following you around the store, thinking you will steal something.  White privilege is being able to have a problem like tainted tap water or a power outage fixed quickly. White privilege is not worrying someone will die after a fight, argument, or misunderstanding.

White privilege is not worrying about being shot at when encountering the police.  White privilege is being calmly escorted into a police car. 

White privilege is being given bail when arrested. White privilege is not worrying that you'll be wrongly accused of a crime.  White privilege is feeling safe and protected by the police. 

 

White privilege is real. 

*And remember, I have generalized for the sake of being concise. Not every example I mentioned applies for 100% of situations and for 100% of white people. If you got through this whole post, thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to read this article. And if this opened your eyes or your mind to the privilege we face as white individuals, please pass this article along.  And, if you're asking what can you do now, as an individual to continue this eye-opening experience, self reflect. Understand yourself better. The people you know. The situations that have happened in your own life.  Understand your white privilege so that you can understand why others feel the way they do. Then educate yourself. Continue to expand your mind.  Start conversations.  Ask questions.  And listen to what others have to say.  Because sharing my voice and having it heard is ALSO white privilege.  (And thanks to social media, I am well aware of that now.) That is why I gave SO many examples. 

 

Because white privilege isn't always as easy to notice or recognize.


Because it's everywhere.  It's ingrained in our cultures, in our societies, in the way we live our lives. And, once we recognize that, we can begin to change, shift, and evolve. Love always,

Elisabeth King 

Ps, if this article expanded your mind to a situation where you NOW notice was white privilege, comment it down below using #whiteprivilegeis And if you are a POC, share your experiences, so that we may learn and continue to educate ourselves further 🙏💕

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