Friday, June 28, 2013

I'm So Done With White Privilege

Act #179:  Can we at least consider this to be possible?

Really, if the term "white privilege" is so divisive and offensive, we don't have to call it that.  We can call it "intangible benefits you didn't even know you had".  The concept is not meant to make you feel guilty about a past you had absolutely no control over.   Nor is it meant to label you as an oppressor.  Or urge you to see African-Americans as victims.  It doesn't imply that certain people have no control over their fate.  Or that they deserve special treatment or hand-outs. It doesn't assume that white people don't also have struggles with poverty, unemployment, or other forms of discrimination like sexism or homophobia.  It's simply to challenge us to at least consider how "intangible benefits you didn't even know you had" might come into play throughout the course of your lifetime, and as we figure out how to all cut each other a little slack, and maybe learn to get along.  

Disclaimer:  I'm not white or black.  I'm a sideline observer extraordinaire, not only because I sleep with a white guy, but because I have the privilege of not really fitting in, but also of being cautiously accepted by both whites and blacks.  Most of the time. 

So you go to a party and, presto, you are surrounded by a majority of people who look like you.  You're not the only one standing out in the room?  IBYDEKYH (Intangible benefits you didn't even know you had)

You have a teenage son and you don't have to repeatedly teach him to keep his hands out of his pockets when in the presence of a police officer.  IBYDEKYH

You've got a whiny 3-year old girl and God bless her, she wants a baby doll that looks like her.  Kids can be so demanding.  You don't have to go from store to store, or make a special on-line purchase just to try to find one.  IBYDEKYH

You save up your paycheck for that piece of jewelry you've been eyeing and you walk into a fancy department store and no one sends undercover security to keep an eye on you.   IBYDEKYH  (I was a civil rights investigator for a number of years and I assure you that this happens both formally as company policy, and informally)

Got a boo-boo?  Lucky for you, that "flesh" colored band-aid blends right in to your skin.  IBYDEKYH

Shopping for make-up or hair products?  You've got aisles and aisles of options that actually might compliment and enhance your beauty. You don't have to find the "special" section.  IBYDEKYH  Wondering why people with dark skin can't just use "regular" beauty products anyway?  IBYDEKYH

Moving to a new apartment complex or neighborhood?  You can be assured that your new landlord or seller just wants your hard-earned cash, and doesn't care how the color of your skin might bring down the property value.  Your neighbors will at worst, not care or be neutral towards you.  They might even bring you a pie.  IBYDEKYH

Given up at birth?  As soon as you hit the adoption "market", you are valued at significantly higher rates than anyone else.  IBYDEKYH

It's movie night!  99.99% of this week's new releases have people who look like you playing the lead.  Sure there's always the black sidekick or best friend (and thank God for the ambiguous Vin Diesel for holding that 1%).  IBYDEKYH

You're checking out at a grocery store.  If you use cash, the cashier simply thinks it's because you have some, not because your credit is ruined.  IBYDEKYH

You're a woman and you've made it.  You speak your mind and are celebrated for being strong, opinionated.......not angry.  IBYDEKYH

You're a man and you've made it.  You speak your mind and are celebrated for being a great leader.  No one's ever secretly questioned whether or not you are a product of affirmative action.  IBYDEKYH

You attend work or community meetings and you don' feel isolated, singled-out, feared, unrepresented, or unheard.  And you're not expected to speak for all white people.  Ever.    IBYDEKYH

It's your anniversary and you have reservations at a fancy restaurant.   You can rest assured that you will be treated pleasantly, that other patrons will not stare at you when you enter the dining room, and that you can blend in.  You don't even understand the need to "blend in"?  IBYDEKYH

You are a man over 6 feet tall and no one's ever asked you if you played basketball in high school?  IBYDEKYH

Got a complaint?  While you may be viewed as an ass, at least no one's accusing you of pulling the race card.  IBYDEKYH

Never have to teach your young children how not to stand out, how to articulate and enunciate a so that people will take you seriously, or how to protect themselves if and when they are singled out because they are white?  IBYDEKYH

Late for a meeting?  No worries, people will think you must have hit a red light or that your previous meeting got held over. You haven't just let the entire white race down for perpetuating a stereotype.  IBYDEKYH

So if the term "white privilege" is threatening the very purpose of efforts to acknowledge it - so that we can all (yes, even bystanders like me) understand some of the layers and layers of complex and institutionalized racism that continue to exist - maybe we shouldn't call it that.  Maybe it doesn't matter what we call it:  intangible benefits, unseen perks, institutionalized favoritism.  But it's my fear that if we can't all, at some level, admit to ourselves that this really does go on, we will continue to live comfortably in our own separate, but drastically different realities. 



  1. My mother gave me a copy of Peggy McIntosh's article "Unpacking the Knapsack of White Privilege" back when I was in high school in the mid 90s. I don't know where she got it but such was our relationship that she knew I'd be interested in reading it. It was a pivotal moment in my education. Those concepts have been with me since I read it. As someone who looks white but doesn't necessarily identify as white (I'm half Mexican), I can attest to your readers that all of these things really happen. Today, still. Until recently I worked in a predominantly Latino neighborhood. You know what's heartbreaking? To hear black and Latino children recount the micro-aggressions and macro-aggressions they experience in school, from their white teachers. But I still fight the good fight! I'm glad you are too.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments and for keeping up the good fight!

  2. This is really interesting, but I don't understand this one:

    "You're a woman and you've made it. You speak your mind and are celebrated for being strong, opinionated.......not angry. IBYDEKYH"

    This is untrue in so many situations! Even white women must defend against all of the "ways" others speculate she made it to the top! Especially in male dominated industries! When people are applauding men for their hard work getting to the top, they are whispering and gossiping about who she must have slept with to get her promotion. Strong, opinionated women are often painted as irrational and angry. They are not taken seriously by male colleagues and still underpaid! Even the most minor of promotions can spark outrage! I was once accused of sleeping with my married boss because I got to have my own section to take care of at a retail drug store! This was no glass ceiling moment, nothing special, I had worked for the company for 7 years before i got that unilateral promotion (meaning no pay raise, just more responsibility).

    1. I can't really say that I disagree with you! I do however think that outspoken African-American woman are often viewed as even MORE angry, defiant, defensive, and loud. I think we still have some significant gaps to fill within the (feminist) movement itself, particularly when it comes to women of color. Thank you for your thoughtful comments!

  3. I agree with everything accept:

    You're a woman and you've made it.
    You speak your mind and are celebrated for being strong, opinionated.......not angry. IBYDEKYH

    ALL Women who have made it or who are trying to make face an uphill battle. Our opinions makes us "bitches", while those of a man make them intelligent, strong leadership potential, grounded, inspiring, etc. This is true whether or not the man is White, Black, Indian or otherwise. The "opiniated" male; excuse me, "the sophicated intellectual male" has a smooth pavement to glide over (I acknowledge that the White man has a much smoother pavement than minority men; however, All men have it easier than women in coporate). Women (yes, White women too) have it much harder. I have spoken to so many women in top leadership roles across various races and their stories are all very similar. Strong women are labeled quickly as selfish, "she has her own agenda", too ambitious, emotional, angry, too competitive, etc. Similar men are labeled driven, determined, decisive, quick, etc all for the same behaviors. As for promotions, men are promoted based on potential, but like your other reader mentioned above, it takes years for a woman to prove she has the potential for any move at all.

    I still love you though and support the rest of the article competely... :)

    1. KS, while I totally agree with you that ALL women continue to face these issues, I think women of color, particularly African-American women - face even greater judgement and more discrimination than their white counterparts.

  4. oops, except -- not accept-- I hate it when I do that.... LOL