“Do you believe in white privilege?”
It’s a question I don’t ask, because to ask this question would mean giving people the option to respond with the answer, “No.” To ask this question would insinuate that white privilege is something that can be believed in, like it’s the Loch Ness Monster or a ghost.
So instead, I skip right to the part where I talk about white privilege as what it is: a real thing that exists. A fact.
But people still find a way to tell me that they don’t believe in white privilege, even though I never asked. Even though I don’t give them the option of “not believing.” Typically, I respond to this by providing them with what I think is comprehensible evidence. I send them links to articles detailing cases where black people are incarcerated at much higher rates than white people and studies showing that “white-sounding” names receive 50% more callbacks for job interviews that “black-sounding” names. I ask them to watch this video.
But none of that works. So I decided to try a new approach.
Imagine this: you and your friend Jill go out for ice cream. You order mint chocolate chip (AKA the best ice cream flavor on the face of the planet) and Jill orders salted caramel crunch. You sit down together on a bench outside the ice cream shop to eat your ice cream.
You both take your first bite of ice cream.
JILL: “Oh my goodness…I don’t like this at all. It’s disgusting!”
YOU: “No it’s not, Jill. Your flavor is delicious.”
JILL: “Oh…you’ve had the salted caramel crunch before?”
YOU: “No. But it looks good. So it must be good.”
JILL: “I’m telling you that it’s not good.”
YOU: “It’s refreshingly minty, and the dark chocolate pairs really well with the flavor of the ice cream.”
JILL: “Um, I think you’re talking about your ice cream now. I’m sure yours is good. But mine is not good.”
YOU: “Sure it is. I think you’re making shit up.”
JILL: “I’m not! It’s way too salty. There’s hardly any caramel in here. And look, I just found a hair in it!”
YOU: “DAMMIT JILL, SHUT UP AND EAT YOUR DELICIOUS ICE CREAM.”
You never actually tried Jill’s ice cream. For all you know, it could taste like ass. But you have no way of knowing for sure, because you never actually tasted it – you just looked at it from where you were sitting.
This is a grossly over-simplified anecdote that explains what it’s like to be a white person telling a black person that white privilege isn’t real.
I’m a white woman. I don’t know what the hell it’s like to be black. So simple logic would tell you that I can’t tell a black person that their life is easy or hard, because I’m not black.
However, as a white person, I can also analyze the world around me. I can make observations. So that’s what I do. Here are some of those observations:
- Wow, a lot of black people are dying.
- Black people get paid less than white people for the same quality of work? Damn, that’s messed up.
- Hmm…black people seem to be getting thrown in jail a lot more frequently than white people.
- White people are more likely to go to college.
- Black kids face much harsher punishments in school than white kids.
- White people don’t get called “thugs” or “angry” just for being normal human beings…but black people do.
The list goes on.
So I’ve read a lot of articles and done some research, and I see that there are injustices in the world. And I can see that I, as a white person, have it better than a black person (or anybody who’s not white) would. I can say that because I am a white person, and I know what it’s like to be a white person. It’s easy being a white person. I know that because I am one.
I know that life isn’t “easy” for anyone, but being white is about as good as it gets.
There are things black people (and anyone who’s not white, for that matter) have to deal with on a daily basis that I frankly didn’t even know existed until recently.
But as a white person, telling a person of a different race or ethnicity that their life isn’t any different than mine is a little bit like telling Jill to shut up and eat her delicious ice cream. You’ve never tried the damn ice cream, so how would you know what it tastes like?
Please don’t misunderstand me here: I’m not writing this post to speak for people of color. I’m not writing this post to appear as if I’m somehow the only white person on the planet who is immune to inherent racism (because I know I’m not). I’m not trying to rack up some good karma for the week or check off a box for my daily good deed by writing this post. I’m attempting to change my ways – for good. Because I realize that as a white person, I’ve gotten away with not talking about or thinking about race for such a long time, and I want to change that.
I know that I’m still learning and evolving, so not everything I say is going to be accurate or successful. But it’s a process.
So what I’m saying is this: You may never get to taste Jill’s ice cream cone, but when she tells you she found a hair in it, listen to her. When she insists that the taste of it makes her sick, try to understand why. Ask her questions about it. But don’t you dare tell her to suck it up and just keep eating it.
Here are some resources I’ve been using in light of recent events: