From the blog

Great White Privilege

protest3

 

“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:

What Can White People Do to Help?

11 Things White People Can Do to Be Anti-Racist Allies

11 Things White People Need to Realize About Race

10 Simple Ways White People Can Step Up to Fight Everyday Racism

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

White Privilege Resource Guide: University of San Francisco

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4 comments

  1. That’s awesome Ann! I think you are spot on; as long as we deny the experience that another is having such as the case of skin color bias, we continue to commit a form of violence, so subtle and insidious that we have trouble seeing it in ourselves. The only suggestion I would add is that to separate us by race because of skin color, creates a separation that simply isn’t true. We are one race, humans, and we have divided ourselves and created judgement over skin color bias, one among the many reasons…

    1. Thank you for reading & for your kind words! I try not to separate people by race because you’re right, we’re all human. But as long as we as a society divide one another based on skin color and treat each other differently because of the pigment of our skin, we have to acknowledge racism as the issue that it is. Once we move past discrimination related to race, I hope we can all adapt a sense of colorblindness.

  2. This was very well written. It’s ironic that you chose “white privilege” as a topic. I read today that Hillary claims to be against this yet got Chelsea, fresh from graduating college, a job that pays $900K per year! If anyone ever doubted that while privilege existed, this should remove all doubt.

    I would also submit that blacks do enjoy a form of “black privilege”. For example, in Congress, there’s a Black Caucus. Imagine the outcry if there were a White Caucus. At the U of M, (and maybe other universities; I don’t know), there is a Black Student Union!! What’s that all about? And in the city of Detroit, due to the demographics, blacks have enjoyed the privilege of having, with one exception, 50+ years of black power, from the mayor to city council to school boards. And to combat what has been called a lack of diversity, special accommodations are being made for blacks to attend college with less than stellar GPAs. That seems like a great privilege. (Affirmative Action has never been about affirming anything but I editorialize; sorry).

    Do Hispanics or Asians fall through the cracks when it comes to privilege? What about Indians, who are not white and seem to have a corner on the medical profession? Whites have enjoyed majority status up to now but that percentage is quickly shrinking. If whites become a minority, will privilege change? Who knows?

    Yes, society is racist but much of it is perpetuated by blacks through people like Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and John Conyers. Calling for whites to pay reparations. Forming groups like Black Lives Matter (when in fact only certain lives matter), community activists calling for the demise of law enforcement and the Black Panthers do nothing to eliminate or even reduce racism. I’ve read that blacks claim they can’t be racist by the simple fact that they are black. This is not the way to fix things. I have actually been called a “cracker” by blacks! There’s no give and take when it comes to trying to have a dialog as whites simply get shouted down.

    So yes white privilege exists. Blacks continually bring up slavery and even have a Black History Month to remind us each year. But what they’ve selectively forgotten is that 620,000 white Americans died to end it. My solution? Mint chocolate chip ice cream.

    1. There is absolutely no such thing as “black privilege.” Black student unions and black caucuses exist because black people have been systematically oppressed for so many years that they need these groups in order to even begin working towards being on the same level as white people. And yes, 600,000+ people died in the Civil War to fight to end slavery – but remember: black people couldn’t fight in the war (yes, they were technically “allowed” at one point, but very few actually could). Furthermore, being called a “cracker” is certainly rude, but it doesn’t mean you were anywhere near the position of oppression black people face on a daily basis, both formally and casually.

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