I’m sure that at some point in your life, you’ve heard the term “white privilege” being used, especially in the last little while. It might have been from a person you just met, from a professor in one of your classes, or from social media. It’s a term I’ve heard a lot and one that’s always looming in the back of my mind, no matter where I go or what I’m doing.
In a nutshell, “White privilege (or white skin privilege) is a term for societal privileges that benefit people identified as white in Western countries, beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances.” (source: wikipedia) White being Caucasian.
Before I go on any further, I should mention that I decided to write this post in light of the recent events happening in the United States and sadly, has also started to happen in Canada. I should also mention that I am a white woman and not a visible minority. Here are my thoughts on white privilege.
White Privilege — yes, it’s real. And honestly, it’s so stupid.
Most (not all) white people will likely tell you that white privilege isn’t a thing because, hey, they’re not racist, or they don’t judge people based on skin colour, they themselves never feel more privileged, or (some really nasty white people might say) well, the black/Asian/Spanish family gets help from the government and they don’t, so clearly they’re the one suffering here. I’ve actually heard someone say this last point before and it was disgusting.
Maybe I’m living in la la land (not the movie), but why does skin colour even matter?! Because a bunch of years ago some old white guy in Europe decided that he’s better than the black man he forced to be his slave? What made that old white guy decide that he’s better than someone else in the first place, you might ask?
I’ve actually heard about a theory that white skin was originally considered better because the lighter your skin was, the more likely it was that you had the luxury of staying indoors for work or leisure, while people who needed to work to make money or grow food, worked outdoors, therefore got more sunlight and ended up with darker skin. This sounds like a case of Vitamin D deficiency, if you ask me. Maybe those idiot white people were so deficient in Vitamin D that they got this insane idea that they’re better than everyone else. Who knows.
So years go by, and white people are still considered the cream of the crop (pun not intended), but some refuse to acknowledge this privilege. Why?
I think part of the problem is that most people are very self-involved and they don’t always notice what’s going on around them. Sure, they may notice someone spewing racial slurs at another individual, but they won’t always notice that the waiter turns to them first to take their order when they’re out with a group of, let’s say, Asian friends.
And here’s where my realization of my own white privilege begins. I was completely oblivious of my own privilege and happy to know that I was not racist and therefore, that made everything ok. It wasn’t until I met Emily and we started dating that she mentioned to me that when we went to restaurants, the waiter would ask for my order first, probably about 90% of the time. Or that if I walked on the wrong (that is, left side) of the sidewalk and Emily was walking on the right, people would move out of my way and get into hers, even though I was in the wrong. There was even one time that we went grocery shopping and it was pretty clear that we were together and I was busy packing the groceries, while Emily was standing in front of the cashier, holding the credit card. Rather than tell Emily the total and ask how she’d be paying, the cashier turned to me to ask me questions.
I now notice these instances of white privilege all the time. And they happen more frequently than you’d think. I think it’s safe to say that they happen more often than not when we do go out to run errands or go out for dinner. When either of us tells people about these occurrences, most people say, “no way. That doesn’t happen. There’s just no way. Maybe you misinterpreted.” Well, there is a way since it happens all the time and it’s hard to misinterpret, because, well, it happens all the time.
It’s time white people wake up and realize their own privilege. Acknowledging it is, I think, the first step towards getting rid of white privilege. If all white people noticed that we actually get special treatment most of the time, for no reason other than the colour of our skin, maybe we could all speak up and speak out about how stupid and crazy white privilege is and see it slowly diminish. If every person chooses to make a change, we’ll all be making change together.