On ‘White Privilege’

May 21, 2014

Here is my reply to this post stating that we should stop using the term ‘white privilege’:

I think I get what the diarist is trying to convey, though I disagree. I can understand why whites, especially white males, get defensive when confronted with the term ‘white privilege’. I used to as well. After all, I came from a pretty piss poor background and had to work my butt off to get what I have. So I never felt ‘privileged’.

As I have grown older and had time to really reflect on my early years, several things have occurred to me. The big one being that I was privileged, I just didn’t recognize it at the time. I ran around with a pretty rough crowd, which led to numerous confrontations with the police. And magically we never got arrested. That magical part comes from my being white. There are times I can look back and see where a person of color would not have been let go. Hell, they would more likely than not have had to fear for their life.

The times I was followed in stores were times I should have been. We were generally up to no good and didn’t do a very good job of hiding the fact. The store employees weren’t being assholes. They were doing their job, trying to stop us from stealing.

I did get in a couple of fights where I was attacked for being white. As I see it now the guys who started them where targeting me for my race, but not as acts of racism. They were pissed off black youths, often living in impossible situations, who were lashing out against the people who they saw as oppressing them, white people, and I was a target of convenience. Hell yes they knew full well they were getting the short end of the stick and had little if any recourse. So getting a few licks in on a white kid gave them some kind of outlet. I don’t agree with their methods, but I can fully understand their frustration. I watched time again as black kids were kicked out of school or arrested for offenses that myself and other white kids were given detention for, if punished at all.

We always said that rich kids go to rehab, poor kids go to jail. I think it’s equally true to say white kids have a better chance of getting into rehab instead of jail, with the opposite being true for black kids.

Sometimes we have to look deeper to see the privilege. Sometimes it’s glaringly obvious. Sometimes it’s subtle. But I think most times we don’t see it at all because we are not looking for it. It’s not something white people necessarily experience in their minds as a ‘positive’. I don’t get free money from the bank (as Eddie Murphy comically assumed in a skit once). But I may very well get a loan that a person of color may not. Sure I still owe the money, but at least I got it in the first place.

But for someone on the other end of the spectrum ‘privilege’ is a direct negative on their life. I can’t ever recall not being able to get a cab. No one ever follows me around stores anymore. No one sees me as threatening when I walk down the road. Cops are generally nice to me, and I often get warnings for speeding over a ticket. If I wasn’t aware that this is not the normal experience for people of color I could claim that I am not privileged. But the opposite is true.

By not being white the person is subject to a plethora of negative experiences and treatment I am not, for no other reason than skin color. I am not aware of this on a daily basis as these experiences do not happen to me. But that does not mean they don’t happen. And I can choose to ignore the existence of this bias because of my skin color. That my friend is the privilege of being white.

There are some really great replies in the original diary. Read the thread if you have the time.

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