I am white and quite honestly I am nowhere near proud of it. When I saw the hashtag #Unitetheright trending, I naturally felt heartbroken, nauseated and outraged. After a necessary venting session on Twitter, I could not help but wonder: how in the world are white people not aware of their white privilege?
There is no easy way to answer that question. If you are white and unaware of your white privilege, this read won’t be comfortable. Rest assured it won’t be easy for me either not to turn into a rampage what is meant to be a constructive piece.
Before coming back to the sad events of Charlottesville, let’s remind ourselves necessary facts about white privilege.
Empathy as an appetizer. Obviously.
The inability to recognize white privilege is a lack of empathy. An article in Times magazine entitled “Why I’ll Never Apologize for My White Male Privilege” perfectly illustrates this idea.
In this piece, the author condemns the ones that tell him to check his privilege namely “for diminishing everything I have personally accomplished, all the hard work I have done in my life, and for ascribing all the fruit I reap not to the seeds I sow but to some invisible patron saint of white maleness who places it out for me before I even arrive.”
After extensively describing the immigration hardship of his grandparents and the education he received, he concludes by saying “Behind every success, large or small, there is a story, and it isn’t always told by sex or skin color. My appearance certainly doesn’t tell the whole story, and to assume that it does and that I should apologize for it is insulting.”
The issue with white privilege is that it cannot be properly grasped from a white perspective. With empathy, you understand that no matter how bad you have it now, no matter the struggles you faced, no matter your accomplishments, a person of color, in your exact same position, would experience or would have experienced more hardship than you. Period.
The truth is that if you are white, you never faced discrimination because of the way you look, or because of who you are as a person and this is called white privilege. The well documented history of racial profiling of African American stars is here to remind us of this reality.
History and common sense as a second course.
Dear white people, please acknowledge that in history, the color of your skin never casted you as a second-class citizen. Your nationality, your religion, your gender, your sexual orientation or your social status may have, but not the color of your skin. This is white privilege 1o1. Louis CK brilliantly explains it in this piece about the white experience. If you are white, you could hypothetically hop in a time machine and not be worried about the way you would be treated at arrival. People of color simply cannot say the same.
After empathy, common sense must be applied to grasp white privilege properly. Luckily, plenty of useful content giving concrete examples of what white privilege looks like is available from both black and white point of views.
Here are 3 examples from the essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy Macintosh.
- I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
- When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
- I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
Here are 3 examples from the Buzzfeed article, “17 Deplorable Examples Of White Privilege” by Michael Blackmon.
White privilege means you can be articulate and well spoken without people being “surprised.”
White privilege allows you to speak on any particular subject without being the sole representative for your entire race.
Having white privilege means people will never label you a terrorist.
This last example is perfect transition to the ultimate display of white privilege that occurred following the Charlottesville events.
Charlottesville as the climax of white privilege.
I was desperately waiting for Donald Trump to make a statement to denounce the shameful #Unitetheright rally and the white supremacists who committed acts of domestic terrorism. After all, he’s always been keen to be utterly specific to denounce what he would consider a threat to this country: “the Mexicans.” “the Muslims,” “the Radical Islamic terrorists.” Not surprisingly, he did not. And yes this is white privilege.
The issue is that white privilege is reaching another level in the United States, and it’s called white supremacy.
White privilege today is:
- Not condemning acts of domestic terrorism when perpetrated by white people.
- Being able to walk away from reporters who ask you to publicly condemn white nationalists.
- Being able to keep founding member of the board of Breitbart News Steve Bannon as part of the United States government.
- Being called out by former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke for not acknowledging white nationalists as a prominent part of your voter base.
Yes dear white people, the climax of white privilege is having a president dragging his feet to condemn racism. It took Donald Trump two entire days and an incredible of amount of public pressure to finally condemn Charlottesville racism. Then he erased his statement by doubling down on his bigotry the very next day. Make no mistakes, the climax of white privilege is having a white supremacist as the “leader of the free world” in 2017.
That may make you sad or angry but this is the truth: and our inability to face this reality won’t allow us to move forward as one as a society.
As a reminder, white supremacy is a racist ideology based upon the belief that white people are superior in many ways to people of other races and that therefore white people should be dominant over other races.
Also as a reminder this is what interns at Capitol Hill look like today.
As white people, it is our responsibility to be advocates of diversity and it starts by acknowledging white privilege. Don’t get defensive about it. Don’t brush it off. Be the empathetic ally multicultural America desperately needs more than ever.