Addressing my privilege as a white woman

Posted in Activism
on November 5, 2017

I am white, cis-gendered, able-bodied, and heterosexual. The only way I could be more privileged in life is if I were male and rich.

I want to talk about privilege.

Discovering my privilege has not been an overnight thing. It’s been a gradual process whereby I’ve tried to educate myself and become more aware of all the ways in which I am privileged. This process has been helped, in no small part, by my membership of a secret feminist Facebook group who are all pretty awesome at being intersectional and calling each other out.

It has taken me a while to realise my privilege as a white person, purely because it was not on my radar and I don’t think of myself as racist. And that, in a nutshell, is the problem of privilege.

Personally, I think that a lot of white people struggle to acknowledge privilege because that would mean admitting that they benefit from a racist system, and that’s unpleasant.

It is hard to come to terms with it, especially if you abhor racism as do I. I’m not saying you are racist btw, just that sometimes you won’t be aware of your own privilege in this world. I’m not arrogant enough to believe I’ve fully realised it even now, because there is always more to learn.

 

A while back, I saw a video shared on Facebook wherein Dr. Joy DeGruy shares her experience of a trip to the supermarket with her sister who is mixed race but ‘appears’ white. She talks about how she and her sister were treated differently by the cashier, how her young daughter instantly noticed and became visibly upset, and how she felt that she had to second guess all the drama and decide to choose her battles. She explains how her sister stepped in and used her position as someone who looks white to influence the opinions and actions of the white people around her.

Now then, I can understand this from a feminist point of view, in the sense that I’ve been in situations where I felt I should say something about an injustice but I didn’t want to be the ‘angry feminist’. I can also imagine the response in those situations if a man had chosen to step in to my defense.

Wrong is wrong and, of course, it shouldn’t matter who points that out, but to pretend that this is the case is to ignore the problem and refuse responsibility.

Whether you consider yourself racist or not, you have a responsibility to address the problem and challenge others. In the same way that #NotAllMen is bullshit, you cannot ignore racism just because you feel you don’t actively contribute to its existence. In the same way that men might not have a clue that they’re undermining you by mansplaining or wolf-whistling, you as a white person may have no clue about the impact your words, actions, or non-action can have.

Racism is so completely internalised in our society, you probably aren’t even aware of it half of the time.

 

I read Jasmine’s post about growing up with modern racism. Reading it made me tear up. It terrifies me to imagine a young person beginning to realise how the world is going to be for them because of the melanin in their skin. Pigment.

Put it another way. Imagine if you knew you’d have to work harder, hear the word ‘no’ more often, wonder if every dismissal was for the reason they said it was; if you were denied opportunities, if your actions were scrutinised and your cheques assumed bad; if people made comments, and if you couldn’t find makeup to suit, all because your eyes were green instead of brown? That’s nonsensical, right?

It disgusts me to think that there are children, even now, coming to that realisation. That parents have to find the words to explain.

By writing this post, I’m basically asking for help. I want to know what I can do to make things better. How can I use my privilege to change things for people who are not as privileged as am I?

I’m so very conscious of being offensive, because I’m aware that, just because my intent is not to offend but to support, that in itself may come across in the wrong way and it is not my decision how my message is received by others. I’m scared that my words might, however unintentionally, belittle or ignore the experiences of someone else.

I’m aware, even as I write this, that the two links in this post are to the work of people who identify as black, so I’m already ignorant of the experiences of other people of colour. I am no way saying I’m perfect, but I’m also saying that that’s not ok when it comes to issues like racism. It has to be zero tolerance for shit to change. If you’re struggling to find pieces on the experience of POC, ask yourself why that is. Looking at the people I follow on Twitter, they are overwhelmingly white. It is stuff like this that I want to change as part of addressing my privilege.

 

Some things I think we can do are:

 

Ask yourself where the POC are. In any situation, any room you walk into, any collective group of people, or panel show on TV, ask yourself where the POC representation is.

Listen. Listen to the experience of POC. In the same way that I would expect a debate on the pill to be had by only women, I would expect discussions of POC experience to include only POC. Do not interject with your own experience or opinion.

Ask to be corrected. Please, call me out when I say stupid shit. Tell me if I’m doing something wrong.

Speak the fuck up. If you hear a racist joke, even if it’s your 100-year-old grandfather, don’t laugh nervously, don’t excuse yourself from the room awkwardly, and don’t gloss over it. Say something. Force people to address where their prejudice comes from or, at least, make them feel awkward about it.

 

It’s really hard to come to terms with your white privilege, especially if you consider yourself an all-round lovely person. Just don’t be a #notallwhitepeople please!

I’d really love to hear from everyone on this. Please share your comments if you’re realising your own privilege, or if you have ideas on how privilege can be used to make a change? All thoughts welcome.

Thanks for reading x

/
The dangerous myth of the cool girl

9 Comments

  • Jasmine

    This was absolutely brilliant and written so beautifully. You sound like you’re doing an amazing job and honestly reading this made me emotional, you’re a really great example of the change that more people need to take. Thank you so much for writing a post like this I honestly love it so much!
    Jas xx

    November 5, 2017 at 15:52 Reply
    • North

      Thank you so much Jas, what a lovely comment! I was really nervous about how it would be received, but I’m SO glad it’s ok! xx

      November 6, 2017 at 08:25 Reply
  • Emily

    I really love this. I have very similar thoughts on this (as a white woman) and I haven’t been able to put it into words like you did. Thank you for this

    November 5, 2017 at 21:02 Reply
    • North

      Thank you for reading Emily, I appreciate it. And I’m also really glad you agree! It’s a difficult thing to talk about and I was worried about how it would come across, but it seems to be ok 🙂

      Thanks again! x

      November 6, 2017 at 08:28 Reply
  • Laura

    Very well written lovely – we have a lot of the same thoughts. I wrote a piece a little while ago acknowledging how being white and coming from a privileged background made travelling & living abroad so much easier for me. Since then I’ve been taking steps to follow more WOC on Twitter and Instagram and making a choice to prioritise reading and sharing their blogs and articles over other white bloggers. Because I’m like you – as soon as I realised how white my circle was I was horrified and desperate to fix it! I’m writing a piece at the moment about being a better feminist, and I touch on some of these issues as well. It’s hard to write about and it’s hard to acknowledge, so well done. xx

    November 6, 2017 at 13:34 Reply
    • North

      Thank you so much, Laura, for your lovely and thoughtful comment. It’s so nice to find people with similar views. I’m going to find that piece on travelling and I’m already looking forward to the feminist one! I love posts like that.
      It is a really weird thing to realise about yourself but, once you do, you see it everywhere.
      Thank you again for taking the time to read and comment. xx

      November 6, 2017 at 15:28 Reply
  • Smaller Bloggers & Youtubers that are Killing it Right Now

    […] I was incredibly happy with as that was the goal.  However, she then wrote a response post about addressing her privilege as a white woman and honestly it was so amazing.  As a black girl, I can obviously only see racism from one […]

    December 19, 2017 at 09:14 Reply
  • Michael Rochelle

    Jasmine mentioned your blog and this post in particular in her “Smaller Bloggers & Youtubers That Are Killing It Right Now” post and I have to say that your piece is an interesting perspective that requires attention. The discussion of privilege is often from the perspective of people who think that those who have privilege obviously know and understand the circumstances from which they benefit. It’s good to remember that it may not exactly be that way for everyone. People’s and perspectives are shaped by a whole host of experiences, so no one can assume that they understand what anyone else’s intentions are or what their experiences have been.
    Great post! Just having the discussion and being open to other perspectives is helpful!

    December 23, 2017 at 20:12 Reply
    • North

      Hey, thanks so much for visiting and for your comment.

      I agree and, of course, everyone’s perspective on absolutely anything in life is shaped by their experience and knowledge. And it isn’t possible for anyone to know, really, what the intention behind something is, unless that person shares it. I do also think, though, that even with the best of intentions, something can still be offensive and/or wrong.

      For instance, I know a lot of guys who would hate to think they’d done or said anything sexist, but just because they don’t mean to be, doesn’t mean they’re not. I’m just really aware of that myself, that even though my intention is never to upset or offend anyone, it isn’t my decision how my message is received, if that makes sense!
      Also, just because someone might be privileged in one sense, doesn’t mean that they’re privileged full stop. I think that’s something a lot of people have trouble with.

      Thank you again for your insightful comment, I appreciate you taking the time to do that. And, again, I agree with what you said about being open to other perspectives, and it’s 100% a discussion we can all have!

      December 24, 2017 at 17:07 Reply

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