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