Many white people get up in arms and offended when the term “white privilege” is tossed. They automatically go to the simplest, most menial definition of the word: economics. They take it as a judgment on what they were and weren’t given in life due to their color or race.
That is such a small part of what that term means.
But I don’t necessarily fault them for having that reaction. English is not always the best language to describe things.
I admire some of the ancient languages that allow for nuance and meaning on a level that English simply cannot.
Is there an aspect of White Privilege that relates to economic advantage? Sure. But it is SOOO MUCH deeper than that.
Saying you benefit from white privilege does in no way take away from any hard work you’ve done to get where you are. It is NOT a judgment on your character or an excuse for your success.
By way of example, Gwyneth Paltrow is a multimillionaire and part of Hollywood royalty. She has way more exotic experiences that I may ever have. But, there are things she has endured, seen, or experienced that I NEVER had to as a man. I have a MALE PRIVILEGE that in some cases even trumps her white and economic privilege. And that goes the same for ALL women.
A couple of months ago I was jogging at night by myself listening to headphones. Ask any woman if she would feel comfortable doing that in ANY neighborhood. Ask a woman how she feels when walking down a street and she hears footsteps behind her. How she feels walking to her car in a parking lot.
There are things I take for granted that I never even have to think twice about because I am a man. THAT is a privilege.
And it’s in the same vein of privilege when we refer to “white privilege.”
I give these examples to express that the kind of privilege I’m talking about is not one of economics, but one on an EXISTENTIAL level. It goes to the very heart of who you ARE and how you feel just BEING.
It’s growing up your whole life and never having to feel you were less than because of the images you saw every day on TV or the movies. Stop for just ONE MINUTE and imagine what it’s like for a black person growing up with images of Buckwheat and Step and Fetch it and other similar caricatures. Jungle-boo images of cartoons. Always being seen as a crack addict or gangster or pimp or thug or any number of negative stereotypes.
Or now, having the POTUS refer to countries with dark people as “shit holes.”
Imagine having the nickname “Buckwheat” as a kid, and not even being educated enough to know that is a fucked up nickname to have. In fact, to be so indoctrinated to the images of black people in media, that you GAVE YOURSELF that nickname because you loved the Little Rascals!
In this country, you never had to grow up seeing images of your kind hanging from a tree with a crowd of people standing around you, smiling, like hunters showing off their kill. Or to have fucking postcards of it made.
Imagine growing up Native American (or First Nations people) and seeing image after image of you on screen, TV, and books as less than human. As a heathen. An animal. As ridiculous and caricatured as jungle-boo images. Imagine being considered so lowly, that your whole race can be considered a fucking mascot (like a dog, or bear).
And let’s not even talk about what effect the attempt to “civilize” aboriginals had. Imagine the decimation of a culture, religion, and way of life. Imagine having your children taken away from you and given to other white families as what happened in the Sixties Scoop in Canada. Is it just by happenstance that the rates of suicide, drug addiction, homelessness, and poverty is exponentially higher among aboriginals in Canada than the descendent of colonizers.
Hmm? In what other country do we see a race that was subjugated for hundreds of years have statistically higher rates of poverty, crime, drug abuse, etc. I wonder if there is a correlation between abject poverty and its affects with hundreds of years of pillaging, rape, abuse, and cultural decimation? For those of you who complain about programs like Affirmative Action and reparations, and why do you have to pay for such programs when you didn’t do anything to those people, what do you think is a good way for a government to make up for robbing an entire race of its dignity and culture? Just asking for a friend.
Imagine being Asian growing up with the David Caradine’s “Kung Fu,” or Mickey Rooney’s Mr. Yunioshi, or even as late as John Hughes’s portrayal of “Long Duck Dong.”
I often hear white people say, “Why do black people always make it about race?” Well, you have the “privilege” of ignorant bliss that you can even think to ask that question. Of never having to be a hyphenate in this country. I like the way famed race relations sociologist and teacher Jane Elliott put: “In America, white is ‘normal,’ everything else is a hyphenate. “
White “privilege” is the privilege of having ZERO fear when you see images on the television of KKK marches. It’s the privilege of not being the victim of voter suppression for years, and taking for granted how easy it is for YOU to vote. It’s the “privilege” of never walking into a store, no matter how well dressed you are, and having the clerk say “Follow them” — like they did to my parents, despite the fact that my step dad was an anesthesiologist who was probably making 100X what that clerk makes. But STILL looked at as a “thug” (or possible thug) because the color of their skin.
It’s the privilege of never having to worry about being jailed (or worse) for looking at a white person the wrong way.
It’s the privilege of never having to stand before your son, in front of another man, and demean yourself to the point where you can’t even look your son in the eye.
It’s the privilege of not fearing for your life when pulled over for a simple traffic violation because some ignorant asshole described a black assailant in some general term (because, you know, we all look alike) and an ill-trained cop that pulls you over (who also grew up, by the way, with all those same images of black thugs) gets nervous or “fears for his/her life,” and shoots first and asks questions later.
It’s the privilege of never having your heartbeat race at the mere sight of a truck with a Confederate flag pull up next to you. (It’s 2018, and black people still have this fear!)
It’s the privilege of never having any self-hate about yourself or your kind because of what you saw growing up on TV. The ability to become a president or own a business or be a prime minister or whatever you want was second nature for you. Of course you could be any of those things. Everyone YOU ever saw on TV, books, or movies who did those things were white.
Now imagine everything I’ve mentioned above, compounded over hundreds of years—a sense of being and self-identity, a portrayal of you to the world—and what affect that might have on a group of people with respect to economics, social status, love, politics, leadership, family, and every other topic that has been in the headlines these past few years.
When white people ask me “Why I seem so angry?” THAT’S PRIVILEGE. Privilege of leading such a life that you are totally oblivious to the reasons I might be angry. It’s completely foreign to you why a black man in America today would be angry. I’m sure they’re thinking, “Why, this is America. The land of the free. The greatest country on earth. You should be happy, like me.”
It must be nice to live in a world where you can feel like that all the time.
What a privilege.
Parts of this story will appear in my upcoming satirical memoir, Dungeons ’n’ Durags, one black nerd’s epic quest of self-discovery, racial identity, and woking up in Trump’s America.