White Privilege~A List

White Privilege: a term that makes people uncomfortable and even angry, mainly because we equate the word “privilege” with wealth, an easy life, elite family status, even celebrity.   We get highly offended if someone says we are privileged when we know that we are often working several jobs, living a modest lifestyle, doing without, and scrambling to make ends meet. We may know that our parents and grandparents were laborers, and some were even living in poverty. 

Trust me, I get it.  I’m from blue-collar folks raised in the county suburbs outside of Southeast DC.  Back in the day, I might have fought you over this.  How dare you accuse me of being privileged! 

But that’s not what White Privilege means. In this case “privilege” is an advantage.  A slight pass.  A different set of standards regarding your life in general based on your skin color alone.

It’s often invisible to you.  You may not realize it’s happening.  You may have lived your whole life under the assumption that things are fair and equal. You probably say that you don’t see color.  Everyone is the same to you.  You teach your kids that everyone is the same. And you would be incredibly wrong. 

If you know me then you know that this is a frequent topic on my social media pages and in friend groups.  It’s exhausting explaining this to people who feel they are being accused of something and attacked.  This is not an attack.  But it is the truth.  Seeing it for what it is and accepting that it is happening every day is your responsibility.

The fact is that your life experience as a White person is very different from the experience of Black people. Sometimes it’s a nuance.  Sometimes it smacks you in the face.  But it’s there.  It’s always there.

If your skin is white, you are afforded advantages that other people aren’t.  And most of them are advantages that you aren’t even aware of. 

You didn’t earn them. 

You didn’t work hard for them.

Your parents didn’t work hard for them. 

You were born with them.

Since this is such a difficult concept for people to grasp, I have comprised a list of examples.  This is MY list. This list comes from others’ personal experiences as well as situations that I have witnessed.  It comes from incidents of racism and discrimination that have been recounted to me by friends, family, and colleagues as well as incidents well known in the media. Trust that even though this list might seem long to you, it is only a small sampling of examples.

The idea for this list was inspired by a simple conversation. My friend of over 13 years was going to stay at my house and take care of my dogs while we were away. As I handed him the keys and discussed some random things that he should be aware of with the dogs, he caught me off guard when he asked, “Will your neighbors call the police on me?”. I laughed. He’s met some of my neighbors and my community is super diverse. But he was serious. I asked, “Why would they call the police on you?” I was clueless. He replied, “They might call the police if they see a Black man going in your house or walking your dog.” And as aware of racism as I thought I was, I did not even think about that. It never occurred to me that this could even happen. But this was his reality as a Black man. This was his FIRST thought. And the fact that I NEVER have to think about something like that, that it is never my first thought, is White Privilege.

This is a list of privileges that I have living in my skin.  These are White Privileges.

In my skin…

I can walk through any neighborhood even if I don’t live there, even if I can’t afford to live there, and I will never be questioned about why I’m there.  No one will report me to the police as a “suspicious person walking around.”  No one will question who I am or where I am headed or where I live.  If anyone does question me, it will most likely be friendly and conversational. 

In my skin…

I can park my car anywhere and just sit in it listening to the radio, talking on the phone, eating lunch, or just taking a rest because I am tired.  I can do this in parking lots, in front of businesses, on streets where I don’t live, in front of homes, at parks, at a neighboring school, or even just on the side of the road.  No one will ask what I’m doing there or call the police on me.  My presence is not considered suspicious.  If someone approaches me, it will most likely be to see if I need help.  If the police do approach my car, it will almost always be in a relaxed manner.  They will never approach my car as if my presence is a threat.  There will be no guns drawn and I will not have to get out of the car. I will not be detained.

In my skin…

I can house-sit or pet-sit for someone and never be questioned about my presence in their home or why I am entering it.  The police will not be called on me.  I can do this in any neighborhood, rich, middle class, or lower income.  If I have a key, it’s assumed that I belong there. 

In my skin…

Strangers generally assume that I am friendly and educated and my intentions are good.  No one is afraid to be alone in an elevator with me.  No one clutches their purse and belongings closer when I am near.  No one crosses to the other side of the street when I am walking toward them both alone and with a group of my friends.  No one says I am well-spoken for a white woman. 

In my skin…

I have never been followed around a store by someone who assumes I am going to steal.  I am rarely treated as if I am guilty or a suspect.  Security is never called on me.  Even if I were to accidently walk out of a store with an unpaid item and I am stopped, it would most likely not be treated as a crime.  I could apologize, explain it was a mistake, and return the item, and no one would report me to the police.

In my skin…

If I’m pulled over by the police for a minor traffic infraction, it will almost always be amicable.  I could be polite and cordial or irate, annoyed, and even rude to the officer.  If I smoked, I could refuse to put out my cigarette while talking to the police.  I would not be asked to get out of the car.  Excessive force would not be used on me.  I would not be forcibly pulled out of the car and wrestled to the ground.  I would not be arrested.  I am usually not afraid when a police car pulls up behind me or in front of me.  

In my skin…

My pain level is usually taken seriously by my doctor, surgeon, or hospital staff.  I do not have to exaggerate my condition in order to receive the level of pain medicine that I need and deserve to be comfortable. I can generally trust that I will be treated with respect when I am in the hospital regardless of my income or medical insurance coverage.  I am usually given adequate care by doctors and staff.  Most doctors are willing to listen to my concerns. I usually feel like I am heard.

In my skin…

If I am pregnant or giving birth, I will most likely be given good care regardless of my health insurance, education, or income.  The odds that I will die in childbirth in a hospital are significantly less than they would be if I wasn’t White.  (Black women are between three and four times more likely to die of a pregnancy-related complication than White women. Black women are also twice as likely to suffer a problem so severe that they almost die.)  My husband would most likely be heard and attended to if he were trying to get help for me.

In my skin…

The police never randomly approach me asking for ID.  They don’t ask me where I’m headed, where I live, or if I have any drugs or weapons.  They don’t ask to search my bag.  I have never been detained for no reason. 

In my skin…

I can generally move through an airport and pass through security and customs with no issue even if I make an error on my customs form.  Other than a random bag check, I have never been searched for no apparent reason.     

In my skin…

Growing up, I was exposed to an adequate representation of people who looked like me in TV shows, advertisements, and textbooks. There never had to be a “White version” of anything for me to feel like I was fairly represented or be able to see people who looked like me in my everyday life.       

In my skin…

My natural hair texture is acceptable at work and school.  I’m never asked to cut my hair or remove a style to graduate, play on a sports team, be interviewed and/or hired, or be in an executive position.  In many cases I could even copy a style that is traditionally a Black hairstyle, and it will be considered “cute” or “fun” and still be acceptable even when the same natural style wouldn’t be acceptable for Black people in the same situation.

In my skin…

People generally do not ask to touch my hair or regard my hair like it’s an oddity.  People don’t usually ask me what products I use to get my hair straight or curly.  People don’t ask me how often I wash my hair, if it’s a wig or hairpiece, how I got my hair like that, or bring other people and friends over to ogle or touch it.   

In my skin…

I can openly express my outrage and anger.  My assertiveness and ability to speak up for myself and others is considered an asset and is often admired and respected.  Although as a woman I may be labeled as a “bitch” or “bossy” or “intimidating,” it will not be lumped in with a racial stereotype.  I will never be called an angry White woman.  If I am obnoxious, I might be labeled a “Karen,” but that is not the standard response or assumtion.  I don’t have to tone down my valid anger or reactions so that people don’t feel threatened.

This list is not up for debate. These are facts. I know you are going to ask, “Well, what can we do?” I don’t have an easy solution. But the first step is accepting that your life experience is very different than that of a person who isn’t White. Now that I know what White Privilege is, I am able often able to see when it is happening. I am able to look inside and question my own biases and whether I am contributing to this thought process in any way.  I am still working on this and growing.

But there are things that I CAN do right now.  

I can teach my child how people are often unfairly treated just because of their skin color.  I can make him aware so that he can navigate his life with more sensitivity.  

I can use my privilege to call out unfair situations. I can be witness to and document unfair interactions. I can ask why someone is being treated in an unfair way. I can stand with people fighting for the rights that I already have.

And the most important thing that I can do is LISTEN.  Listen to Black people when they talk about these experiences.  Listen with the intention of understanding, not of responding or having a rebuttal.  Listen without being defensive. 

You can do these things and start making changes within your family and your circles. 

However, you can also read this blog, decide that White Privilege exists or not, and do absolutely nothing. And the fact that you have a choice to ignore racism, to ignore your privilege, to do absolutely nothing, is in itself a privilege.

Luh Y’all,

Janice B.

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