What White Privilege is
Last time I talked about what white privilege is not… now it’s time to talk about what it is.
Acknowledging a problem is always the first step, and for many of us, we are joining a fight that has been fought long before we were born. Unlearning something is always harder than learning something, and seeing something that you’ve been blind to your whole life is difficult, painful even, especially when what you’ve been blind to has hurt so many others.
This topic is about white privilege, but privilege comes in many forms. Able privilege, male privilege, socio-economic privilege, white progressive privilege, etc.
I’m going to be honest. This one was hard to write, and I had a lot of false starts, because in a lot of ways I’m having to reevaluate who I am and where I benefit from privilege and self-reflection isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Also I’m trying to make what I work on sustainable and I dun burned myself out! I’m learning how to take care of myself too, and self-care is important. It’s also a nuanced issue in regards to the BLM movement. As burgeoning activists we have to figure out how to make the fight sustainable and we can’t boost voices and fight if we are too burned out to move.
Guess what, the ability to step back and heal for a bit is privilege. This doesn’t mean you should feel guilty for having that ability, but you need to be aware of what it is and how you can use it to benefit Black lives. Black people have to fight this fight every day, every night, and often with every inch of their lives. What we can do as white allies is step back when we have to, so we can step back into the fight and go harder.
Privilege is the ability to ignore problems because they do not affect you.
Black person was arrested under a false charge and spent the rest of his innocent life in prison? Do you think this doesn’t affect you? Privilege is also a liar, because it lets us believe that we can’t be effected by things like a corrupt prison system. The dragnet of corruption always goes after the most vulnerable first. The most vulnerable in our society are also the most targeted and Black people are easy targets because white privilege allows us to ignore their problems.
Ava Duvernay’s documentary 13th on Netflix is a really good study of how Black lives have been kept under the target of a prison system that took the place of slavery. This is also capitalism run amok. American capitalism needs the slave labor of the prison systems because corporations don’t have to pay them a fair wage, if at all. It’s not just sweatshops in Asian countries, companies use the labor of prisons here in America daily and while many of the big name corporations are getting called out and changing their practices that doesn’t mean smaller companies aren’t still getting away from it.
Privilege is the ability to move on from subjects once your interest has waned.
Real life isn’t a trend, real life isn’t a meme, but because of our society intent on instant gratification the fight for Black lives will become less and less of a thing for white people ready to get back to their lives. The death of Black lives on the regular is very much real life and you can’t treat it like a passing trend. Black people will continue to die with impunity while white people lose interest.
Does this mean you can’t live your life? No. It means you need to be aware. A lot of learning what white privilege is comes down to being extremely aware of how it benefits us. What do you do with that awareness? You use it to maneuver situations around you that are harmful to Black lives, this includes speaking up when your friends are overtly racist, or actively taking a stand for Black lives in your chosen field. You don’t have to change your interests but you need to actively include the wellbeing of Black lives in it.
Privilege is the shield that society gives you from the moment you are born. It is something that we are given because the society that we live in was built to protect and bolster white bodies over those of Black bodies.
Black people will be denied employment because of the color of their skin or the way their name sounds. You won’t be denied a job or schooling or a home just because you have white skin. American society has been built to destroy the foundations under Black people’s lives over and over.
White privilege is something that we can’t give up, but it is something we can use. You see it every time a white woman or man calls the cops on a Black person. They are weaponizing their white privilege to be believed over that of a Black person regardless of what that Black person is doing or not doing.
If you’re in a meeting and you hear a Black coworker being ignored or spoken over, speak up and say “Hey she was speaking I want to hear what she said.” There are so many ways to turn the power of white privilege into a sort of super power. I think I saw that in an Instagram post, a Black instagammer was relating white privilege Superman and how Superman doesn’t hide from his powers or feel ashamed (don’t @ me about a particular story) but instead he uses his powers to help the people around him. We must turn this power of ours, including the overwhelming volume of people we have as the majority to speak up and act for Black lives. That has to be our super power.
White privilege, especially in our media, allows us to see ourselves represented in all forms of life and entertainment. Most movies, books, stories feature a white (mostly male) character. That is the “standard.” That is a privilege that we get, even though we never asked for it.
This is a big factor for me, especially in my field of writing and storytelling. I believe it is my duty to bring more people of color, especially Black people into the kind of stories I write, not just as side characters, but as main characters with agency and rich lives. This choice doesn’t change anything about the kind of stories I write. By using my privilege as I gain more traction in my writing I can also use my platform to boost Black writers and artists. It’s important to use your privilege in your field to give a platform to those close to and around you.
White Privilege is the ability to be heard, listened to, believed. You must use your voice to boost Black lives, arts, and issues. You must use your voice to call out injustice where you see it. You must use your vote and societal voice to see and hear Black issues and make them known. If you don’t think there’s any way to help the people around you are you really looking hard enough? Are you trying hard enough?
How does white privilege feed into white supremacy?
We have a white supremacist as a president right now. How the fuck do you think he got there? Because every instance of racism he has spoken and acted has been brushed aside because it doesn’t directly affect us, because as a white person he is given the benefit of the doubt, he is allowed to make mistakes because his future’s so bright, because he has weaponized his white privilege, and he clearly has no interest in the health and wellness of Black lives.
I accept that the scope of this post may not cover all of what white privilege is and am open to any corrections or additions.
Questions to consider
-Why is it the standard in media for white characters to take the main role? What stops white authors and media creators from including black main characters?
-In your field what are you doing to use your privilege to boost voices?