On White Privilege

This post is quite different from my usual blog posts about life, faith, and running personal thoughts. For one of my classes last semester, I made this video on the subject of white privilege. A huge theme of my semester was racism, race issues, and how those play out in everyday life and in humanity over time. So, here is the article I wrote to go with the video and the video itself.

White people in general, in my experience, do not think about what it means to be white. We don’t operate with our race in the front of our minds or even think about it consciously on a daily basis. We don’t see the little advantages that we receive. White people are granted certain privileges simply, and not-so-simply, because we are white. The simple version says that whites are just treated better by society because they are white, and that’s it. The more complex, more realistic version says that American institutions (education, health care, economy, etc.) are set up in such a way that white people have an arguably unintentional advantage over “non-white” people, or people of minority groups, even though I don’t think most whites actually think of themselves as more deserving or inherently better than people of color.

I grew up in the south, in both Alabama and Texas. Moving to Nebraska for college opened my eyes to cultural differences between the South and the Midwest, most notably a relative lack of diversity. I was blatantly aware that most of my interactions were with other white people, which had not always been the case for me growing up. There have been a few uncomfortable moments in groups of friends where “black people” were referred to as a group, not in a particularly offensive way (at least not intentionally), but in a way that definitely made me uncomfortable.

This semester, my classes have opened my eyes to more pervasive and systemic racial issues going on in the United States. (As a white person in the U.S., I had to have my eyes opened to those things.) After learning about white privilege in the classroom and hearing some students and professors comment on white privilege, I was interested in hearing what my friends had to say. I wondered, What do the WASP kids I know think about this idea? Would they be comfortable talking about it? Would they even know what I was talking about? So, I decided to interview a few of them. This video includes some of their responses to several questions that I posed on the subject.

Listening to my friends talk about white privilege and process the concept for themselves helped me process my own thoughts, which have been scattered. It also helped me deal with my own emotions, which have changed from guilt to anger to acceptance to impatience. I agree with what most people said in the end – in their answers to the final question. I asked them because I don’t have the answer myself. I don’t know what to do about white privilege and the role it has in my life and in American society as a whole. But I am encouraged that having these conversations and addressing the issue, even in this small way, is a baby step in the right direction.

Below are the questions and my own responses. If you haven’t yet, please watch the video before reading my answers!

1. How would you define white privilege?
I would define white privilege as the general advantages that white people receive on the basis of race, or factors such as class that have become racialized in our country. This can be intentionally bestowed through discriminatory practices or unintentionally through systemic injustice.

2. Do you see white privilege at work in your own life?
I don’t overtly see its effects in my life on a day-to-day basis. The reason I have come to see it is through the classes I am taking this semester. So, I have definitely been made aware of its effects. I know that it functions in my own life, even when I am unaware of it. The mere fact that I don’t see it and that race is something I never have to think about if I don’t want to is a trace of white privilege.

3. Do you ever think about the fact that you’re white?
Before moving to Nebraska, the only time I ever thought about my whiteness was when learning about slavery, civil rights, and racism in school. I grew up in the South, in more diverse areas, which meant that interacting with people different from me was a daily occurrence and not something to analyze or feel uncomfortable about. I think about my whiteness now when I’m around people who are not white, because it becomes obvious. I think about my whiteness more often in general because I notice the lack of diversity where I live, so I think about the fact that all of my friends in Nebraska are white, and that begins to make me uncomfortable.

4. Do you think about race in your daily life? Are you comfortable talking about race?
I do think about race in my daily life, though I am not  sure in what capacity I tend to think about it. This semester in particular, I am in two classes centered around racial topics, so I am inundated with such information on an every-other-day basis. I am realizing that as a white person, this is the only time I might be forced to think about it, but that people who are not white think about race so much more often.

5. Do you think that white privilege is an urgent problem?
Yes

6. Do you think white privilege will ever NOT be an issue?
Not anytime soon. I think it is possible because I see more young people getting concerned about issues of social justice, and I think that as time goes on and our society does become more diverse, it will be something we are forced to confront, and something that people will have to see is an issue. I have no idea when this might be, but I really hope that white culture does not try to retain its dominance. When I say white culture, I mean that American culture is currently racialized and leans toward whiteness. I believe that it must necessarily change and become more accepting of other cultural values in order to lessen the emphasis on and privilege given to whiteness.

7. How can we address white privilege? How can we raise awareness?
I don’t know. I suppose, since I am aware and concerned, that gives me a responsibility to talk to others about it whenever I have the chance. I think my friends did a good job of expressing my opinion on this question. I think that people have to be personally confronted and moved in order to care about issues enough to want change, and I think that those who are aware should confront people with this issue. This video, in some small way, makes me feel like I am addressing the issue, even if it is just a start.

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2 thoughts on “On White Privilege

  1. I understand your point of view, but I find it one sided. As a multi-racial person who is considered white, I have some heartburn over what white privilege truly means. I didn’t feel too privileged when I was told (back in the 70’s) that I couldn’t have a job because they needed someone with an Hispanic last name. Nor does privilege come to mind when my child was denied entrance to the college of choice because of the need for more diversity. Sometimes we forget the role that hard work and perseverance plays in our success. I was the first person to graduate from high school in my family, and then went on to college, eventually earning a doctorate. I worked my way through school with no loans, and struggled to complete each stage of the process. I got no handout, although my family was definitely poor. Just being white isn’t enough for success. People with a great deal of money, regardless of race, have more opportunity. That is the real truth. Culture and experience plays a larger role than given credit. These remarks are not intended to be hateful, only to present an alternative view.

    1. I agree, there is much more to the issue of privilege than race. I suppose part of my view is that often (but not always) race is a large component when it comes to socioeconomic status. In my project, I do fail to recognize instances in which some minorities are given preference for diversity’s sake. But I wonder if, without that requirement, they would ever be given preference when equally qualified as a white person. (Maybe that is all personal speculation.) I do agree that my project operates under the assumption of white privilege as a sort of universal North American truth. I don’t necessarily think that whites get hand-outs, per say, but that by nature of being white we are unconsciously more respected and seen and treated as more capable, which often leads to privileged consequences. I wish I’d had time to delve into various other aspects more, or been able to make the complexity of the topic clearer. With this project, there was one primary focus, and I understand that it sort of allows one aspect to come out as the ultimate cause. Money is a major factor as well, so thank you for bringing that up. I appreciate your comment!

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