Privileged and white? What’s next?

What’s bugging me about white privilege?

I can choose to ignore and be disinterested in race issues if I want.

This bothers me. So many people (white people) will say ‘This is so boring’, or ‘I don’t care about race stuff,’ or ‘Everybody’s equal, it’s as simple as that’.

No-one else has that luxury because racism rears its ugly head multiple times every day for persons of colour. That’s the majority of people in the world.

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Photo credit to: The All-Nite Images via Flickr on a Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 2.0

Everybody isn’t equal. They should be, but they’re not.

They’re not, because all these disinterested, well-meaning, relatively rich white people sit around doing nothing, accessing white privilege, and denying it exists.

Instead of dealing with it, people step back or put up barriers. They say ‘there’s no such thing as white privilege’. ‘I’m into equal opportunities’. ‘I’m white and poor and everything’s shit for me, who cares about anyone else?’

What white privilege?!

Need proof that white privilege exists?

Read this essay by Peggy McIntosh: Unpacking the invisible knapsack, or if you don’t have time, just skip to the numbered list.

Draw parallels between her life and yours. Are any of her statements true for you? With every statement she makes, the opposite is frequently true for a person of colour.

White privilege is systemic – at the core of everything we do – and that’s why you don’t know about it already (if you don’t). It’s hidden behind ‘the right way to do things’, ‘the way it’s always been’, and ‘there are more white people than black in this country, so it’s not commercially viable’.

Are there other privileges to contend with?

Sure there are! There are the privileges of the rich, of men, of heterosexuals, of married people, and the able-bodied – and these are just a few examples. Just because I’m (relatively) white and relatively privileged, doesn’t mean I get to state all the labels and decide who’s privileged and who’s not. Anyone can think about it for themselves. Most replies will be truthful.

At the core of modern society is a group of rich white men. Around that group are others, who have relative privilege, but whom also identify with a marginalised group. So, for example, white women, black men, gay white men. Around the outside of all these groups are those who identify with mainly marginalised groups. Black women, gay black men, disabled gay single mothers …

The problem isn’t that there are all these groups in the world who ‘suddenly’ need their rights to be respected.

It’s that those who are advantaged must let go of some of their power to enable the rights of all others.

Can we create a no-privilege system?

If the way we did everything was different. If no privileges existed for men, rich people, white, able-bodied, heterosexual people (and the list goes on) … Would that work?

• If laws were used fairly and those delivering them didn’t discriminate;
• if companies employed people on the basis of ability and skills and desire to do the job only;
• if access to education and health care was free at the point of delivery;
• if fashion and beauty from all cultures were given value across all platforms;
• if high streets and town centres were filled with independent shops and facilities, instead of a hegemonic, faceless, commercialised version of white culture.

If politicians didn’t simplistically equate worth with an expensive suit, maybe the world would be a better place for everyone.

Racists

You don’t know what life will be like without your privileges?

Unless you belong to the relatively small group of rich white men, you’ll definitely feel some benefit from changing the world in this way. Even if you’re a white person who lives in a mainly white area.

Besides, there’s another point: this isn’t about your benefits. It’s about enabling others’. It won’t hurt to to give them up – or to hold on to them, and that’s why it’s so difficult to get white people to consider letting go.

Truly altruistic acts come from the heart, because they have no benefit to the giver. It isn’t possible to get someone to be altruistic – when you’re persuading someone to buy, they need to see what’s in it for them.

But altruism has its own benefits:

Think about driving, and the indicator/signal light. That light is used a lot less than it should be, because it’s seen as helping others. Those people who don’t use their indicators properly don’t realise that it helps them as well, not just other road users.

Indicators on a motorway mean someone wants to move into a different lane. Other road users can then choose to back off, speed up, or change lanes … or they might stay where they are. If you don’t indicate, they’ll stay where they are, maybe forcing you to make a dangerous lane change. And we all know where that kind of road behaviour can lead.

Your signals (or not) affect other people’s abilities to make choices. It looks like altruism, but has real significance for everyone including you.

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How can white privilege be challenged?

I am not a social commentator, a social scientist of any kind, or even an internet feminist. I’m just someone who thinks occasionally. Usually after the fact.

I’ve battled with this article for three nights now as some of the shell of my understanding has broken. The hardest part is how to hand back privileged power;  how to return the advantages.

I have no clear idea.

The only thing I know is that change can’t be constructed within the system. Change isn’t about infiltrating the dominant group and trying to make things better for our own identified groups; it’s about doing everything differently. The only place to start is within you.

Peggy McIntosh wrote:

To redesign social systems, we need first to acknowledge their colossal unseen dimensions. The silences and denials surrounding privilege are the key political tool here. They keep the thinking about equality or equity incomplete, protecting unearned advantage and conferred dominance by making these taboo subjects.

We have to learn to think about privilege with our eyes wide open, and lose the defensiveness. Part of that learning has to be talked through, otherwise how will word get out?

Explaining something always helps you learn it better, but talking about racism is hard. That’s why it’s the elephant in the room. If you can’t see white privilege, you’ll only see racism on a very one-dimensional plane.

What changes can you make?

Change starts at the bottom, inside individuals. That gives you the power to change the way the world works, any way that is authentic to you. You can do positive small things, and in doing so you’ll make bigger changes in your own immediate awareness.

No-one can tell you what you ‘should’ do. It’s up to you how you approach your life.

For my own part, I’ve started small. I’m a writer, interested in language, marketing, and creative contributions, so that’s where I’ve begun my journey into consciousness.

I try to notice when language used in ads, news articles and other internet content (all meant for wide audiences) panders to the privileged, or somehow ignores the existence of people of colour, and even if it speaks to me in some way (because I am pretty privileged) I pledge to boycott the product/brand or otherwise dissociate myself from it.

I’m more critical about popular culture now. Like the movie 47 Ronin where Keanu Reeves is shoehorned into an otherwise authentic Japanese historical tale, as a Japanese-English samurai. It’s a well-known producer trick to use a star to improve the film’s popularity, but it’s a cutthroat practice that undermines the authenticity of the story.

These are only tiny changes but by practicing being aware how privilege systems work, the brain should learn to think like that more readily.

That surely has to be the start of something useful.

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About Sakina Murdock

Greedy, creative, gregarious bird, writing from the bonny northern hills of Cumbria's Eden. There's a lot of soul in this place and the inspiration to create is everywhere, even on the bleakest days. Soulfood. Don't just subsist.
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One Response to Privileged and white? What’s next?

  1. desilef says:

    Tell it, Sakina!

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