In this Episode
- I’m sharing the definition of white privilege
- Examples of what privilege looks like in everyday culture
- How to use your white privilege for good
Listen to the podcast here:
What Is White Privilege
Privilege is an uncomfortable thing to acknowledge, confront and unpack. The hardest privilege to address seems to be white privilege. The hard truth is that if you have white skin, you have white privilege.
The bad news I guess is that you can’t change that. It’s a fact that exists, whether you like it or not, acknowledge it or not, do something about it or not.
The good news is that we can use our white privilege for good, which is exactly what we’re going to talk about. Ready? Let’s get started.
Hello. It has been a year, am I right? 2020 feels like it’s got us by the throat and it just will not let go. I was thinking recently about an astrologer that I met with earlier this year that said that 2020 would be a time of great social upheaval, which is a little scary at the time obviously, very apt.
She also said that we’d see old systems crumbling so that new ones could be built. We’re over halfway through the year here, whether you believe in astrology, psychics or not, I feel like her reading was pretty spot on. Promises for change have been handed down.
The police will pledge to defund the police, which I still don’t really know what that means. Cities are vowing to cut police budgets and invest in communities, mental health and social work instead.
I will be over here waiting to see who falls through and who’s talking the talk, waiting until this all blows over. It does feel a little bit like we are at least moving in the direction of progress.
As these changes and calls to action, protests and riots have sparked so much change already, what I hope is a genuine desire to do and be better, and a lot of transformation in my fellow white women.
One of the biggest things that I’ve seen popping up around all this is conversations about white privilege. I’m realizing how many white women especially aren’t aware that we have white privilege. In some cases, some people aren’t aware that white privilege exists at all.
That is what I want to define, unpack and examine is understanding white privilege and then working through the shame and the guilt that might come up from waking up to your privilege are the first steps in being able to use your white privilege to help instead of hurt.
What is white privilege? A lot of people, myself included, when I first learned about this word is we hear the word, privilege, and we think that it only applies to us if our life has been easy. You have the silver spoon crowd and you think, “If I’ve struggled or whatever, then this doesn’t apply to me.”
That’s not the case. When I was first introduced to this term in 2015, I balked hard. I got mad. My life hasn’t been easy. I’ve suffered emotional abuse, assaults, depression, anxiety, fat bias, my own self-loathing, all these things. I scoffed at privilege.
It was another thing that somebody was using to try to make me feel bad about being white, which is a thing that I can’t control.
That was my thought process back then, which is cringe-worthy to me now. Truthfully, the fact that I thought this way only a few years ago is actually really, really helpful to me now in terms of having these conversations with other people.
I still remember so clearly what it was like to think those things and believe those things. Now, I can use that information really to guide how I communicate with other people.
Someone explained to me that white privilege doesn’t mean my life has always been easy. It just means that the color of my skin hasn’t been making it harder.White privilege doesn't mean your life has always been easy. It just means that the color of your skin hasn't been making it harder. Click To Tweet
This is the definition that I see popping up all around the internet at this point. I love this definition because it sums it all up in the best way possible. There are of course other types of privilege.
Once you wake up to white privilege, you’re like, “There’s also a cis privilege, if you’re not transgender. There’s also a thin privilege.” Thin privilege doesn’t mean you’ve never been bullied. A lot of people have experienced bullying, especially women and girls.
It just means that your weight is making it harder to receive medical care, get jobs or get life insurance and things like that. We also have male and Christian privilege, especially in the United States, hetero privilege, ableist privilege. The list can go on and on.
If the society is built for you, if you really boil it all the way down, it really is built for white people, white men especially, then you have the privilege. This definition applies to all of these cases.
Having white male privilege doesn’t mean that your life has always been easy. It just means that being white and being a male has not made it harder.
What does white privilege look like? I think once people hear the term, white privilege, and they get a definition, they’re like, “Okay, how does that show up in the world?”
White privilege is when Brock Turner is actively caught raping an unconscious woman and gets three months in jail, while Albert Wilson is sentenced to twelve years and a lifetime of probation for kissing a seventeen-year-old in a bar who told him she was over 21.
Brock is white. Albert is not. Brock throughout his entire trial, they keep talking about how he was a swimming star and all this other stuff about him.
His dad talks to the judge and is like, “Why should he be punished for a lifetime for ‘twenty minutes of action?’” Whereas twelve years in prison and a lifetime of probation for kissing a seventeen-year-old in a bar where she should have been 21 anyways.
White privilege is when white men are arrested and they use nice photos of him in the media, or as in the case of Brock Turner, they used old school pictures of him.
When black men are arrested, they use either mugshots from previous arrests because we have to parade out any past criminal history, or the mugshot from the arrest for the thing that they’re being charged with.
White privilege is when white people can now profit off the selling of marijuana, which has put black and brown people in jail for decades. Many of them are still in jail as we speak, even though white people have been making a hefty profit off of the legalization of marijuana for a while.
It’s when white shooters are called troubled or disturbed. You see that one a lot too. I think the guy that went in and shot at the church in South Carolina, definitely a hate crime. They called him disturbed. They didn’t call him a terrorist, but they call brown shooters terrorists.
When white people commit crimes, they’re talked about in terms of making one bad decision or having had a momentary lapse of judgment, whether or not they have a history of bad acts, but there’s always, always, always a storyline or a possibility of redemption for white criminals.
Whereas black people who commit crimes as I said, their entire criminal history put on display as if that alone is a justification for their sentence, for their punishment or their death.
I saw a ton of this during George Floyd. You see this all the time but the most recent one in my memory is George Floyd. People were talking about how he’s a criminal. He was suspected of using a fraudulent bill or whatever.White privilege means not having your hairstyle or your cultural dress be seen as unprofessional or worn as a Halloween costume. Click To Tweet
Using a fraudulent bill at a gas station or a convenience store or wherever is not a death sentence. That’s not something that should result in anyone’s death.
White privilege again is seeing a police officer not feeling afraid. It’s seeing your race widely represented in books, movies, TV shows and history. It’s being able to easily buy your children, dolls that look like them. It’s opening up a box of crayons and finding that the flesh-colored crayon looks like you.
It’s buying a box of band-aids and knowing that it will match your skin tone fairly well. It’s being able to check out of watching or reading the news and not seeing any noticeable difference in your life. This one is super important.
This is the one that most people don’t realize is a privilege. I like to bring it up every time I see somebody say this. Being able to say, “The world is negative. I’m going to stop reading the news for a while,” is a privilege.
I said this way back in the 2016 election, “If I just stop watching the news and stop listening to all the things happening and going on with Donald Trump, would my life noticeably be different?” No, of course not.
I’m a white woman. I’m fairly well-off. My life would not noticeably change. There isn’t a single policy at this point that is immediately affecting my life.
The same cannot be said for people of color because there have been many, many policies enacted over the last four years that have negatively impacted them almost immediately.
Being able to say, “I’m just going to not watch the news,” and know that you’re not going to miss out on anything is in of itself privilege.
It’s not being generalized or stereotyped because of my skin color. It’s not being seen as angry if I have emotion. It’s not being followed around a mall or a store because someone thinks you might steal something.
White privilege means not having your hairstyle or your cultural dress be seen as unprofessional or worn as a Halloween costume. Typically, you’re not having a white culture scene as Halloween costume, like something to dress up as for a night to pretend to be something else.
White privilege is just really born from a very long history of systemic racism, slavery, oppression and colonization. We have created this system by keeping people of color down and making sure that we’re the ones on top.
We have created a system of white privilege and white supremacy, but a white privilege because that’s what we’re talking about now. We personally didn’t create this system. I didn’t sit down and go, “I’m just going to make sure that I’m the one that’s always on top.”
This is decades, centuries in the making, but we can do something with the system that we have inherited that is constructive and that creates change. That’s what we’re going to talk about is how we can use our white privilege to help because you can.
You can use this thing that you have no control over, that you didn’t create, that just happens to you. You can use that to do something about the shit that’s going on in the world. As a white person, you typically are listened to more than people of color.
If you’re in a group of women, and we’re going to use this example of solely a group of women just to eliminate the male element for simplicity, and a white woman speaks up, she’s more likely to be listened to and taken seriously than a woman of color.
Odds are that when you walk into a room, people will automatically look to you as a person of authority over women of color without even realizing it. This is what a microaggression is. This is what unconscious bias is.You need to give credit for the work of people of color. Don't assume the responsibility that you created something when you didn't. Click To Tweet
It’s that you see two women in a room, you’ll automatically assume that the white woman is more experienced or the authority figure over the black woman. This is what white privilege is, which means that you can use your white privilege to hold space and make room for black and brown people.
Your awareness is the opportunity to elevate those marginalized voices, especially marginalized voices that your community may not naturally have access to or think to include.
If you are going to a talk and you realize that there’s only one black woman on the panel for your city or whatever, and she’s there to talk about diversity and inclusion, you can reach out and you can say, “What about this person who’s an indigenous person or whatever?”
You have the opportunity to bring those unconscious biases or maybe in some cases conscious biases to the forefront and say something about it and make us think about it almost. That’s almost what we’re talking about is you’re making it a deal.
You’re making it a big deal because you’re not going to be looked at as angry or making something out of nothing or whatever as someone else. A few more examples are if you’re in the room and someone interrupts a black person or talks over them, you can use your privilege to interrupt.
Take the floor back and throw the conversation back to the person who was originally interrupted something like, “Excuse me, she was making some interesting points. I’d like to hear what she has to say.”
You can step in when you see a police officer harassing a black person. I’ve seen several examples shared of this, including making a big deal of collecting their badge numbers, recording the conversation and texting someone about what’s going on.
You can simply stand there and ask the officers why they’re treating this person one way when they didn’t treat you that way and you’re both standing right there. You can speak up when you hear someone say something racist, when you witness a microaggression or when discrimination happens.
Equally, you can apologize if you ever do those things. This is just baked into who you are because of the culture that you’ve grown up in. Everyone has unconscious biases because of how we were raised. I have unconscious biases for sure.
When I catch myself on that split second, I always am willing to acknowledge that I just fucked up and then do something differently. You have to be willing to do that as well. You need to give credit for the work and emotional labor of people of color.
Don’t assume the responsibility that you created something when you didn’t. If you were inspired by a person of color, if you took an idea from, if you collaborated with, you need to make sure that person’s emotional labor and expertise is acknowledged.
You need to recognize when you are centering yourself by making the issue or the topic about you and then be able to step back, learn from and amplify voices of color.
This is common, especially when you’re super new to this work is to center it around you because you feel shame, you feel guilt and you feel uncomfortable when you realize these things at first. The natural human reaction is to go, “I feel terrible. I’m sorry.”
These kinds of things start coming out of your mouth and you start saying them. I’ve seen a ton of this happened in the last few weeks. The reason that this is not constructive is because you’re just making this about you.
If you’re only talking about how terrible you feel, how sorry you are and how you wish this had never happened, you’re not really helping the situation. You’re just talking about how you feel. It’s okay to process those emotions.
You just don’t need to process those emotions on other people of color. Go process those emotions with your white friends. That’s what I do. I still have some of those emotions where I’m like, “Shit, I said something terrible and I feel really bad.”De-center yourself and your experiences from the issues at hand and learn. Always, always learn, and then take that learning and do better. Click To Tweet
I’m not posting that in front of my friends who are black and brown women and things like that. I’m taking that to my circle of white friends to talk about it there because that’s the more appropriate place to deal with that stuff.
Using your white privilege isn’t about being the center of the situation. It’s about getting the attention of the room by using your privilege and then handing the mic off, so to speak, to someone else.
It’s about calling that attention back over and over again. These are learned behaviors. Nine times out of ten, I would say most people don’t even realize that they’re doing this.
They don’t realize that they’re doing it. If you can be conscious about it and call it back over and over again, you’re offering the opportunity to create awareness around what’s happening so that other people can do the same thing.
There’s an inherent feeling of shame and guilt when you start to recognize white privilege and everything that you have because of it. I experienced this. I know most of my friends experienced this in the beginning.
These are feelings you have to grapple with and deal with your white friends because you can’t do anything about what’s already happened, but you can use this new awareness for good. Use it to amplify black and brown voices.
De-center yourself and your experiences from the issues at hand and learn. Always, always learn and then take that learning and do better. That’s it for me today. Bye.