I was headed home from the gym one summer morning with my good friend from high school. We had the windows rolled down and the radio turned up h when he said something I wasn’t expecting. Though I can’t remember what song was playing or who was singing, he said a casually racist remark about the woman on the radio.
I called him on it, not expecting him to furiously spit re back at me. He took the oor, yelling about how he didn’t give a crap if he sounded racist because we live in a world where white people face just as much racism as black people. Following was a statement a bulk of 20-something-white boys like to cling onto as their first argument in these discussions regarding how he can’t get financial help from colleges for being white or male, he was a victim of the system too. I struck a nerve with him apparently. After he made it clear how he felt about race in America, I had no idea what to say. In hindsight, I know exactly what I should have told him; even though I thought it was obvious, I realized he hadn’t needed to question his privilege.
Privilege is hard to explain, because it’s literally everything that it isn’t. Like a fart let out in a crowded elevator, it’s something that one can’t necessarily see, but its presence is obvious and the one associated with it tends to not want to be so.
It can be difficult to fully understand what privilege is. Put simply, privilege takes the form of benefits that certain groups of people can reap. Those with privilege haven’t done anything in particular to earn it either. It all boils down to the most physical parts of identity–you’re either born with it or you’re not.
Because privilege is something that’s simply established at birth, those with it might not even know they have it and get deeply offended if it gets brought up. When analyzing the track record of those who have been top dog in Western society, it’s always been dominated by white-upper-class men. This being said and contrary to what’s being popularized by those groups in the media, the universe is not out to get white people, men or the upper-class. They’re still the ones running everything because it’s so ingrained in the world.
One of the biggest issues plaguing America today
is the concept of “whiteness” and all of the privileges that come with it. This is not the same as saying white people are the ruin of society, but their “whiteness” they cling to is what the real issue is.
Whiteness reared its ugly head once Europeans of all dissents started enslaving Africans and Native Americans. Their English, Dutch or German heritage no longer separated them, but the lack of pigment in their skin brought them together and separated them from their darker counterparts they were oppressing.
White people over the years have let go of the cultures their ancestors once lived before they became oppressors and now unknowingly associate themselves with a social construct that gives them access to what others don’t have. For white people, whiteness and white privilege affects every aspect of life and it’s often hard to pick up on because it’s basically normal in our world. “Skin-colored” bandages aren’t for people with darker skin, subjects in school are often taught from a white background and those with lighter skin will usually have a better experience with law enforcement.
Too many people who sit in positions of privilege see oppression as a competition and a way to be a victim, because they feel guilty about their privilege. There is no White History Month because that’s already the reality 12 months out of the year. Staying silent or antagonistic and feeling guilty about privilege isn’t going to help those who don’t have it. If you have a platform, use it for elevating the voices of the oppressed.
Listen to what those people have to say about their experiences instead of telling them what they should or shouldn’t be feeling. Teach those who may not recognize the privilege they have exists.
Undoing centuries of damage can’t be done over- night, but recognizing that there’s a root to problems we’re still facing can help unite people of all back- grounds and amplify those who have been silenced.