Hi friends. I’m going to be doing a short series of posts to address some of the things going on in our crazy world today. I am by no means an expert on anything. I am, however, an empath. I feel things. I feel other people’s things. And I am the kind of person who still believes in the good. In romance, in miracles, in right and wrong, in equality and justice for all. I will keep holding on to those ideals and fight for them to my very last breath. I am NOT a bleeding-heart, liberal snowflake. I’m not fragile, I’m not overly sensitive. I am a believer in human rights. I believe that the strongest thing you can do as a human is to show empathy and kindness to others. There is nothing more courageous than love and compassion. That makes me one of the strongest people you will ever know. And I believe that even though our nation is so polarized and divided right now, that we all have good in us and we should try to rediscover it. Now, more than ever, we just need to remember to be kind humans. And I pray that someday, we all strive for freedom and equality and justice and fairness for every single American. That is the principle on which our country was founded, after all.
I’m going to say some things that will make you uncomfortable. That is the point. A lot of these things made me uncomfortable until I decided to face them, to educate myself, and to put myself in the place of others.
Let’s start with something simple: Bias. We all have biases. No one is exempt, no one is free from it. It’s an inherent thing that we all have. And I don’t just mean racial bias. There are many kinds of bias. Most of us get ours from how we were raised, who we grew up with, where we went to school, what neighborhoods we lived in, what we saw on television, any number of things. We all HAVE biases, and we all EXPERIENCE bias. Now, before you get defensive and start yelling that you have no bias towards anyone, ask yourself these questions. Give yourself a check mark for each of these questions that you answer with a “yes.”
- Have you ever crossed the street or walked another direction to avoid passing someone that made you feel uncomfortable simply by looking at them?
- Have you ever looked at any of your neighbors, and based on appearance alone, felt they “don’t belong here?”
- Have you every seen a person with a lot of tattoos and thought they were “trashy?”
- Have you ever looked at a woman in a revealing outfit and immediately thought she was a slut?
- Have you ever seem a mom with a kid throwing a tantrum and thought “I would never let my child behave that way?”
- Have you ever heard someone speaking a foreign language and became angry at them for not speaking English? Did you automatically assume because they’re speaking their native language that they don’t know how to speak English?
- Have you ever seen someone pay for groceries with an EBT card and think they’re lazy people who just don’t want to work?
- Have you ever seen a beat down car parked in your neighborhood and thought “that car can’t belong to someone who lives here?”
What if I told you…
…the “suspicious” man is walking alone down the street because he’s walking to work and he left the one family car with his wife in case there’s an emergency with the kids?
…the family of a different ethnicity that moved in down the street is actually a cardiologist and his family who moved here to work at a county hospital and serve the uninsured and needy?
…the woman with all the tattoos has a PHD in children’s psychology and runs an elite private school for gifted children?
…the woman in the short dress is an orphaned, 18 year old waitress working her way through college, who has 4 outfits total in her wardrobe and is just doing her best to make ends meet?
…the woman with the screaming child is a mother of 4, who took her one autistic child on an outing to expose him to social situations, and it was just too much for him and he melted down?
…the family speaking Spanish to each other were actually all born in America, and English is their first language, but they like to speak to each other in Spanish to honor their heritage and expose their children to their native language?
…the woman with food stamps is fostering 5 children with nowhere else to go, and therefore receives money from the state to help feed and clothe the extra people she has graciously taken into her home?
…the old and worn down car belongs to a family with a 6 figure income, and are saving every hard-earned penny to get out of debt so they can pay cash for a new car after they are completely debt-free?
If you knew these things about these people, would it change your viewpoint? Probably. But how could you possibly know that from a glance? You can’t. Each and every one of us has some kind of implicit bias in our minds, and the only way to get rid of it is to acknowledge it and try to understand better. To try to remember everyone has a story, everyone is going through something. We don’t know everyone’s story, and we shouldn’t make assumptions to fit our own biased narratives. That’s the first step, to acknowledge the things you are biased about, and do what you can to have a better understanding of why it might be incorrect.
On White Privilege…
“White Privilege” is a very triggering term to many of us white folks. It has the ability to send people into a blind rage and cause fights among friends. And I will be the first one to raise my hand and admit that it offended me when it first started trending. I honestly wish it had a different name, because I think people hear the word “privilege” and immediately associate it with just being handed things. It triggers an immediate negative response in most white people. Hearing the term the first time made me feel immediately defensive. Here’s why:
I did not grow up as what most people would call “privileged.” Until I started high school, I was mostly raised by a single mother. She could barely make ends meet. I never had fancy clothes, or the newest tech. I didn’t have extravagant birthday parties or go on exciting vacations. Most of my clothes and toys were second hand. I shared a room with my little brother most of my life, until my mother re-married. We. Were. Poor.
I have had many, many struggles throughout my life. My early childhood had a lot of trauma and stress. I have been sexually assaulted. I have been treated less than because I’m a woman. I have been a single mother. I have had to choose between buying life-saving medication or paying rent. I have known loss and struggle and heartache, and I continue to thrive in spite of all that. In my mind, no amount of “privilege” had anything to do with it, and I took offense to anyone saying so. I never once believed that the word “privilege” belonged to someone with my story.
However, once I began to listen and really try to understand what people of color were saying when they used the term, it really began to sink in.
READ THIS STATEMENT AND ABSORB IT:
White privilege DOES NOT mean you have never struggled.
Let me say it again: White privilege does not mean you have never struggled. It has nothing to do with choices that you have made. It doesn’t mean that you haven’t suffered adversity in your life. It doesn’t mean you didn’t work damn hard to get where you are. What it means is that of none of those struggles happened to you because of the color of your skin. It’s a built-in advantage you have, simply because of your whiteness. It’s an uncomfortable fact that we MUST face: White skin affords us a lot more luxuries than we even realize. It allows us to have things that shouldn’t even be considered luxuries, they are just basic human rights, yet people of color typically do not enjoy those same privileges. It doesn’t mean anyone hates you because you are white. It doesn’t mean you should hate yourself, or feel guilty because you are white. No one has a choice in what race they were born as. No one is asking you to feel guilty SIMPLY because you are white.
What it does mean is that you are awarded a certain amount of benefits and safeties that many people of color are not. It means that statistically speaking:
- You will not be considered suspicious simply because of the color of your skin.
- If you commit a crime, you will likely get a lesser sentence than a person of color who committed the same crime.
- You will have a better relationship with law enforcement than people of color.
- You will be considered more educated or capable than a person of color with your same education and abilities.
And although this privilege does often contribute to racial bias, it is not necessarily synonymous with racism. Being white and the benefits that come with it do not automatically make you a racist. Your refusal to acknowledge that you will almost always receive better treatment because you are white, and your refusal to care or fight against that does.
“Privilege exists when one group has something of value that is denied to others simply because of the groups they belong to, rather than because of anything they’ve done or failed to do. Access to privilege doesn’t determine one’s outcomes, but it is definitely an asset that makes it more likely that whatever talent, ability, and aspirations a person with privilege has will result in something positive for them.” ~Peggy McIntosh
Still don’t believe me? Still think it’s something people made up to make white people feel bad? Still think skin color doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things? If you do, I implore you to really ask yourself the following questions, and sit for awhile with any discomfort you feel with the answers.
- Have you ever gone to the makeup or hair care aisle of a store and not been able to immediately see products tailored for your hair or skin type? Without having to find a specially labeled “ethnic section?”
- Have you ever seen a band-aid labeled “flesh-colored” that wasn’t some shade of your skin color?
- Have you ever had someone doubt or question your intellectual ability, education level, credit score or ability to buy something, or salary because you have white skin?
- Have you ever been followed, interrogated, or randomly searched by police officers because you are white, with no reason at all behind it?
- When you have watched Disney movies or sitcoms throughout your life, have the majority of the characters been people of color, or have they mostly looked like you?
- In school, was the history of white Americans the majority of curriculum?
- Do you ever wake up and fear that your child or spouse won’t return home that evening because of their white skin?
- Have you ever worried that you would not be hired, or passed over for a promotion because you’re white? Have you ever been awarded a position simply because of an affirmative action policy?
- Have you ever made a mistake or achieved an accomplishment and have the reason for that failure or success attributed to being white?
- Do you have to think about and be prepared to advocate for the color of your skin every single day of your life?
While you’re asking yourself these questions, check out this list from Peggy McIntosh on white privilege:
If you are a white person in America, you benefit from white privilege. This is not an opinion, no matter how hard some people try to make it one. It is a fact. You reap certain benefits, and sometimes those benefits come at the expense of others. It is something that has been present throughout the history of this country. And it’s something we need to understand, acknowledge, be uncomfortable with, say out loud, and fight against. Being white doesn’t make you inherently evil or racist. But if you don’t recognize it and stand against systemic racism, if you continue to reap those benefits knowing others don’t, and you don’t care, then you a part of the problem. And if you think standing up for justice and equal rights for all Americans is “radical” or “fragile” or “snowflake” behavior, then you need to adjust your perception of what normal is verses what it should be.
And that’s on white privilege.