I am white. I am male. I grew up homeless on the streets of Los Angeles. I have trauma. I was adopted into a multicultural family—with a father who was born in Mexico — in the same city as the Mexican revolutionary, Pancho Villa. My mom was White Dutch. She hated racism so much, that she would publicly humiliate us and try to get anyone who exhibited racist ideology fired from their jobs on the spot. I had 3 black siblings. We had to stand by their side, in a country where we thought racism was all but eradicated. It wasn’t. Just down the street from us were the white Aryans who would let us know they were there just be the sheer fact of shouting racial slurs and taking their guns out.
Here’s the thing. I am white. I am male. I still have white privilege. Not once did I ever have to worry about my own safety. Not once. That is white privilege. That is the same luxury I have when going to interview for a job. If I want to walk at night in my neighborhood at night, I have never once had to fear being pulled over by the police. That is white privilege.
I don’t get to choose whether I have it or not. It is part of the infrastructure of a society built from Eurocentric practices of oppression. 1619 tends to be the date most focus when referring to when slavery and white domination entered into the American continents—but, that’s not true. In 1539 Hernando DeSoto, a Spanish explore commissioned by crown to increase Spanish terrirory arrived in Florida with black slaves. Later the slaves would help build St. Augustine, Florida. This common holding of black slaves was never put into question. It was part of what the Eurocentric world did.
It wanted more land, even if it meant using violence to take over whole people groups and develop abusive strategies to control them. The ideology of white privilege is a visceral cancer running through the geographic lines across America. From the arrival of the colonials in 1619 with their “20 and odd” Angolans to the first president, George Washington – who was reluctant to reduce slavery – white male institutional racism was already becoming a feature of an embryonic society that was built around the notion of freedom. This is the thing, freedom is never free.
One of the staples of the American mindset is where one’s individual identity is conflated with the idea of being inherently free. Already this has proven to be a blindspot in the ways many white people are now struggling to accept their own privilege. Any idea is contingent on another one to define itself. So, if America is a free nation now, that also implies that at one point in history it was not. This point in history that we are referring to is the oppression of non-white people groups. From Japanese railroad workers to black slaves — America has been haunted by an issue that it doesn’t want to deal with.
Sitting in a classroom as a child there really isn’t much opportunity to ask questions. In fact, while you’re a child – most of your mental energy is spent trying to get a grasp on how to be alive, and how to navigate being a new addition to a species still clumsily discovering itself. American schools rely on a standardized curriculum to teach courses like history. With the entrance of alternative schools, this is slowly changing – but the attempt to hide the historical peccadillos are still very much there. Most history books try to edit the perspective of history to make America the hero of every part of its own historical narrative. Atrocities are quickly washed over, and neglect of other people groups are quickly forgotten.
History in the school curriculum has been and is currently being white-washed. America was founded on oppressing marginalized groups. There aren’t too many classes in a traditional school setting that focus on multiculturalism, or there isn’t a Black Lives Matter class, for example — these are infrastructure-based inequalities staring us in the face. If we want to begin rooting out systematic racism and justifiable indifference – the school is one place we need to start aggressively looking at under the microscope.
Economic inequalities are all across America. From redlining, a process where a geographic area was systematically devalued and denied financial services due to its racial makeup to blockbusting which hired non-white people to start rumors that black people were moving into the neighborhood.
As late as the 1960s, non-white groups were segregated into schools that had lower budgets that access to less educational resources. The reverberations of this racial indifferences are still being felt today. There tends to be overcrowding in multicultural communities which makes it harder for communities to have access to ongoing education facilities. The truth is, the American school system is still haunted by its racist history.
I never had to worry about this. I grew up going to school in a low-class area of Los Angeles. I got decent grades and went to one of the top 100 schools in the world. But, I never had to deal with racism or the racism that informed the current infrastructure that is shouting for change. This is white privilege. Does it matter that I grew up on the streets, homeless with my white family before I was adopted? No. I still have white privilege. To be white is to have access to certain resources that were not afforded to people groups who are still experiencing this inequality first hand.
I have white privilege because of the color of my skin which is etched by a hateful history of the black community and other minorities. I don’t get to choose to be blind to this. I still have white privilege as I write this, it does not leave me. But, I can use it for good. I can use the inherent platform I have of being white and male to advocate for stages and opportunities for the oppressed communities to have a voice. In fact, if I don’t, I perpetuate the very systems of racism that got us to where we are today.
For those that are still struggling to see their privilege, Peggy Mcintosh, a scholar who compiled 46 ways white privilege operates in society. Here are 10:
- I can if I wish to arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
- If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
- I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
- I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
- I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
- When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
- I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
- If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
- I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods that fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.
- Whether I use checks, credit cards, or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
If you’re white, you have privilege. It is part of who we are. Guilt and shame are not ways to respond to this. However, action, creativity, and advocacy are ways in which we can develop robust policies, strategies to respond to societal discrimination. Because we have this privilege, it comes with a responsibility to use it.
Now, that you’re aware of it, how are you going to use it? Share below.