White Privilege and How You Can Use it, part 1
Updated: Jul 3
This is the first of a series of blog posts for white people who do not embrace racism as part of their identity. They are not written for people of colour, or those people who are proud to be racist.
First I’ll chat about white privilege and how having it can affect your perception of how society works.
Later posts will suggest ways to understand why racism exists and will include reading and viewing lists that might help you understand aspects that a series of short blog posts cannot hope to cover, because racism is a long and complicated subject that affects different groups in different ways.
The series will hopefully give you a little more confidence when you choose to support the Black Lives Matter movement, and will go into some of the ways people will try to discredit and silence you. It will encourage you to see this as an opportunity to grow and become a better person and (if you are serious about it) a better ally.
What is white privilege?
It means existing as a white person in a country (and world) dominated by white power structures. If you are a white person living in North America or Europe then this is your life. It can extend beyond countries where the majority of the population is white: in India pale skin is still considered more attractive than darker skin, a direct result of British colonial rule.
Accepting that you experience white privilege on a daily basis isn’t about admitting you’re bad person (only your actions and responses can indicate whether that is so).
White privilege alone doesn’t mean your life will be easy.
I hear people say I can’t have white privilege because a,b,c reasons. Privilege isn’t just one strand: race, class, gender, sexuality, mental and physical health, and other things intersect with each other, but these posts will be limited to discussing white privilege, so as not to distract or overwhelm you (or me).
Whether you are a good or bad person, and whether you feel life is easy or difficult –
white privilege means you will experience the world differently from a person of colour.
For example – Do you consider the police a useful resource if you are the victim of a crime? If, when your house has been burgled, your first thought is to call the police, you may have white privilege.
If you see police and don’t immediately fear being killed by them, you are probably not a black person living in America.
We believe what we see. Video evidence has shown us that what we thought was true is false. That our lived experiences differ greatly from those of black people. That may be why so many white people are eager to support Black Lives Matter protesters.People who hadn’t considered the subject before or who had doubted the perception of people of colour when they described their lived experiences, or discounted the problems they described as isolated incidents, a few bad apples, not a huge problem that required action from us/you.
If you are a woman you might have noticed how male partners and friends often struggle to understand your fear, anger or sadness about the way women are treated, displayed, misunderstood, harassed, touched, and expected to provide disproportionate emotional support. This is because the men in your life (our lives) have not experienced the world as you have.
White privilege can blind us to the experiences of people of colour.
The best way to combat white privilege is by education. While you will never be personally affected by systemic racism you can listen and believe people of colour when they tell you what has happened or been done to them.
Your first task, should you choose to accept it, is listen to and amplify the voices (across social media or in discussions with your family) of the black people who are sharing their stories under the hashtag BlackLivesMatter. If this frightens you, hold tight. We’ll discuss the ways people will attempt to silence you very soon and hopefully increase your self-confidence until you do feel ready to stand publicly with BLM.
You may want to watch a documentary today; 13Th on Netflix, is brilliant. I’ll share other resources in later blog posts.
Please do not expect people of colour to be your educators in this journey. We need to do our own work rather than rely on others to teach us.
Remember the bit about providing disproportionate emotional support?
Black activists are very busy. Don’t expect them to do your work for you as well.
Don’t make BLM about your feelings.
Learning about racism is likely to hurt, but isn’t that what personal growth is about, growing stronger?
I hope to see you again soon, once I’ve written the next bit.