The whole world watches as America rages. It seems every community in this nation from the smallest towns to the largest cities has been impacted by protests or at least the discussion of racism and white privilege. Sometimes spoken of in hushed tones and others shouted in unison with many other voices. Still, I see many white people wondering, what is white privilege and many more who claim to know but don’t, really. I hear many arguing that they aren’t racist and further they don’t even know any racists. Or that racism needs to be stopped. And the black people in my community are wondering why white people only seem to care about racism on these rare occasions. So, I thought I’d chirp in to offer some perspective particularly to white people who are trying to make heads or tails of this situation. And of course, I’ll also offer some advice about what you can do to create change and be an ally.
White privilege appears to be the most misunderstood concept in America (it’s not, it just appears to be). Over the years I’ve been given several inaccurate and quite frankly, racist definitions of white privilege. So, I’d like to clarify what white privilege is and isn’t.
What White Privilege Isn’t
The first time I heard the words “white privilege” was in a conversation with another mom in my neighborhood. She was going on a whole, very pious diatribe about how we should be grateful for our wealth and white privilege. She’d lost me on the whole wealth privilege thing when she started talking about how we were both clearly financially secure because we’d both grown up in affluent families. Ummm… yeah, speak for yourself. Anyway, I digress, but I kind of knew from the beginning of the conversation that her explanation of white privilege might be sideways too and it sure was!
Here’s how she defined white privilege…
White people have privilege because they have generational wealth and well-educated parents. Unlike people of color they have fathers who are present. Since, as she explained, black men abandon their families, end up dead or in prison or are addicts. She went on to tell me that as a general rule addiction and crime were always prevalent factors in black families but not in white ones.
Right… WOW!!! So, first of all, again, speak for yourself! I’ve seen plenty of addiction and criminal behavior and yeah, my parents were teenaged high school dropouts. Saying their relationship was volatile even after it ended would be an understatement. And let me tell you, I lived below the poverty level for a significant part of my life and was even homeless. But what’s more important than her assumptions about how white people grow up is the assumptions about black people. This might be one of the most racist things I’ve ever heard!
Doing Some Research
So, I set out to discover what white privilege is. I googled it and read memes that were posted on social media and went out of my way to talk to other people about it. I never mentioned it to anyone I knew who was black because I’d only heard it talked about in white circles and everything I read or heard was incredibly racist. For about 5 years I believed that white privilege was a racist concept invented by white people to justify their beliefs about black people. No, I’m not kidding!
What White Privilege Is
It was completely by accident that I found out what white privilege really is and the story is so poignant I’m going to share it.
A little context
My 4th child (who I refer to as Max because they want to stay entirely anonymous) has an amazing best friend, we’ll call them Jordan to make it easier. Anyway, Max has high functioning autism and they became fast besties when Max was a Freshman and Jordan a Sophomore. We’ve always had tons of friends in and out and frequent sleep overs at our house. We even have a holiday baking weekend that around 20 – 30 kids attend and more than half stay throughout. Well, Jordan always came to our holiday baking weekend but had to go home to sleep then come back in the morning. It was an absolute rule that Jordan couldn’t stay the night no matter what.
The first year I assumed it was because Jordan’s parents didn’t know us and the friendship was new but despite them not having a driver’s license and the obvious inconvenience of picking up and dropping off all weekend, this arrangement continued. After high school both Jordan and Max went off to college. Jordan stayed home and went to a local university and Max headed to a school a couple hours away. That year Max came home for the holidays and Jordan stayed the weekend at our house for the first time ever. I can’t tell you how excited we all were about this new arrangement!
The Moment it All Clicked
All the other kids were down for the night and Jordan, Max and I were sitting at the kitchen table having tea and catching up and that’s when it happened, the conversation that changed everything. I was saying how excited I was that Jordan could stay and we were able to catch up and I offhandedly asked if it was because Jordan was an adult now. Jordan responded that it was because their mom knew me now. I had gone to their graduation party, met their whole family, visited with their mom, aunts and godmother and their mom now felt I could be trusted. I responded saying that I understood because there are a lot of crazy people in the world and you always want to protect your kids. It was clear that I meant crazy like screaming fights, not supervising properly, pervy older brothers etc.
The Real Reason
That’s when Jordan told me the real reason they couldn’t stay. They explained that this was never allowed. We live in a predominantly white upper middle-class neighborhood. Jordan said sincerely “if there’s a party, if something pops off, if something goes missing, if the police get called, who do you think will be blamed? Who do you think will be in the most trouble? Who is most likely to get arrested and have their whole future destroyed?” It was in that moment that I realized what white privilege is. Because until Jordan said that, it had never occurred to me, like, not even crossed my mind! I never had to have those conversations with my kids. I never had to worry that because of the color of their skin they would be blamed or even suspected of wrongdoing.
That my friends is white privilege. Because we live in a system that was established and is still controlled predominantly by white people, it favors us.
Additional Examples of White Privilege
There are a million little things we don’t have to talk about, think about or worry about just because we’re white and this is white privilege.
- Did you get the job or get passed over for the job because of your race?
- Will other’s think you got the job because of your race and respect you less?
- Will other’s respect you less in general because of your race?
- If a person of another race commits a crime against you can you report it? Will you be believed?
- If you witness a crime can you report it? Will you be believed?
- Is it safe to call the police at all?
- Are people frightened and more likely to react defensively or aggressively toward you because of your race?
- Do you have to race vaccinate your children? (teach them about racism because you know they will be the victims of it)
- Have you had to have any conversation or make any parenting decision like the one above because of your race?
- Do people assume that just because of your race you live in poverty, your father is in prison (or absent) and you and your entire family is uneducated?
I mean, let’s get real here, I could do this all day and I’m sure you’re getting my point! The truth is it’s exhausting just to talk about it let alone to live it! If you’re like me and you don’t have to then you, my friend, have white privilege. It doesn’t matter where you grew up, how much money your family had, how educated you are or anything else. It’s just how the system works. You didn’t ask for it, but the truth is you have it!
Now that we’re on the same page regarding white privilege let’s talk about racism. When it comes to race relations this is likely the most misunderstood concept. I hope you’ll keep reading because this is likely the most important thing you’re going to take out of this post! Ready to discover the big impasse, well, here it is… white people have their own definition of racism! That’s right, and when I explain this everything else will make SO much more sense.
What is Racism?
The dictionary defines racism in this way:
“The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.”
I’d like to point out two things about this definition that I think are particularly important. Firstly, racism relates to any characteristic that distinguishes a race as EITHER inferior or superior. This means that the belief that all Asian people excel at math and science or all black people are excellent dancers, rappers or basketball players is also racist!
The second is that racism is a belief. Not necessarily a conscious belief. It could be a deep-rooted belief you aren’t really even aware of but that effects your behavior none the less. And while beliefs most definitely do impact our actions they don’t always do so in obvious ways. So, just because you’ve never been aggressive or confrontational doesn’t mean you aren’t racist.
The White Person Definition of Racism (TW)
White people as a whole believe that racism is the belief that people of other races are inferior and they therefore get what they have coming, should be eradicated, should go back to where they came from etc. Sorry to put this so bluntly. It’s painful even for me to write but I think it’s important for people to understand this.
As a whole, white people have a very limited view of what racism is and what racists are. Images come to mind of segregation, the KKK and outward violence and hostility toward other races. Very rarely do we even think of our uncle or grandparent who tells racist jokes or disapproves of interracial relationships as racist. So, most of us can boldly proclaim that we aren’t racist and be “allies”.
Why This Matters
I’ve seen a lot of my black friends and other people of color wondering how white people can be so enraged about the George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery murders today and just go back to their lives tomorrow. This is why! As a whole we believe that the murderers in these cases are “those people” and we aren’t them. We can comfortably say we’re allies without having to evaluate ourselves or the systems in place that contribute to these tragedies. Because, hey, I’m not a racist. And here’s the thing, I’m firmly convinced that our racism is showing everywhere right now.
When tragedies like these happen, you see a whole lot of white people in shock. They go on and on about how disgusted they are and how they thought racism was a thing of the past. Well, I’m pretty sure that every person of color will tell you that racism most certainly is NOT a thing of the past. It’s a part of their lives every day. And to be honest it’s part of your life everyday too and until you address it this won’t get better.
How to Move Forward
The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again expecting different results. It’s time to change our strategy and get serious about the progress we want to see and the world we want to live in! I don’t know about any of you but I’ve had it and I want this to stop! I want my grandkids to grow up in a place where racism really is rare and white privilege really doesn’t exist! Here’s what we need to do…
The fight against racism begins within each individual person. It isn’t enough to condemn those who commit crimes against the black community. When we allow our biases to prevail in ourselves, our families and our communities we are setting the stage for future tragedies. If you want to make a real and lasting difference you need to do the hard work and set a better example and higher standard for those around you!
We all have unconscious biases, which are often connected to racist judgments or perceptions. Rather than getting offended by the word racist let’s all make sure we root out racism in ourselves. We’ve spent our entire lives being exposed to messages about race that simply aren’t true. Several of my family members openly talked about other races in a derogatory way when I was growing up. I remember thinking that they were wrong and what they were saying was bad, but I was bombarded and I’m sure some of those ideas sunk in. I know I’m not the only one. And even if this doesn’t exist in your family (which I find unbelievably unlikely) you’ve been bombarded with media portrayals of other races that are inaccurate and predominantly negative. There’s definitely some housekeeping that needs to be done.
I highly recommend taking Living Unapologetically‘s 30 Day Unconscious Bias Challenge! This FREE course offers a great opportunity to discover and dismantle your unconscious biases.
So, recently someone explained the concept of race vaccinating to me. They said that this is when black parents talk to their kids and explain racism so they are prepared for it when they encounter it (because they will). I asked what it’s called when white people educate their children about what to do when they witness racism. She didn’t know if it would be the same thing or not but I’m not sure what else to call it, so please correct me if this is wrong. I was surprised to find that so few white families talk to their children about racism, as they will witness it as well!
If we don’t teach our white children how to stand up against racism when they’re young this will never stop! It isn’t enough to go to protests, turn your Facebook profile black and use the proper hashtags. Uniting against racism is part of our lives EVERY SINGLE DAY! And keep in mind I mean the dictionary definition.
Teach your children to call out racism wherever they see it. Teach them to spread the truth and encourage them to be kind to everyone.
It’s Going to be Uncomfortable
First off, kids learn from watching what you do not hearing what you say. So, if you don’t say anything when your friend or aunt makes a racially inappropriate comment or joke that’s the example you’re setting. And if they do hear it and they say something, guess what, you’ll have to have their back! They’re doing what you taught them. There’s nothing wrong with your 5-year-old saying “grandma that’s not true” or “jokes about other people aren’t funny”.
I get it. It’s uncomfortable but sometimes doing what’s right is! If you care about racism and you want it to stop, for real, you’re going to have to be intolerant of it and teach your children the same!
I know you want to know what you can do right now to improve race relations and be a good ally. And there’s plenty of work to be done so let me share a few ideas…
Stop the Spread of Misinformation
The spread of misinformation is feeding racism and unconscious bias. If you aren’t sure whether something is true or not do some research and for goodness sakes don’t share information without checking it out first! Where you see misinformation, put a stop to it!
Black Lives Matter
If you don’t understand Black Lives Matter, you should get yourself familiar. Please stop saying ALL lives matter. Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that any other lives don’t matter but let’s be clear, ALL lives don’t matter if black ones don’t. And historically and currently black lives are undervalued. If you aren’t clear on that or would like more information, please reach out so I can send you some resources. The devaluing of black lives goes far beyond police brutality or murder.
Looting and Riots
Please understand that when you associate looting and riots with BLM you are reinforcing unconscious bias. It doesn’t matter if you’re justifying the looting and riots, empathizing with the frustration that may be causing them or disgusted by them. The last thing we need is to further associate violent, destructive, out of control behavior with black people.
Do a little homework. In many cities piles of bricks, homemade Molotov cocktails and other accelerants were placed on the protest sites and routes prior to the protest and NOT by the protesters. Several extremist groups including white supremacists have admitted to planting these items and intentionally inciting violence and destruction. What possible agenda do you think white supremacists have here? They WANT to reinforce the unconscious bias that people of color, particularly black people (specifically men) are dangerous. Don’t help them! Shut down these conversations! Don’t engage! Spread the truth!
Please keep in mind that the unconscious bias that black men are dangerous is what often leads to police brutality and prevents justice. Stop reinforcing the idea that people are right to fear black men!
Do you know what’s going on in your community? Do you know if there is bias training in your churches, town government and police department? Is black history and literature taught in your school district outside of the month of February?
It’s high time you find out!
Send emails to your school board, mayor and pastor. Ask them what they’re doing to support race relations in the community. Do they have outreach programs? What kind of training do they offer?
If your community isn’t prepared to answer these questions or doesn’t respond to you it’s time for a meeting or petition drive.
There are a multitude of organizations you can donate your time and money to. I highly recommend doing some research and looking for an organization with a specific agenda you support. There are plenty to choose from. Please educate yourself about the needs of your community and causes you’d like to support.
Your Voice Matters
When it comes right down to it white privilege and racism aren’t black problems. They’re human problems. Regardless of where you live, what your ethnicity is or how old you are. This is a problem. And it’s one that won’t get solved overnight or by only one group of people. We must all unify and demand better! Our children and grandchildren are depending on us!
This work begins within you, it pours out of you onto your children and into your community and if enough of us take this seriously and stay committed to this work we WILL change the world!
This is a “those who care, share” post! Help others understand white privilege and racism and inspire them to join the cause in a meaningful way!