Peggy McIntosh first identified the concept of White Privilege in the 1970s. She noted, “As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.” The idea of privilege came about as a way to look at discrimination from a different perspective. Discrimination is overt. When you talk about discrimination, a lot of people can say, “Now, wait a minute. I haven’t put anyone down or prevented them from doing what they wanted because of their gender or ethnicity. I have never hurt anyone. That was stuff that happened in the past.” When we talk about discrimination or prejudice, people feel like they are being blamed and need to defend themselves. Talking about privilege is a way to help people recognize and acknowledge the advantages they have. By becoming aware of our privilege, we can learn to have compassion for others who don’t have the same privilege we do.
What are some examples of white privilege?
This is a small list of some of the privileges that white people have; they are things many white people have taken for granted.
- I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
- I can be sure that my children will be given school materials that testify to the existence of their ethnicity.
- I do not have to educate my children to be aware of racism for their own daily physical protection.
- If a police officer pulls me over I don’t have to fear being harassed or killed because of my ethnicity.
- When I am pulled over by the police, I can be sure I haven't been singled out because of my ethnicity.
Think about those examples and how it might feel not to have them.
What is the Black Lives Matter Movement all about?
This description of the movement is from the BLM website.
#BlackLivesMatter (Links to an external site.) was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc is a global organization in the US, UK, and Canada, whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities.
African Americans have been hurt or killed in disproportionate numbers compared to whites. According to the Washington Post’s database, in the year 2016 (just one example) there were 962 people shot and killed by police. The article breaks down those deaths by ethnicity. 468 (48%) were white and 234 (24%) were black. White people make up 76% of the US population. African Americans make up only 13% of the US population. That means in 2016, African Americans were three times more likely to be shot and killed by police than whites. Now I’m not saying police officers are inherently bad. Most of them obey the law and do their jobs with honor. To be clear, no unarmed citizen should ever be injured or killed, most particularly under the color of authority. All of us have seen the footage of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police. It was a turning point in the Black Lives Matter movement. According to the Washington Post, July 21, 2020, a majority of Americans support the Black Lives Matter movement and a record 69 percent say black people and other minorities are not treated as equal to white people in the criminal justice system.
BLM movement has been largely misunderstood. Their goal is equal justice under the law. The statement, “Black Lives Matter” does not mean that all lives don’t matter. Of course all lives matter. We wouldn’t have to say Black Lives Matter if we treated people like Black Lives actually Matter. It seems to me that being treated equally under the law is not too much to ask.
This video is difficult to watch. But please watch it. It is a very short video (1:26) that depicts what happened in 1960 when young black students tried to sit down at a "White's Only" lunch counter and waited to be served.
Why are African Americans at a disadvantage?
This is a simple explanation (you may have seen it on social media)
400 years ago white people brought black people over here and enslaved them. And sold them. And treated them as less than human. For 250 years. While white men built the country and created its laws and its systems of government. While 10 to 15 generations of white families got to grow and flourish and make choices that could make their lives better. And then 150 years ago slavery was officially ended. But then white people created laws that made it impossible for black people to vote. Or to own land. Or to have the same rights as white people. All while another 5 to 10 generations of white families got to grow and accumulate wealth and gain land and get an education. And then the 1964 Civil Rights Act finally gave equal access to voting. And the Civil Rights Movement brought awareness to the issue of equality. But white people still fought to keep schools segregated. And closed off neighborhoods through practices like redlining. And made it harder for black people to get bank loans, or get quality education or health care. All while another 2-3 generations of white families got to grow and pass their wealth down to their children and their children's children. And then we entered an age where we had the technology to make public the things that were already happening in private-- the beatings, the stop and frisk laws, the unequal distribution of justice, the police brutality. And only now, are we finally beginning to truly have a dialogue about what it means to be black. White privilege doesn't mean you haven't suffered or fought or worked hard. It doesn't mean white people are responsible for the sins of our ancestors. It doesn’t mean you can’t be proud of who you are. It does mean that we owe it to our neighbors-- of all colors-- to acknowledge our privilege and work to make our world more equitable.
The point of privilege is that we have advantages we don’t think about. This video looks at white privilege in a humorous way. But the point it makes should be very clear. The rules do not apply equally to white people and black people. I am sorry about the ad. This video wasn't available in any other format.
What can I do about it?
Having described it, what will I do to lessen or end it? I decided to try to work on myself at least by identifying some of the daily effects of white privilege in my life. I try to remember that others are suffering and struggling. I try to start every day and every encounter with compassion. When I interact with someone, I don’t know anything about what their life might be like. Before they came through that door, they may have had the worst day of their life. So I start with compassion and understanding and go from there. If I see injustice, I call it out. I stand together with my brothers and sisters in the BLM movement against unequal treatment. I will vote for those who also want to fight for respect and equality for all people. We have a long way to go. But we have to start somewhere.