Letters Between Friends: To Jeremy C. on White Privilege (Part 2)

My friend recently linked and article on the topic of white privilege and asked:

“I don’t feel bad for having what we call ‘white privilege.’ What I hate is that it isn’t a universal privilege.

From my experience, this list seems absolutely correct. But I still don’t fully understand the issue because I have never, to my knowledge, been the victim of racial discrimination. I’m interested to see what others have to say. Do you agree? What have been the worst issues that you’ve noticed?”

Dear Jeremy,

My last post was more on the whole topic of white privilege. In this post I want to ask you some questions to both respond to yours and maybe add to your perspective and thinking on this whole topic of white privilege.

Take a moment and answer these questions.

While I have flipped the racial dynamics at play, all of these questions are derived from personal experience, the experience of people of color I am close to, or from systemic issues that have been reported and/or researched. Some of these are relatively trivial and some of these are literally illegal and life threatening. None of these issues are ancient history; all of them happened within the last ten years or are current and ongoing.

When was the last time…

  • You went to rent an apartment but the owner refused to meet with you once they realized you were white.
  • Your wife/girlfriend/sister/daughter discussed getting skin altering crème or an eye surgery in the hopes of looking more attractive and furthering her career because her white features were seen as a liability?
  • You saw glass bottles being thrown at your children because they were white?
  • You turned on a T.V. and found that white characters were rare and/or based on stereotypes and caricatures of white people?
  • You walked into the local juvenile hall and saw that every face was white, even though the vast majority of the community around it were people of color?
  • When was the last time you identified yourself as white, a person of color began to inform and educate you about white culture, and they were wrong on everything they said?
  • You had to choose between either admitting to a crime you didn’t commit to get a plea bargain or taking your chances in a justice system that had a reputation for convicting white people at much higher rates than people of color, all while under the threat of 25 year jail sentence?
  • You were forced to remove your cross necklace (or some other religious iconography) at a public graduation ceremony because it wasn’t allowed?
  • You were denied a home loan or a small business loan because you planned to live or start a business in a predominantly white neighborhood?
  • You and most of your white peers had to move out of your neighborhood because an influx of rich people of color, “revitalizing” your neighborhood, drove housing prices up?
  • Had your son physical assaulted and their hair cut by bullies because your son’s white features stood out in a school made up of predominantly children of color?
  • The local school system stole money given to them that was supposed to be used for under-resourced white children but the school faced no penalty or consequence even after it came to light?
  • You confronted a person of color about something disparaging and offensive they said about white people, and you were dismissed, ridiculed and told how you should really feel and think about the situation?
  • Had all of your accomplishments dismissed as products of tokenism and concessions from society because of your race, rather than products of your personal ability or effort?
  • You had to travel far outside your neighborhood to get food because supermarkets don’t think white neighborhoods are good investments?
  • You had to change your normal hair style for a job because white hairstyles are looked down upon as unprofessional?
  • You were stopped and frisked by the police for no reason under a city-wide policy explicitly aimed at intimidating and scaring white men into staying home or leaving the city for good?
  • You had to have an emergency community meeting because an epidemic of suicide among white youth was happening in your area?

Take a moment to really think about these questions and answer them as honestly as you can. If your answer to all of them is “No” then I think you have begun to articulate what white privilege you have experienced for being white ethnically and white culturally in the United States. I say this because at least part of white privilege is not having to deal with the issues people of color continue to face on a regular basis.

As for your statement that you don’t feel guilty about white privilege…

Personally I don’t think it’s wrong for you (or any other white person) to not feel guilty about having and experiencing white privilege. You cannot be held accountable as an individual for a society wide system, for the most part set in place before you were even born. It is far too big for you as an individual to dismantle by yourself and I don’t think you have the power to just wipe it away by yourself, no matter how immoral or unjust you think it is.

However, I do think white people who experience and acknowledge white privilege, and then do nothing about it or disparages and silences people of color who discuss it do have something to feel guilty about. No snowflake feels guilty for the avalanche, and we are not individually responsible for everything, but we would do well to consider how we are, as individuals, complicit in the wider systems that we denounce and work to address the issues we can in our own lives.

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About Kevin

I am figuring out life and faith and taking other people along with me on my journey. Sometimes as fellow travelers, sometimes as hostages.
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