Dear White People.
How does that make you feel? Being referred to as a collective. Being characterised by the colour of your skin. It’s not normal is it? Did it make you feel uncomfortable? Did it make you feel some kind of way?
Welcome to life as a POC.
I want to take the time to explain white privilege in layman’s terms; to discuss what it is and how you can use it to benefit others. But not only that, I want to explain how easy it is to not even realise that you have benefitted from it before now and exactly why and how this is the case.
Privilege in general is difficult to see for those who are born into it. However, it is very visible for those of us to whom it was not granted. Asking somebody to acknowledge the fact that they are privileged purely because of the colour of their skin just doesn’t seem right to some people. Surely you can’t be any more privileged than I am just because of your race? Ultimately, yes.
I can understand why so many people don’t realise that this is the case. It’s not always easy to see or to fully make sense of something when it isn’t a personal point of view or issue. Because white privilege isn’t a personal privilege or gain. It is an institutional set of benefits granted to those of us who meet certain physical criteria; to those of us who resemble the people that dominate the most powerful positions in our institutions. White privilege has been around for a long time but it’s only now becoming something that people seem to be taking much notice of.
In short, if you need to ask for a definition of white privilege; you have it. And if you are offended by the term, you need to ask yourself exactly what it is about the concept of it that bothers you.
White privilege is being able to turn on the television and see people of your race widely represented. It’s being sure that your children will be given access to curricular materials and information testifying to the existence of their race and its history. It’s being pretty sure that when you ask to talk to “whoever is in charge”, you will face someone of your own race. White privilege is not being asked to speak for everyone that falls into your racial category.
White privilege is the evasion of violent stereotypes being associated with your race. Why is it that if a white person acts violently, they are not a representation of their race? Why are excuses made? For example, when Dylann Roof shot and killed 9 unarmed people in a church in South Carolina or when Stephen Paddock opened fire on the Las Vegas Strip killing 58 people and injuring more than 800 in total. Why were these people not seen as a representation of all white people but as wayward individuals? White privilege is why. Because we all know that this would most definitely not be the case if the perpetrator were black. If they were black, their actions would serve as an example of every person of that race. Far too often we have seen this happen.
Fundamentally, white privilege is the absence of the negative consequences of racism.
White privilege is real. Very real. Do any of the above situations sound familiar to you? I should think so for a lot of people reading this. A lot of my white friends and family will have benefitted from white privilege in these ways and more in life, probably without realising that it was exactly that. A privilege. A lot of you will be privileged in a way that you’ve probably never had to consider. You’ve never regarded the colour of your skin to be of any benefit to you, nor has it ever been a hindrance.
You don’t have to apologise for it. However, you should acknowledge your privilege and recognise that, as a result of the extent to which this privilege reaches, there are so many people out there who move through and experience the world in ways that you will never be able to fully relate to. I personally know that many of my friends are now coming to realise that this is the case as a result of the conversations that we have had over the past week or so. I’m so happy to see that there are so many people who actually want to learn and want to do as much as they possibly can to use their privilege for good.
However, there is still an unimaginable number of people out there who just can’t seem to grasp this concept and that is exactly why we (POC) need those of you with this privilege to help us educate others and to use your voices for good.
We’re saying that Black Lives Matter. We never said ONLY Black Lives Matter. We NEVER said that all lives don’t matter.
“When you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”; this is the epitome of white privilege and the “All Lives Matter” statement.
I speak now to anyone reading this who at some point or other has responded “but All Lives Matter” when they have heard the statement “Black Lives Matter”. Where is your “All Lives Matter” energy when you walk past a homeless person on the street and can’t even bring yourself to look them in the eyes? Where is your “All Lives Matter” energy when we, as a country, turn away refugees seeking asylum? Where is your “All Lives Matter” energy when you look down on somebody and treat them differently because of the career they have or the car they drive? Do you really believe that All Lives Matter; or does the concept of ‘Black Lives Matter’ and the realisation that it is such a harrowing, horrifying and undeniable issue in the world, make you so unbelievably uncomfortable that it’s the only response you can offer? Or if you’re completely honest with yourself, is it just because it’s much easier to dismiss the statement than to actually address it? I have seen 'All Lives Matter' far too much recently and I feel as though a lot of people have said it without realising what it means and the effect it has on the BLM movement.
I need not only my non-white friends to speak out about this, but also any of my white friends and family. The world needs to acknowledge that black lives are in danger and until Black Lives Matter, all lives CAN’T matter. We need your help. We’re not asking you to “not see colour” or to “see us all as the same”. To tell a POC that you don’t see their colour is to tell them that you don’t see the oppression of their ancestors; their marginalisation and the discrimination that they have faced; their heritage, culture and identity. It not only diminishes and belittles our suffering, but it is far too often used as an excuse to remove somebody’s sense of responsibility in being anti-racist. You must see our colour in order to combat racism.
So please, if you didn’t believe in white privilege before now, give the examples I gave earlier on in this post a second read: I understand that you may not have viewed these as privileges before. But now that you realise that so many of these things you have taken for granted were not even presented as opportunities to POC can you see where I am coming from? Please try to reflect on personal experiences that you have had in life where the outcome may have differed if you weren’t white. Where you may not have even been given the opportunity if you weren’t white. Where you have been favoured in any given situation because you are white.
Please don’t think that when anyone uses the term white privilege, they are saying that your life has been or is easy. I promise you that they are not saying that.
However, what they are saying is that you have had the privilege of going through life without your colour, something that you have no control over, playing a role in the daily struggles you face. Many of you may have found comfort in the fact that you personally are not racist. You may have been able to convince yourself that race ‘doesn’t exist’ and say that you see everyone as the same regardless of race. But I think that a lot of the time it is very easy for you to say this because race is something that has never been a barrier in your life.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter how many non-white people say enough is enough; we need that one white person to use their privilege and say it with us. It is imperative that we, as a collective, challenge the violence and discrimination that POC face and destroy the systematic racism that has become so ingrained into our society. No life is more important than another, regardless of race, background, sexuality, social class or any other factor. And nobody should start life more privileged than somebody else because of the colour of their skin. There is only one way that we can break free of the chains we are bound by and that is to stand together, fight together and put our voices together. There truly is strength and power in numbers.
‘Black Lives Matter’ is the bare minimum. Black lives more than matter. Black lives are worthy. Black lives are deserving. Black lives are needed. And black lives should be no less privileged than their white counterparts as a direct result of their colour. So please, next time you are in a position to use your privilege to better the world and help in the fight against racism, do it. We need to use white privilege to end white privilege.