Understanding and Addressing My White Privilege

In 2019, identity politics is a battlefield of conflicting ideals; self-judgment and eagerly appointed stereotypes. So, for me, a white man, to question what part I have in the injustice is to go against everything programmed into me since birth. Simply put, society has encouraged me to turn a blind eye to a form of racism that I inadvertently support. Some might say that endorsing white privilege subconsciously makes you a racist. Simply, we tend to think racism is confined to the KKK and farright politicians. The reality of 21st-century racism is actually much closer to home. 

I did not wake up one day, look in the mirror and see my white privilege like a blemish on my skin. But, in many ways, it has always been there just like said blemish. Reni Eddo-Lodge’s “Why I am no longer talking to white people about race” carried an immediate appeal to me since I am a white person. I wanted to better grasp why I could no longer be a confidant to someone of colour when discussing race or why my opinion could no longer be justified. I was always aware of the topics addressed in the book but never truly grasped the harsh realities that many people of colour (POC) tackle day-to-day. Simply laid out, in straightforward chapters, the book seeks to wrestle with topics that are by no means straightforward nor simple. For those seeking a clear definition of white privilege then this book has a convenient chapter that seems to be directed straight towards us. Defined as the “absence of negative consequences of racism” white privilege is not always a conscious decision, but it does consciously affect POC. White people almost always get very defensive if accused of being racist, because deep down it reflects a dark history that our ancestors played a major part in. Racism, in all its forms, was not created by POC but by white people with a preconceived notion of what was normal and what was “other”. The idea of the “Other” is something that runs constantly through Reni’s book, which outlines how ‘white’ is the default and anything else is considered an abnormality. POC are immediately counted as “other” even for the smallest of things, like how plasters are beige in tone and how Tesco has a tiny section at the back of the shop for the generalized “Ethnic food” lovers. The stereotypes that surround POC greatly shape people’s perceptions of them before a word can leave their mouths. Someone may cross the street instinctively based on the colour of a walker’s skin. After a rather lengthy Google search, I still struggle to find white stereotypes. White people have been gifted the chance to not be judged based on their skin tone. Stereotyping should be left to chick flicks and bachelorette parties. 

(Credit: Foyles)

You may be reading this and refuse to believe that you buy into a society that supports the racialisation of minority groups, but knowingly or not we all contribute to its infrastructure. Talking about white people in such a broad term is always a sensitive subject considering we are not used to be referred to by the colour of skin, something that POC have unfortunately, lived with from birth. We will never have been “That white guy over there” because in most situations we are the majority, and with majority comes power. The term white privilege also suggests that said group has never suffered or felt hardship in their life, which we all know is not the case. But, something to remember is that whether poor or rich you will not face inequality based solely on your skin tone. Because, racism is not something that happened hundreds of years ago, although that’s where it began. 

Everyone knows that slavery was a thing, everyone understands that some great distant relative of ours bought into a society that dehumanised a person based on the colour of their skin. But placing slavery so far in the past is part of the issue, because we treat it as though it is ancient history, something to only be talked about in BBC documentary’s and podcasts. 

In 1987 the first black members of parliament were elected, marking a day in the history books that should be applauded and yet reflected on with shame. Why did it take so long? It is because the society claims to treat everyone equally. Shock, it doesn’t! POC find it notoriously difficult to find housing and commit to living in the ‘slums’ of big cities, in areas nicknamed ‘little *insert racially broad generalisation here*”. While many people would not hire someone to work for them based solely on the colour of their skin, the odds are still stacked against POCWhen I asked my manager about hiring people of colour he replied with a statement as old as racism itself, “I don’t see colour”. This may be a commendable attribute, but it doesn’t change the fact that POC may not even make it to the interview. Since birth the odds are stacked against them, from housing to schooling they are constantly treated as second class citizens in a country that was built on the backs of their ancestors. 

My privilege is knowing I will not be judged the same way as a person of colour. I will not be assumed to be a thug or terrorist because of the tone of my skin, and I will not be fetishised on the same scale that ethnic groups are. When engaged in dialogue about race, white people have the proclivity to shift the focus onto how they are not racist; therefor supporting the idea of white privilege without knowing it. Instead of letting the person of colour talk about their first-person experience, some may discuss their ‘modern’ ideas about race and shift the control of the conversation back to a third-party outlook. 

(Credit: Kelly Malka)

You might like to think that, within marginalized communities this subversive, yet aggressive form of racism is less prominent. This would be false. The gay community, having faced oppression themselves, should understand what it means to be a minority, right? But, one scroll through the popular hook up dating app Grindr and you’ll be met with what people would defend as “mere preferences”. Even the app itself has a neat little feature where you can edit people of colour out of your feed. Erasing their existence and whitewashing LGBTQ dating. To put it simply, this isn’t a preference. This is racist. Another gay dating app, Chappy, reported that minority ethnic groups are five times more likely to be discriminated against through bio’s or on the messaging itself. The same study continues to discuss how 35% of said minorities feel they have been discriminated against, compared to the 7% of gay white men. Stonewall has also reported that 51% of POC feel discriminated against in the gay community. 

Feminism, a movement that pledged solidarity for all women, was exclusively white and shelves the needs of black women for future endeavours. Many women today struggle to find a place within feminism because in the past it’s been a group for straight white women. 

The big question is, how do you start dismantling something that you unintentionally support? We as white people are the foundation in which white privilege is built on. Without us the entire system crumbles. The narrative is not ours to control but by educating ourselves about the part we play we can begin to talk differently about race politics. 

A few of you reading this will be thinking that this is nonsense because you “don’t see race”, which although pure in intention, is just as harmful as admitting a blatant bias about it. There is a difference between “I don’t see race” and “I don’t judge someone based on race”. To ignore someone’s race is to ignore a rich heritage and culture that deserves to be recognized. By taking that away, you are erasing a huge part of their existence. Start conversations about race with people that are not negatively affected by it. Education is the key to battling anything that cannot be physically touched.

I can’t talk for people of colour because I, myself, am not a part of that group. I can’t talk for the LGBTQ because despite being a part of it, I don’t represent the millions of personalities and thoughts contained in the movement. What I can do is start a conversation to suggest a new way of thinking, in a world where our thoughts are usually confined to Twitter and ranting Facebook posts.

This article could go on without end, like the obstacles that hinder POC every day, but please, let what few points I have mentioned sink in. Start those discussions and challenge people on their ideals. You don’t have to seek out racism to change it, because it is everywhere. Check your white privilege as I am beginning to check mine, as this is not a problem solely for people of colour but a problem for everyone. 

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