The term “white privilege” is everywhere, and so is its influence. However, the term can be incredibly polarizing. To better understand what it is and how to address it, let’s begin with what it is NOT. White privilege is not the suggestion that white people do not struggle or face poverty. White skin does not mean white accomplishments are unearned; most white people who have achieved a high level of success have worked extremely hard to get there. White privilege is not saying your life as a white person has not been hard; it’s saying your skin color has not been a contributing factor. Having white privilege and acknowledging it does not make someone racist. Individual white people today bear no responsibility for creating white privilege, but denying or ignoring its existence prolongs its life span.
So, what does it mean?
Simply put, white privilege should be viewed as a built-in advantage, separate from one’s level of income or effort. To expand on this, I need to quote from anti-racism activist and writer Peggy McIntosh’s 1988 groundbreaking essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”. She writes, “As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but had not been taught to see its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage”. She goes on to write, “I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks”.
How do we address it?
As a white guy, I can only share how I address it: start with yourself. To understand that white privilege is real only requires believing people of color when they tell their stories. Consider white privilege and examine the effects its had on your life. Seek books or articles on the effects of white privilege in today’s society. When you’re ready to have a discussion with a non-white peer, be mindful of your approach. This isn’t a conversation to have at the water cooler at work. When you’re ready to have a discussion with white peers who don’t acknowledge white privilege’s existence, be patient. Be really, really patient. Just like how I began this blog post, acknowledge that white folks face real struggles and challenges in today’s world. I like to paraphrase Orson Welles and say our privileges are the “silliest of accidents”. Therefore, it is our duty to address it, both personally and professionally.
There is a lot of context and nuance to pack into this small blog post on a large topic. After reading this post, I encourage you to listen to or watch my firsthand experiences with white privilege on our SERVE2PERFORM podcast. From there, I encourage you to contact me directly so we can discuss it further (email@example.com). Let’s work TOGETHER to build the society we deserve.