Updated: Oct 16, 2020
With great power...comes great responsibility. Picture this, an unacknowledged social advantage, automatically gifted to the majority racial group at birth, because of a common background and physical appearance. Those without those specific physical attributes and cultural connections, are inherently alienated by the laws and social systems around them. White privilege, though many white people may not notice it, still affects minorities deeply. It shows in our everyday lives, making it harder to shop, making it harder to buy a house, and making it harder to stay alive. But, there are things you can do to make the lives of the people around you easier. Things you can do to take responsibility for your privileges and your actions. I want a safer world, a safer country, one where people can walk home, go to the store, sleep in their homes without fear of being killed. I want more collaboration and acceptance between ethnic and racial groups. This is what I hope for us and our future, and I invite you to join me.
Since it’s really hard to know how to take responsibility for White Privilege if you're not even certain what White Privilege is, I’ll be delving into what it is and what we can do to combat it. I'd like to make it very clear that White Privilege is not the suggestion that white people have never struggled, and that it’s also not an assumption that everything a white person has achieved they haven't earned. Many white people who got to their high positions of power, did get there through hard work. However, White Privilege did give them an automatic advantage.
At first, White Privilege was originally considered to just be the legal and systematic advantages white people had, like citizenship, the right to vote or the right to buy a house in a neighborhood of their choice. However, as time went on, people began to view White Privilege as also being more of a subconscious prejudice continued by white people's lack of it’s awareness. “White Privilege is both unconsciously enjoyed and consciously perpetuated” explains Cory Collins, a senior writer for Teaching Tolerance. It’s something that is deeply rooted in our history and in our everyday lives.
One way that White Privilege is shown, is through the “Power of normal”. The Power of Normal shows up as seemingly innocuous everyday things, things that unless you aren’t white, you don't usually think about. For example, products for people with pale or “white” skin are easy to find. But products for people with darker brown skin are much harder to find and are less likely to show up in your local stores. Despite the fact that the United States is so ethnically diverse, “flesh toned” band aids, foundations and pantyhose in darker brown hues are all but nonexistent in local stores. As a dancer, the Power of Normal has personally affected me. In dance, your ballet shoes are often supposed to match your skin tone. Instead of just going to the dozens of local dance stores scattered across Philly, I have to search for my specific shoe online. Even then there are usually only three or four shades of brown to choose from. And this is an improvement. For so long ballet was an incredibly segregated sport, and it still rather is. But the fact that the dance world is being more accommodating and more accepting of black and brown dancers as a whole is a win! However, there’s still much farther to go. Hair care products for those with curly hair are separated, almost segregated, into two sections; “ethnic hair care” and “hair care”. This happens even in neighborhoods with a predominantly black community. Most white people move through life expecting every need to be met. When a company makes their products based on the idea that their white consumers make up most of their most profitable base then they’ll be more likely to cater only to their white consumers. People of color move through the world knowing their needs are considered less important. In order to do better and be more of a diverse, inclusive society we need to recognize when and where these disparities occur so we can fix them. However, thanks to social media, the awareness of these disparities has been growing! It's a small step but more and more companies are catering to their black and brown customers.
White Privilege can also show up as “Accumulated power”, which shows in the form of systematic racism. For a long time the ability to gather wealth has been a White Privilege. The median net worth value of a white non-hispanic household, according to the Tax Policy Center in a study done in 2016 is $171,000, while the median family net worth of a Hispanic or Latinx household is $20,720, and the median net worth of a Black or African-American household is $17,150. Research from Brandeis University and Demos found that the racial wealth gap isn’t closed when people of color attend college, or are raised in two parent homes, are working full time, or even spending less. Instead the wealth gap is continued by the ability to pass on your inheritance. The passing on of wealth, or inheritance, usually in the form of a house with value, makes it more likely that that family can help their children up through early adulthood. This can affect where someone sends their children to school, whether or not they help with their kids college tuition, a car, or even their child's living expenses later in life. Decisions most families of color haven't had the options of because for many many years this ability to pass on wealth was denied to them.
Part of this happened through the infamous redlining done by the Federal Housing Administration. Redlining is when the Federal Housing Administration identified different neighborhoods by whether or not they thought the people in those neighborhoods would be more or less likely to default on a mortgage. They would outline the neighborhoods with “less capable” persons in red ink and would refuse to back loans to the people in those neighborhoods. Many of those neighborhoods were predominately Black and Latinx neighborhoods. This meant that people of color weren't allowed to raise their children or invest in property with higher home values. People of color are also more likely to be targeted by subpar mortgages, are more likely to live in high poverty neighborhoods, and go to high poverty schools. Only 5% of Black applicants with a criminal history get a call back from a job, while 17% of white applicants with a criminal background will get a call back. These systemic inequalities can cause and even reinforce some of the negative ideas about people of color, as well as reinforce the Power of Normal.
Another example of White Privilege is in their representation in the media. Not only are white people guaranteed to be represented, it’s also guaranteed that white people will have a spectrum of characters to choose from. People of European descent get to be portrayed in so many lights, they get to be the sweet grandma, the crazy uncle, the police officer, the next door neighbor, the popular kid, the powerful CEO, the bashful nerd, a drug dealer, the angry jock, the art kid in the back of the room. They fill the TV shows and movies, covers of books, they are the extras and the main characters, villians and inventors. Minorities are not so lucky. There is usually a singular black character, a singular asian character, a singular latinx character, in a show, a movie or a book. The villain, the best friend, one or two roles and that’s it. This lack of roles creates stereotypes, and cliches, giving people a very narrow minded idea of what we can be, while not giving minorities the full characterization we need in order to be seen as complete human beings. We have different joys, fears, dreams, unique quirks, strange stories, and a fullness of life to us that should be shown too. When these characterizations don't happen is usually when stereotypes are created. These often negative perceptions of POC perpetuate racial profiling, which can set up dangerous situations. This when White Privilege becomes the clearest, and unfortunately the clarity comes at the cost of so many black lives.
The “Power of the Benefit of the Doubt”. People of color are more likely to be followed in grocery stores, interrogated by law enforcement, stopped when driving, and have their credibility or financial situations questioned. People of color are more likely to be presumed guilty, sentenced to death, and be portrayed unfairly by the media. And are less likely to be given fair sentences in court. Black students are more likely to get harsher disciplines in school than their white counterparts who did the exact same thing. They are also twice as much likely to be suspended than white or hispanic students. Black students are also more likely to be referred to law enforcement on school grounds. A white couple in St. Louis threatened protesters with guns, angry white protestors clearly carrying guns entered the state capital in Michigan, and yet they were not arrested. Then a young black man walking home is stopped by the police because he looks “suspicious”, on the way to the hospital he has a heart attack covered in bruises from those same police officers and a few days later dies, brain dead. Peaceful protestors fill the streets, some sit quietly in front of buildings of officiants, some chant and sing, shouting for justice, but tear gas and rubber bullets meet them. Same day, same judge, two men are sentenced, one is white, one is black, one gets sentenced two years in county jail, one gets twenty six years in prison. There are countless more stories. More somber recollections we can recite with ease.
So now you know what White Privilege is. You know the power that comes with it, and the unconscious ways our society adds to it. Now you may be asking how can I use my privilege to help? Well, lucky for you, here are some options.
Now that you know that it exists, and are conscious of how it perpetuates our everyday lives, just be aware of when your White Privilege comes into play! Be aware of the world you live in and the struggles of the people around you.
Advocate for your friends of color, heck, even random strangers! By advocating, I don't mean speak for your friends of color, I mean lift up their voices! Being white, you may be able to call attention to your friends when they are being ignored, or when their voices are being silenced. Make sure each and everyone of them gets a chance to say what they want to or need to say. We’re so often stopped or shut down before we can voice our opinions and say what we need to say. You can support them in class, in class debates or discussions, school meetings, or everyday conversations with groups of friends. Teachers sometimes overlook us, make sure that that doesn't happen.
Promote more diversity in your media or in your mediums. If you are a creator, an artist or a business person, encourage more diversity in every room you step in, in everything you create. Be conscious of the way that you’re portraying a character of color, make sure they are a rounded character and that what you’re doing doesn't perpetuate more inaccurate stereotypes. Going back to the power of normal, if you’re a designer, making your own line of something-make sure it accommodates people of color too. Fill the shelves, make more hues of brown.
Support more businesses owned by people of color! Over the past number of years social media and the internet have helped broadcast small businesses and it’s allowed an influx of small businesses owned by poc.
Join the protests, campaign for better changes to our system, when you are old enough to vote. Vote for your brothers and sisters around you.
Be willing to learn from other people different from you. Put yourself in the position to be taught by all kinds of people, in all kinds of walks of life.
You have this power, don't use it to continue the cycle, instead take responsibility for it and for your actions and help those around you. With great power comes great responsibility... so use it wisely.