Let’s just admit it. Whether we like it or not, we live in a world where racism still exists and consequently, so does white privilege. The insidious thing about white privilege is its invisibility in many cases. It comes as a shock to many well-intentioned white people that they do, in fact, have opportunities that people of color do not. They have these opportunities because white is still the default in our culture. Black is “other.” Just like female, homosexual, poor, and fat are “other.” Simply put, white men don’t have to worry about race. This is a luxury and a privilege that often goes unnoticed (mainly by white people). Sometimes we like to pretend that everyone is on level ground, that people have equality and race isn’t an issue anymore. As much as I want that, we’re not quite there yet. The fact remains that people of color are still looked upon as less than white people, and because of this they have to work harder to prove themselves in nearly every arena of society. Some people like to explain away white privilege by insinuating that black people are “keeping themselves down,” or by complaining about policies like affirmative action that attempt to level the playing field, calling them “reverse discrimination.” But reverse discrimination is not a thing. These policies cannot change the basic fact that white people often don’t think about race because they don’t have to.
The invisibility of privilege pervades our social structure. Beyond white privilege there is male privilege, heterosexual privilege, rich privilege, and even thin privilege. Take me, for example. I am a white and thin female. Although I am a women and face discrimination and double standards as a result of my gender (see: feminism ), I reap the benefits of being white and thin, two attributes that society greatly values. This is something that I recognize and think about often. I will never be diminished in the eyes of others because of the color of my skin. My body is socially acceptable: I will not experience the shame of bigger girls who are constantly judged and mocked because of their weight. I am accepted by traditional feminism because I am white and thin. Only in the past couple of decades has feminism taken the experiences of women of color into account, and the campaign against fat shaming is relatively new as well. I will never understand exactly what it means to be black AND a woman: what it is to face double-discrimination on a daily basis. And I can never truly feel the pain of women whose bodies will never be accepted by society because they don’t fit the standard of “beauty.” These are things I will never have to experience – but that doesn’t mean that I should ignore their existence.
I believe that owning up to your privilege and empathizing with others is crucial. Just because it’s not your fault (that you’re white, straight, whatever), it doesn’t mean that you can’t do something about existing inequalities. You always have the option to challenge the status quo rather than accept the current state of things. Yes, I am white and I will always be white. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t talk about race and admit that racism still exists and is a HUGE problem. That doesn’t make me a hypocrite – it makes me an advocate for equality. And honestly, racism isn’t going to disappear until white people actually attempt to eradicate it, instead of living in denial that it even exists. We have re-elected our first black President and First Lady, which is an incredible milestone for our country. But the amount of scrutiny and pure hatred we’ve seen directed at Barack and Michelle purely because of their skin color proves that race is still an issue. Michelle is living as black woman, no less, taking nearly as many hits as her husband (angry black woman, etc).
It is not up to black people to fix racism, just as it is not up to women to fix sexism. We cannot expect black people to be the only ones talking about race or the only ones doing the educating. We want them to be spokespeople for their race and explain to us how and why racism still exists. The problem is that they have been doing this for years already and nothing has changed. The ball is in our hands now. History has taught us plenty about prejudice and discrimination (whether or not we actually listened and learned is another story). We cannot expect the feminist movement to be successful without the participation of men. There needs to be some sense of accountability among people of privilege in order for us to make any sort of progress. And I say all of this as a person of privilege. I don’t need to apologize for being white or for being thin – but I do need to recognize my privilege and think critically about what it means for people who have different experiences.
So what do we do? We talk about it. Talk about race instead of ignoring it. Talk about gender instead of protesting that we have already ensured equality. We stop ignoring privilege and address ways to treat each other as equals – no excuses.