if you’re white – you have privilege.

(Ceding my traditional slot for this essay….but just as much for the discussion it provoked on Dkos of privilege….thanks heathervive! – promoted by buhdydharma )

This is good to keep in mind when liberals, radicals, anarchists, anyone on the left is doing things within their communities, being an activist, their daily lives, etc, etc …

Its quit visible that this country (the USA) has a rather large white population.  And with this of course, comes privilege. Unearned privilege, privilege most of us don’t even realize we have.  Privilege most of us can’t even see because we are entrenched in it.

First, I want to define what privilege is.  Privilege is a sociological concept that defines the benefits that white people enjoy and/or take advantage of.  These benefits may exist in social, political, and economic situations and issues in comparison to so-called non-white people. It is not the same as racism or prejudism, mind you.  Many people don’t even realize their own privileges whether that is so-called race, male, heterosexual, religious, class, cultural, gender appearance and many others.  Within these privileges, as well, people don’t even realize that they unearned.  Meaning, a person did not have to do much of anything to benefit and/or receive them.  For example, a so-called white person will more than likely NOT be called out in a classroom to explain what it’s like to be white, but a non-white person probably will.  It’s almost as though a non-white person is called out in class to be the spokesperson for their so-called race. But within their race, the experiences are different, as well. These privileges are a part of socialization and societal norms, unfortunately.

Another understanding: race is not a biological concept.  It is not something embedded in our biological make-up.  Race is a social construction.  A social construction is something that humans have invented to divided ourselves among groups.  This is why I have used the term “so-called” before a term in describing a race.  We can have closer to the same biological make-up of someone from Africa then our white neighbor.

So why would an issue like this be important for us?  Us meaning people that have unearned privilege. It’s important for white people to understand their own privileges, even if they are not racist or prejudice. And to be allies of people of different races around ourselves is to understand our own privileges-that is to be aware and accept them.  This also means keeping the privileges in mind and realizing others experiences may be different than our own.

Someone can easily state that they are not racist or prejudice.  However, having a friend of a different race and stating that you aren’t racist is not equivalent to actively not being racist.  The fact that you have a black friend, for example, to validate you not being racist does not mean that you are not.  Saying this is not realizing your own privileges and not recognizing the other person’s experiences.

There are also several types of racism.  Some forms would be individual which would be making fun of so-called physical characteristics of non-white people and laughing at racist jokes.  Another form is cultural which would be limiting access to education to a so-called “standard” of the English language.  And another form would be institutional which would be the higher forms of police brutality against so-called non-white people.  

Understanding our own privileges can be hard.  It seems that a lot of people take it as an attack or get really defensive about it.  I can admit that it is a hard thing to wrap your head around.  We are socialized to not even realize it is there and it is something we probably grew up not being aware of; especially in a state where a large portion of the population is white and people are not exposed to very many minority groups.  However, this is not a fault on the minority and oppressed groups, it is not THEIR problem that there is white privilege in our society.  It is the problem of the privileged and it’s something that all of us can be actively taking a part in to at least understand that the privileges are there and be strong allies.


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  1. One of the great experts on white privilege, Tim Wise, talks about our use of the term “underprivileged.” If there are those who are underprivileged, then it stands to reason that there are those who are overprivileged. Its just that we don’t like to acknowledge the latter.  

    • TomP on February 3, 2009 at 18:44

    reception on Daily Kos!

    It amazed and saddened me.  I was troll rated for opposing racism.

    Here, people undersntand privilege.  

  2. Kos Kops to right of her,

    Kos Kops to left of her,

    Kos Kops in front of her,

    Volley’d and thunder’d;

    Storm’d at with shot and shell,

    Boldly she rode and well,

    Into the jaws of Death,

    Into the mouth of Hell,

    Rode heathervive.

  3. to see the reaction and I was sadly not surprised.

    I am one of those whites who has friends of a different race but it never occurred to me to think that exempted me from being racist, espousing racist point of view ect.

    I have caught myself in assumptions about others far too many times to be able to make any unsupported claims about my own racism.

  4. Everyone for reading this.  Wow, 355 comments on Daily Kos!  I rarely post on these sites mostly because I don’t have time.  People just don’t see their white privilege.

    I am white!  I see mine and remind myself everyday.

    Aagin thanks for the support ya’ll.  And yes, Wise is key to reading about this stuff.  Same with Peggy McIntosh!

    • dennis on February 3, 2009 at 23:51

    To plug a valuable book written by a friend of mine, Chip Smith, check out The Cost of Privilege.

  5. is when the gods of Government call programs we pay for and ones that help us all ‘entitlements’. for me it refects the whole mindset we have to deal with. Your rights to live and survive in this capitalistic shark society that is broke due to greed and the real entitlement calls any aid that we pay entitlements that need top be reviewed, revoked and cut. Yet we fling endless funny money at the mainly white dudes who are too big too fall. Wrap your head around it people, where all just fodder for politics that revolve around white guys who claim they keep the world turning, when in actuality they are destroying everything worth living for, both physicaly and spiritually. You can wait around for the powers that be to acknowledge your ‘privileges’ be you white, brown, male female, or GBTL but your needs will not be met as long as the assholes of greed run the show.    

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