As a white American born and raised in the Midwest, I grew up completely ignorant of the first-class citizenship handed to me from birth.
Honestly, it never occurred to me as a child — especially since I had only met a handful of black and brown people — that I had a special place in society. In fact, my mother took great care to teach us that racism is shameful and something to stand up against. That seemed like enough.
Nonetheless, since the day I was born I unwitting benefited from a deeply-rooted racial hierarchy grounded in centuries of oppression. I hadn’t earned my special place.
It was given to me because I was born white.
Through years of personal research, reflection and conversation — and the experience of marrying and having children with a person of color — it became evident that there is a difference in the way we are treated. A deeply impactful, sometimes deceivingly subtle difference.
I rank higher on a manufactured totem pole compared to many Americans who, quite frankly, have earned their place. It wasn’t the number of books I read, my moral integrity or my generous spirit that got me there.
Because I was born white, I enjoy the following privileges:
- I can turn on the TV or open a magazine and see my race widely represented.
- I can vocalize my opinions about racism without seeming self-interested or self-involved.
- I do not have to educate my children about systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.
- I can learn about history and science and see my race and gender consistently represented.
- I am not made acutely aware that my shape or body odor will be taken as a reflection of my race.
- I am never asked to speak for all of the people of my racial group.
- I can assume that my failure won’t be attributed to my race.
- I can fight racism one day and forget about it the next.
- I can curse without having people attribute this choice to the bad morals or illiteracy of my race.
- I can assume that if I work hard and follow the rules I will get what I deserve.
- I can be sure that if I need medical or legal help my race will not work against me.
- I can walk into most classrooms and public setting and know I won’t be the only one of my race.
If you are still reading this, it’s safe to assume you believe in standing up for what is right.
The next time you sit at ease in an all-white classroom, or make advances in your career because of your hard work, remember the many who are not offered the same privileges.
Knowledge is power — and so is dealing with reality. If we are all willing to look our own privilege dead in the face, we can begin to break deeply harmful social constructs to create the America we truly believe in.
McIntosh, P. (200). White Privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack.