As a white, heterosexual, English-speaking woman, I cannot deny my own privilege. And I shouldn’t.
Following the election of Donald Trump, who is blatantly racist, sexist and xenophobic, fear and hate crimes have been on the rise in the U.S.
According to Alexis Okeowo ‘s article “Hate Crimes on the Rise After Trump’s Election” in The New Yorker, a 12-year-old Colorado girl was told by a boy, “Now that Trump is president, I’m going to shoot you and all the blacks I can find.”
According to the CNN article “‘Make America White Again’: Hate Speech and Crimes Post-Election” by Holly Yan, Kristina Sgueglia and Kylie Walker, five California mosques have received letters threatening that Trump will cleanse America and do to Muslims “what Hitler did to the Jews.”
I’ve seen friends saying how shocked they were following Trump’s election, how horrified they felt seeing reports of violence.
But really, it’s not surprising. This is simply more of the same in a long history of racism against minorities in our country.
It’s easy to tell other people to “let it go” when it comes to the election and what Trump’s victory signifies. Or at least, it’s easy when we’re not the ones directly affected by it.
Does “not being affected” sound familiar to some of you? It should. It’s something called privilege, and it’s a conversation us white people need to have. People of color should not have to tell us how not to be racist. We should be doing that on our own. And that means not shutting down or deflecting the conversation when the topic of race comes up.
According to Derrick Clifton’s article “11 Things White People Should Stop Saying to Black People Immediately” on Mic.com, “White privilege isn’t inherently about being raised in an affluent, two-parent home with high educational attainment and markers of upward mobility in American society. White privilege is the many built-in perks afforded to white people by virtue of being born with white skin and white ethnicity in a social and legal system that enforces white supremacy as the rule of law.”
I know hearing some of us have privilege is not easy to hear. I know it’s especially not easy when our own lives haven’t afforded us what seems on the outside to be a lot of this so-called privilege.
I grew up in a financially-shaky household. When my father passed away several years ago, my family was left destitute. Some days, there was no food in our cupboards. Luxuries that seemed so common to my friends—cars, clothes, schooling—seemed so far out of reach.
But even so, I still benefited from privilege. I never had to worry about being underrepresented in media, having people of my skin color left out of history lessons, or being followed while shopping. I’ve never been expected to be a straight-A student based on the color of my skin, been accused of stealing white people’s jobs, or had my belongings vandalized because I moved into a predominantly white neighborhood.
Having privilege is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s not something anyone chooses; we are simply born into it. But what we can and should choose to do is to recognize our privilege and use it in the fight against racism.
Part of doing so is to stop saying or to call out those who say things like the following:
No one is accusing anyone of being a bad person for having privilege. Accepting that white people will never face the realities of living as a black, Asian, Native American, Latinx or other non-white ethnicity or race in America. That is fact. Accept it. Recognize it. Use it to stop instances of racism around you.
“I’m not racist. I have black friends.”
Having friends who are part of a minority group has no bearing on your own potential for racism. This is a weak excuse.
“How come you can say the n-word, but I can’t?”
Because as a white person, you have never faced the slavery, racism and segregation that has come with this word. When black people decide to reclaim the word, that is reclaiming the power behind it. White people don’t get to reclaim the n-word. If you are a white person who chooses to use the n-word, you deserve all the flack you get. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
“When I look at you, I don’t see race.”
No one is colorblind to race. All of us see white, black, brown and any other color. Saying you are colorblind is to ignore the history and reality faced by other races. Saying this is to ignore and therefore exacerbate racism.
Most importantly, recognize that, as Debby Irving, a racial justice educator and writer, wrote in the article “Are Prejudice, Bigotry, and Racism the Same Thing?” on her website, “Racism is the system that allows the racial group that’s already in power to retain power.”
Racism is a power structure that benefits white people. Recognize your privilege, and do something about it.