You have White Privilege.
Did you cringe?
Roll your eyes?
Do you feel defensive?
It’s okay, I used to have the same responses.
In fact, not too long ago an old Facebook status popped up on my memories feed dealing with “white privilege.” Oh boy, was past Deanna mad! How dare someone assume they know anything about my life? How dare they discount all my hard work to get where I am today, solely based on my skin color?
I was angry and defensive.
I was also wrong.
White privilege does not mean that a white person’s life is always easy, or that they will never have any struggles to overcome. White privilege means that society as a whole is not stacked against you, and that you are more likely to be able to overcome those struggles.
Take my story as an example: in my status, I talked about being born into poverty and spending my first few years in the Louisiana Foster Care System before being adopted. I saw this as an indication that I could not possibly be privileged in any way. What I failed to see is:
- black children are considerably more likely to be born into poverty;
- black children are considerably more likely to be placed into foster care;
- black children are considerably less likely to be adopted;
- black children are considerably more likely to age out of the foster care system and be left to fend for themselves;
- black children are more likely to repeat the cycle of poverty.
What I failed to acknowledge, is that even at the lowest point in my life, I was still better off than a black child in similar circumstances. THAT is white privilege.
There are many other times I have benefited from white privilege as well, such as my interactions with law enforcement. I have participated in numerous protests over the years, for a variety of causes. Never once have I doubted for even a second, that the Police were there to protect me from any violence. Never once did I worry that they were there to harm me, or to protect those who wanted to cause me violence.
When police have been called on protests that I have organized or participated in, not only was I not worried about false arrest, or undue force, but I was happy to see them. I smilingly approached them straight away, introducing myself and explaining that I was a lawyer and asking if they had any questions or concerns about our protest. I was completely secure in my innocent “whiteness” and my charming “yes, sirs” and “no, sirs.” No one would ever think me a threat. THAT is white privilege.
All of this is not to say that I do not understand why people react negatively when they hear the words “white privilege.” All too often these words are used to shut down a conversation about important issues. But it is really where the conversation should start. As white Americans, we must realize that the acknowledgment of our privilege is essential to the discussions our country needs. Only when we are able to put aside our pride and come to the table with our black brothers and sisters with the serious intention of hearing and validating their black experience, will we be able to begin healing the racial divides in our country. Only then can we “Make America Great.”
It was a long journey for me to get to a place where I could acknowledge my privilege, and I am not proud of how I handled the conversations in the past. When the old status showed up, my mouse hovered over the “delete button.” I was ashamed. But instead of merely erasing the proof of my past ignorance and pretending it never happened, I choose to use it as a reminder of how far I have come, and how far I still have to go.