Bill Drake: The advantage of being white
February 8, 2019
A notable aspect of racism in America is the fact that those of us who are white have "white privilege," a term that refers to unearned privileges or advantages we have, simply because of our race, that non-whites don't have.
Most white people don't see this. Why is that the case?
Some of us fail to see it due to myths we believe, for example, the myth that discrimination is a thing of the past and minorities don't get ahead because of their own shortcomings. We also want to believe that we are 100 percent responsible for all we have gained.
White privilege can be hard to see because the degree of privilege whites have varies by gender, religion, sexual orientation, and other factors. For example, white men have more privilege than white women. But all whites have a degree of privilege non-whites don't experience.
An understanding of white privilege does not encourage hatred toward white people ...
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Of course, the beliefs and behavior of some whites support the idea of white privilege. In my youth, this was the case with my white supremacist family. We looked down on others due to our insecurities, generations of teachings related to hatred or fear of other races, and the influences of our white dominated society, and we believed white people were superior to others and should have advantages. And in my Jim Crow South, white privilege was safeguarded by hundreds if not thousands of racist laws.
In spite of that, I was not really conscious of it for the first decades of my life, in part, because it was, and is, so pervasive. It has always been everywhere and an integral part of my world, like gravity. How often do we think about gravity?
A number of research studies have demonstrated white privilege and systemic, or system-wide, racism in different areas of our society. To cite one example, in 2012, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development published, "Housing Discrimination Against Racial and Ethnic Minorities," based on 8,000 experiments conducted in 28 cities. During the experiments, two equally matched individuals, one white, and the other non-white, inquired about rentals.
The study concluded that "Black, Hispanic, and Asian renters are all told about fewer housing units than equally qualified white renters …"
In my own life I can see many examples of advantages I have had as a white person, advantages that resulted in disadvantages for non-whites. My personal examples range from jobs I have been given to educational opportunities.
University professor Peggy MacIntosh compared white privilege to an invisible knapsack that whites always carry that is full of unnoticed benefits. She listed 50 advantages she had as a white person. What follows is a short adaptation of that list, which the reader can reflect on in terms of the possible truth of it for him or her.
I can go shopping pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
I can turn on the TV or open the paper and see people of my race widely and positively represented.
Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
I do not have to educate my children to be aware of racism for their own physical protection.
If I ask to talk to the "person in charge," I will probably be facing a person of my race.
I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.
I will feel welcomed and "normal" in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social and when traveling alone or with my spouse.
An understanding of white privilege does not encourage hatred toward white people, as I have seen illogically suggested on a website. It points to gaining awareness of the experience of non-whites in order to work toward a just and inclusive society that is based on love instead of fear and separation.
Most of us whites are not responsible for creating the advantages we have by virtue of our whiteness, but through greater awareness, we can take responsibility for finding ways to at least diminish them.
Bill Drake lives in Nevada City. He co-founded Creating Communities Beyond Bias, an organization that endeavors to help Nevada County become an empowered community that supports and honors diversity. He is the author of "Almost Hereditary, A White Southerner's Journey Out of Racism, A Guide to Unlearning and Healing Prejudice." His website is http://www.healracism.com.
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