My earlier Reflection on White Privilege contrasted my upbringing with those of Black and Brown friends. Society told them that educational and professional opportunities were closed to them because of their skin color or ethnicity. On the other hand, their families told them that education was the way to overcome that barrier.
SEE ALL PRIOR PARTS IN THIS SERIES BELOW⤵︎
In academics and athletics, though, they would have to be twice as good as other students to obtain those opportunities. In contrast, when I was young, it was assumed that my brother and I would have access to a variety of educational opportunities and career options based on where we were able to position ourselves in a meritocracy. Now, looking back, I realize that this assumption was a privilege.
Additional readings and speakers I’ve heard since writing that expanded my understanding of white privilege. First, I learned that my privilege is about more than educational and career opportunities. Rebecca Stevens A., writing in Medium.com, points out that White Privilege is:
about not having to worry about the color of your skin when you walk into a store, no one will think that you are trying to steal something. It’s about not having to worry that you won’t get a job because of the color of your skin. It’s about having people that look like you in magazines or in your neighborhood. It’s about not getting hurt or killed when you get stopped by police.
It’s about immunity to the stress that “everyday racism” imposes on people who aren’t white.
I also learned that my opportunities and freedom from such stress are part of circumstances (the color of my skin) and a system not of my own doing: what many call systemic racism, or, if Isabel Wilkerson is right, a caste system. White privilege thus conflates with white supremacy. Elizabeth “Betina” Martinez’s “What is White Supremacy” suggests that white supremacy is “a web of interlocking, reinforcing institutions,” not just “personal prejudices and individual acts of discrimination.” The word “supremacy,” according to Martinez, indicates that the system sustains a power relationship. It is historically based in the conquest of other peoples, slavery, and the seizure of territories by war.
My privilege may be rooted in history, but it is also due to choices I’ve made and how I applied my skills, abilities, and knowledge in a system. Julianna Bradley describes how both institutions and personal behavior combine to form and perpetuate white identity. She suggests that white identity should be recognized among African-American, Latinx, and Native Peoples’ identities. She wants to establish ways of living that are in service to all, not just the particular identities we hold. That way white people can move from being good people who are non-racist to where they can work on anti-racism and dismantle systems that benefit white people disproportionately.
My identity as “white” is not something I was conscious of. I never asked, “what is it to be white?” My privilege as a white person was an assumed entitlement. I don’t feel guilty or remorseful about that because I wasn’t there to participate in building the system, and I exercised agency to benefit from it. That’s fine, because, as a friend recently told me, “sorry doesn’t do anything.”
What I learned recently made me realize that I have privilege in such abundance that I can and should give it away generously. Stevens A. argues that White Privilege is “an infinite and precious resource.” It doesn’t run out. Sharing it with others who don’t benefit from the system doesn’t diminish my supply.
I have been doing things that these authors and suggest: educating myself, speaking with others unlike me. However, what I’ve learned gives me a more complete framework to understand what I’ve been doing and to guide future efforts. The framework puts my commitments to organizations like SMU’s center of excellence for Latino Leadership, Nairobi’s Daystar University, Literacy Achieves, and Inroads in a broader context. My standing, skills, and styles are more effective in organizational leadership and management roles than on the front lines. Going forward in my current phase of life, front line opportunities can keep me forming relationships with people different from me and learning from them.
- Rebecca Stevens A., “You’ve Got Loads of White Privilege, Start Sharing It!” Medium.com, November 2020.
- Elizabeth “Betina” Martinez, “What is White Supremacy?” Catalyst Project www.collectiveliberation.org
- https://www.togetherwecan.one/ Free membership provides monthly resources, including:
- UNUM Ken Burns – UNUM Short: The Mythology of Monuments | Facebook (brief interview with James Baldwin, part of Burns’ film on The Statue of Liberty)
- The Paradox of the Declaration of Independence – The Aspen Institute (short written article)