Did you see this photo?
Now before you get all defensive, let’s keep it 100% here. The current president garnered 53% of the white woman vote. That’s despite his comments about grabbing women by the pussy (Saying the word pussy is the reason some women have used to dis the march. If our president can be vulgar, why can’t women?). That’s despite his total disrespect for women. Oh, but he hires women. Yeah, he does. Most misogynists do, because they like the feeling of power, and they feel they can pay us a lot less.
But I’m not here to talk about him. I want to talk about white privilege. Trump is in office because, I believe, he told a bunch of white people we are better than everyone else and should be treated as such, and a lot of us believed him.
White privilege is, “…a transparent preference for whiteness that saturates our society.” (from the Teaching Tolerance website) When I was a kid, the flesh colored crayon was a peachy color, as were bandages and pantyhose. The president was white. The governor was white. The preacher was white. Everybody on TV was white. And I was white and saw nothing unusual about that.
Like climate change, a significant portion of white people don’t believe white privilege exists. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t. Just means some folks don’t want to believe it.
But I believe white privilege is real, and I have been the recipient of many perks of being white without realizing it. Here are some the more obvious examples of white privilege I’ve noticed lately in my world:
At work I see both men and women of all ages, sizes and skin tones. But turn on the TV to watch a popular show and the actors are mostly white, young, and thin. To be sure, it’s better than it used to be. But not by much. NCIS? Mostly white. Walking Dead? Mostly white. Game of Thrones? Mostly white. The ads shown during the shows? Mostly white. The bad guy? Not white. The crew member who dies during the episode? Not white. Imagine if the only roles you saw persons with your skin tone play were villains, victims, or caricatures such as pimps and terrorists.
Even though I don’t watch television often, I still see plenty of ads. The billboard touting our local electrical cooperative? White family. The regular mailer I get from a local dentist? All white people with perfect smiles. Mailers with ads for clothing? White people. Ads for cars? White people. Ads for jewelry? White people. What message does that send to consumers of color? I just assumed those businesses didn’t want to provide services to persons of color (or at least that’s what they wanted us white folks to believe).
Recently at work it was recommended I watch a YouTube video on Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I did. Though cartoon figures, all the main characters are white… until just before the 5 minute mark when a guy with an assault rifle attacking another guy drops down out of the sky. The victim is white; the attacker is a man of color wearing a beret (think Black Panther). The unspoken moral I got from that video? Whites are highly effective people. People of color aren’t.
I participate in wellness activities at work. The line dancing group I attend is mostly African-American women. The yoga group I went to on occasion was mostly white women. Once the leader of the dance group mentioned she’d been asked to try to make the activity more diverse. I never heard the yoga leader say anything like that. The message I got was there’s something wrong with a group of mostly women of color getting together to exercise, but not for white women to do so.
And then there’s the state government. I work blocks from the state capitol, and politics is of concern to me (as I would hope they are to everyone). Here is a recent photo released of our governor’s announcement of his plans to raise the gas tax to pay for infrastructure improvements.
There are the confederate flag bumper stickers on vehicles. The well-dressed white woman who asked the owners of a nearby ethnic restaurant if “you people” celebrate Christmas in a polite but somewhat condescending tone. Really? She then went on to ask if they ate turkey and dressing “like we do” or ethnic foods during their celebration. The owners seemed to take it in stride, but I couldn’t hide the look of shock and horror on my face at what I was hearing.
And the thing that has bothered me most of all, on more than one occasion I have seen white men nudge their vehicle far too close to an African-American walking legally in the crosswalk. I made a point each time to let that driver know I was watching; but that, too, is using white privilege, isn’t it? Why does it take one white person watching another to stop inappropriate and threatening behavior?
White people will poo-poo this all off as me making mountains out of mole hills. Indeed, white people have the luxury of passing off lots of things we don’t want to deal with. Like gun control. Like the militarization of our police force. Like reparations.
Truth is that despite my anguish at what our president is doing, it won’t affect me too much. I’m a white American. I don’t have to worry about my child being killed by a police officer. I don’t have to worry about being deported or if I’ll be able to return if I leave the country to visit my family. I don’t have to worry about being brainwashed into thinking something is wrong with me because I am homosexual or transgender. I get insurance through my employer. I’m post-menopausal so no abortions needed. And at my age I’ll probably not live long enough to see the end of the world due to climate change. Those are the advantages of privilege.
So why bother to talk about it?
Because it’s not fair for me to get better treatment because of something beyond my control.
Because privilege and misogyny go hand in hand.
And, frankly, white privilege is dangerous.
It’s time for us white people to become aware of how different the world is for us than for persons of color. We need to quit saying we’re one nation under God, and start acting like it. Talking about why we’re not is the first step toward getting there.
What do you think?