Starting to Understand White Privilege

I’ve heard the term “white privilege” tossed about a lot, and I’ve never understood what it means.  That I’m privileged because I’m white, I suppose?  I never really gave it a lot of thought – which those who are trying to tell me about white privilege might say is because I’m white, which then just confuses me again.

Through the power of the internet, this afternoon I ran across a segment about the daily effects of white privilege.  I read it, and it gave me a different perspective than I had before.  For some reason, this item on this list stood out to me:

I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.

And I think I finally started to get what white privilege meant.  And in “getting it”, I was convicted about how I sometimes view others.

I admit that if I see white people in sweats in a grocery store I generally don’t give them a second thought.  “They’re just dressed casually for a Saturday.”  But there are other times I see people of other races dressed the same and automatically assume that they are poor.  Wow.  How ridiculous is that?

I can dress however I want and I don’t have to worry about how others might taken that as not just a reflection on me but on my race.  That’s… weird.  I’d never thought about that before.

There are two sweet little kids in my Sunday school class, and when their mother picks them up each week I’m always in awe her fashion.  She is extremely classy and impeccably put together.  Suits, heels and hose, jewelry and handbag, and often a hat.  She looks like Michelle Obama.  She is black.

And I realized today that I probably notice her fashion because she is black.  If there are any well-dressed white women who have come to pick up their kids, I have cannot recall them.  Really.  Isn’t that weird?  I have 120+ kids in my room each week, and even though my church is very casual when I try to flip through a mental video tape I can’t EVER remember a well-dressed white mother?  Which made me think about another item on the list: I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.  I look at her and think “a well-dressed black woman” – not “a well dressed woman.”  It makes me realize that she’s probably carrying that burden of wanting to be viewed positively rather than worry about negative stereotypes.

Wow.  What kind of stress must that cause, to live in a state of worry about how they dress or act or what they say may reflect poorly on a whole race?  Not that it should because people are individuals, but the more I think about it that is what does happen.  And I’m guilty of it.  Thinking, “Oh, he speaks that way because he is Latino” when I might ignore a white man saying the same thing with the same phrasing or inflections.

I guess what I’m admitting here is that I view people differently based on their race.  (And other characteristics, too, if I’m being honest.)  Is it all the time?  No.  Is it with everyone?  No.  But it does happen.

I think I finally understand a little more about white privilege.  And I was convicted about how I treat non-whites.

I think the next step is recognizing these thoughts when I have them.  Asking God to help me take those thoughts captive.  And trying to learn to not make assumptions about people I don’t know based on their appearances.

Also, recognizing that there are things I as a white person don’t have to worry about or even consider – like if I’m ever pulled out of the security line at the airport it’s probably not because of my race.  And maybe trying to share this knowledge with others when I get a chance.

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