Peggy McIntosh first identified the concept of White Privilege in the 1970s. She noted, “As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.” The idea of privilege came about as a way to look at discrimination from a different perspective. Discrimination is overt. When you talk about discrimination, a lot of people can say, “Now, wait a minute. I haven’t put anyone down or prevented them from doing what they wanted because of their gender or ethnicity. I have never hurt anyone. That was stuff that happened in the past.” When we talk about discrimination or prejudice, people feel like they are being blamed and need to defend themselves. Talking about privilege is a way to help people recognize and acknowledge the advantages they have. All of us have privilege in some areas and all of us lack privilege in some areas (for example: economic, religious, disability, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc). By becoming aware of our privilege, we can learn to have compassion for others who don’t have the same privilege we do.
What are some examples of white privilege?
This is a small list of some of the privileges that white people have; they are things many white people have taken for granted.
- I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
- I can be sure that my children will be given school materials that testify to the existence of their ethnicity.
- I do not have to educate my children to be aware of racism for their own daily physical protection.
- If a police officer pulls me over I don’t have to fear being harassed or killed because of my ethnicity.
- When I am pulled over by the police, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my ethnicity.
Think about those examples and how it might feel not to have them.
What is the Black Lives Matter Movement all about?
NOTE: Like any organization, BLM has members who are individuals. As with any organization, there are members who are good representatives for a cause. On the other hand, every organization has members who may violate the rules or break the law. That is true regardless of an organization’s political leaning (right or left), religious affiliation, etc. Any individual who breaks the law, hurts people or damages property should be held accountable: that person should be arrested and prosecuted according to the applicable laws. This is true no matter what organization an individual is a member of. Individual behavior does not necessarily invalidate what the movement or organization stands for, no matter what the organization is (BLM or Proud Boys, NRA or the ALCU, etc).
This description of the movement is from the BLM website.
#BlackLivesMatter (Links to an external site.) was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc is a global organization in the US, UK, and Canada, whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities.
African Americans have been hurt or killed in disproportionate numbers compared to whites. According to the Washington Post’s database, in the year 2016 (just one example) there were 962 people shot and killed by police. The article breaks down those deaths by ethnicity. 468 (48%) were white and 234 (24%) were black. White people make up 76% of the US population. African Americans make up only 13% of the US population. That means in 2016, African Americans were three times more likely to be shot and killed by police than whites. Now I’m not saying police officers are inherently bad. I am sure that most of them obey the law and do their jobs with honor. To be clear, no unarmed citizen should ever be injured or killed, most particularly under the color of authority. Police officers should also be able to perform their jobs safely, without fear of being injured or killed. All of us have seen the footage of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police. It was a turning point in the Black Lives Matter movement. According to the Washington Post, July 21, 2020, a majority of Americans supported the Black Lives Matter movement and a record 69 percent said black people and other minorities are not treated as equal to white people in the criminal justice system.
The purpose and motivation of the BLM movement has been largely misunderstood. Their goal is equal justice under the law. The statement, “Black Lives Matter” does not mean that all lives don’t matter. Of course all lives matter. We wouldn’t have to say Black Lives Matter if we treated people like Black Lives actually Matter. It seems to me that being treated equally under the law is not too much to ask.
This video is difficult to watch. But please watch it. It is a very short video (1:26) that depicts what happened in 1960 when young black students tried to sit down at a “White’s Only” lunch counter and waited to be served.
Why are African Americans at a disadvantage?
This is a simple explanation (you may have seen it on social media). It is something I borrowed; I did not write it. I could not find the author’s name.
400 years ago white people brought black people over here and enslaved them. And sold them. And treated them as less than human. For 250 years. While white men built the country and created its laws and its systems of government. While 10 to 15 generations of white families got to grow and flourish and make choices that could make their lives better. And then 150 years ago slavery was officially ended. But then white people created laws that made it impossible for black people to vote. Or to own land. Or to have the same rights as white people. All while another 5 to 10 generations of white families got to grow and accumulate wealth and gain land and get an education. And then the 1964 Civil Rights Act finally gave equal access to voting. And the Civil Rights Movement brought awareness to the issue of equality. But white people still fought to keep schools segregated. And closed off neighborhoods through practices like redlining. And made it harder for black people to get bank loans, or get quality education or health care. All while another 2-3 generations of white families got to grow and pass their wealth down to their children and their children’s children. And then we entered an age where we had the technology to make public the things that were already happening in private– the beatings, the stop and frisk laws, the unequal distribution of justice, the police brutality. And only now, are we finally beginning to truly have a dialogue about what it means to be black. White privilege doesn’t mean you haven’t suffered or fought or worked hard. It doesn’t mean white people are responsible for the sins of our ancestors. It doesn’t mean you can’t be proud of who you are. It does mean that we owe it to our neighbors– of all colors– to acknowledge our privilege and work to make our world more equitable.
The point of privilege is that we have advantages we don’t think about. This video looks at white privilege in a humorous way. But the point it makes should be very clear. The rules do not apply equally to white people and black people. I am sorry about the ad. This video wasn’t available in any other format.
What, if anything, can I do about equal justice under the law?
I decided to try to work on myself at least by identifying some of the daily effects of white privilege in my life. I try to remember that others are suffering and struggling. I try to start every day and every encounter with compassion. When I interact with someone, I don’t know anything about what their life might be like. Before they came through that door, they may have had the worst day of their life. So I start with compassion and understanding and go from there. If I see injustice, I call it out. I will stand together with my brothers and sisters in the BLM movement against unequal treatment. I will vote for those who also want to fight for respect and equality for all people. We have a long way to go. But we have to start somewhere.
“Whatever our backgrounds, we’re all the children of Americans who fought the good fight. Great-grandparents working in firetraps and sweatshops without rights or representation. Farmers losing their dreams to dust. Irish and Italians and Asians and Latinos told to go back where they came from. Jews and Catholics, Muslims and Sikhs, made to feel suspect for the way they worshiped. Black Americans chained and whipped and hanged. Spit on for trying to sit at lunch counters. Beaten for trying to vote.
If anyone had a right to believe that this democracy did not work, and could not work, it was those Americans. Our ancestors. They were on the receiving end of a democracy that had fallen short all their lives. They knew how far the daily reality of America strayed from the myth. And yet, instead of giving up, they joined together and said somehow, some way, we are going to make this work. We are going to bring those words, in our founding documents, to life.
I’ve seen that same spirit rising these past few years. Folks of every age and background. Americans of all races joining together to declare, in the face of injustice and brutality at the hands of the state, that Black lives matter, no more, but no less, so that no child in this country feels the continuing sting of racism.”
Barack Obama, August 19, 2020
Begin by reading Reading #2: On Privilege. After reading it, think about the message in the reading. Then write a one page reflection paper. You are not required to do any research for this assignment. You are meant to think about the reading and reflect on it. Your paper should be one page (with 12 point type and reasonable spaces and margins). I expect college level writing in your paper. Please be thoughtful and honest in your reflection paper, but avoid uncivil or inflammatory language. Be sure to answer each of the following questions in your paper.
1. What did you think about what you read?
2. Was the information new to you? Or was it something you were already familiar with?
3. Give an example of white privilege from your own life (whether it has been an advantage to you or hurt you in some way).
4. Do you (in part) agree with the point of view expressed in the reading? If so, what are some points you agreed with?
5. Do you (in part) disagree with the point of view expressed in the reading? If so, what are some points you disagreed with?
6. What (if anything) can you do to help make sure everyone is safe and treated equally by our justice system? If you think nothing needs to change, explain why.
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