“Yeah but, why can’t there be a children’s day?”
“Because every day is children’s day.”
This was my mother’s response when one year as a kid I wondered aloud about the “fairness” of the fact that my mother essentially got two “birthdays.” The young are especially concerned with what’s fair but the more I think about it, the old adage “life isn’t fair,” becomes more and more applicable. We often confuse fairness with equity and these are two different concepts.
So, here’s my version of “Dear White People” from possibly (according to my husband), the whitest person you know.
Want to know what’s not “fair?” Slavery. Forced relocation and genocide all in the name of progress. Being told to “speak English” by individuals who can barely do so themselves.
It sucks that the history of marginalized groups in the US has been reduced to “awareness months.” It sucks for a lot of reasons but on the top of that list is the fact that it begs even so-called “woke” or worse, color-blind white people to ask the question: “why don’t we have a white history month?” Fair is fair.
It’s not about what’s fair. It’s about equity. And, to answer your question, because every month is white history month.
racism and prejudice defined
This brings me to my next point. Terms like racism and prejudice are often thrown around as synonymous and are misused more than they are targeted at appropriate examples. I have spent my educational career calling out kids on this fact. So let’s set the record straight.
Prejudice is very simply a biased opinion or preconceived notion about a person or group of people not based on actual facts or experience. Pretty much every person on the planet has some kind of prejudice. This is not necessarily based on skin color but covers all kinds of biases. Consider some of the most common include prejudice based on a person’s weight, sexual orientation, educational background, country of origin, etc. Prejudice is also the mother of almost all stereotypes.
Racism, on the other hand, is a lot more specific. This can and does include prejudice but it also is differentiated by the intentional and systematic discrimination of a person or group based on skin color or race accompanied by the belief that one’s own race is superior.
Both are dangerous but only one proactively keeps another group down. Plain and simple, if you’re white, you cannot and do not experience racism. Prejudice yes, racism, no. Why? Because the system is already designed for your benefit.
You’re still white
This is often where I hear complaints of, “well, I’m poor, so the system doesn’t benefit me.” Sure, income inequality is also a real thing but let’s talk about this. You are never made to feel an outsider because of the color of your skin. And, if you’re the one white person in a room, you’re “otherness” is still fairly irrelevant because society is still orchestrated around you and the cultural majority. Your customs, your beliefs, your histories.
In fact, it is more likely that you are rarely conscious, if ever of your skin color. Why? Because everything in your world is designed around you. Here’s a great example. Do you like Disney movies or TV of any kind? I bet you do. Who wouldn’t? Notice how almost every image is a reflection of you. Didn’t see much color in Arendelle. Even just a quick scan through the “highest-rated” television shows of all time reveals whiteness. It’s okay, I liked Game of Thrones too. But, you still need to acknowledge that, it’s super white.
From makeup to undergarments to even filing for a marriage certificate (white culture typically only accommodates one last name or a hyphenated name). Account for the fact that these are dilemmas you never face. And if you’re only conscious of choosing between light and extra light as your biggest foundation problem then you’re already missing the point.
We could discuss a lot more specific facts and figures that support the fact that our society is dominated by whiteness and keeping us comfortable but it seems that those don’t tend to work to sway you either. Neither do the thousands of voices from our society that we either ignore or continue to argue with. “Yeah, but.” As my mom would say, “no buts.”
you have privilege if…
Since we still aren’t listening and since we still aren’t “seeing it,” I’ll take one for the team and hope that maybe you’re inclined to hear it from a privileged white lady instead. And this is the most important part, it’s not our job to speak for the oppressed. Doing so assumes that these individuals can’t do it for themselves.
It is our job though to know what racism and prejudice are and how it impacts every facet of our society. It is our job to understand that “fairness” at the very least, includes acknowledgment of the systematic disenfranchisement of “other” groups in our society that are still alive and well today. And it is our job to check our privilege at the door.
Want to know what to look for? Here’s a list to get you started.
- You have privilege if you’re white.
- You have privilege if you’re a man.
- You have privilege if you have a post-secondary degree.
- You have privilege if you’re a heterosexual.
- You have privilege if you own your home.
- You have privilege if your parents are still married.
- You have privilege if you are medically fit.
- You have privilege if you can afford all your bills and then some.
- You have privilege if you speak English as your first language.
- You have privilege if you have traveled outside of the country for pleasure.
And please, instead of getting offended, try some reflection. Your ancestors weren’t forced into slavery, intentionally given smallpox infected blankets or had your entire cultural heritage erased. Your relatives are not living with the day-to-day reality that federal agents will show up at your door and take you or your parent away.
Yeah, the potato famine must have sucked, but you’re still white and descendants of Irish-Americans aren’t incarcerated at an alarmingly disproportionate rate. And the next time I hear one of my white students say, “it’s not fair that just because she’s Native American she gets to go to college for free,” I swear I’m really going to lose it. Okay, Karen. You have privilege even if you didn’t do much to earn it. Accept it and move on. Fair is not fair.
A Very Privileged White Woman