'White privilege' is not something to feel guilty about. Here's what it does mean.
On some level, we can all agree that things aren't exactly where we'd like them to be.
Does the idea of "white privilege" make you uncomfortable? Angry? Guilty? Attacked? I don't blame you.
It's a hard thing to get your head around, and it feels kind of ... well ... accusatory. But the idea of white privilege isn't itself a bad or good thing; it's just telling us how it is.
And it's broken.
Let's explore an example about how racial inequity in our society is 100% real.
The U.S. Census Bureau decided to examine how wealth* was distributed across race and income. When they looked at the median net worth by race, here's what they found:
That's right, there's massive economic disparity across races at every income level.
And for the poorest of the poor, you can't even see them on the graph. We have to zoom in.
And zoom in EVEN MORE.
Remember, the median net worth for the poorest white household? It was $24,000. The discrepancy is so wide and so real that it is clear society somehow favors those who identify as white.
Something about the way our current system is functioning is not making up for how terribly our past system treated people of color. And that is what white privilege is about.
White privilege is a REAL thing, but it's not a BAD thing.
If life is a race, white people have been running for over 400 years, and black people just started running 50 years ago — and we just got shoes, like, 15 years ago. White people have distinct advantages in life over people of color because of structural racism, discrimination, and disenfranchisement both past and present.
This is not something to feel guilty about, but it is something to act on. Guilt is not productive. But conscious awareness is. White people should not feel guilty about the discrimination of the past but should feel compelled to help correct the inequalities of the present.
Racism still exists, and "colorblindness" makes it worse.
Racism has not disappeared from the country because we have a black president. People of color deal with discrimination on a daily basis, sometimes in small ways (like feeling uncomfortable in a store) and sometimes in big ways (getting killed by a cop despite not being a lethal threat).
The only way to make racism disappear is not to ignore it through “colorblindness" but to actively fight it — in your own mind and the people you know. No real problems have ever been solved by ignoring them. You're much more likely to fall on your face if you're unwilling to look for pitfalls.
Good people do racist things.
When Joe Biden called Barack Obama "articulate," it was kind of racist. But Joe Biden isn't a racist person. He just lets dumb stuff fall out of his face hole sometimes. The word "racist" is loaded because it immediately subjects the accused to shame. Unfortunately, we don't have too many alternatives. I wish we did.
Try to resist the urge to get defensive and listen to the person's arguments with an open mind. They didn't say you were racist. They said that thing you just said was racist. If the arguments make sense to you, change the behavior and move on with your life. Consider it a free self-betterment seminar. If you don't agree, consider changing the behavior anyway if it is feasible to do so. Can't hurt to err on the side of not hurting someone.
The first step — the very first step — is acknowledging that the system is broken. It's also the easiest.