It’s a concept that is wildly misunderstood. It’s a reality that is often ignored. It’s the truth that affects each of us every day. We can choose to ignore it. We can claim that we are exempt from it. We can even pretend that it’s by a blatant unwillingness to put in the effort that minorities are left in the batter’s box while we’re all waiting on third base.
White privilege doesn’t discriminate based on politics, religion, or beliefs. White privilege is giving you the upper hand even while you’re ignoring its presence. We don’t have to agree on its origins or fully understand its impact. We only need to agree that empathy and concern for others are values we share. We only need to believe that we can do more for our minority friends, family, and neighbors and work toward that belief. We have the power to make a difference in their lives, to level the playing field and reach across the boundaries of diversity. White privilege can only hurt our peers, our loved ones, and our equals if we allow it. It can only continue to benefit us if we choose to ignore it.
We must begin to ask ourselves what’s important. Do political agendas, entitlements, and elitism have greater worth than someone’s life? Or do we believe in equality, peace, and fairness? If the second holds true, we all have work to do.
We can hardly claim that equality is important or tolerance is necessary if we’re remaining complacent while others are suffering on account of our silence. Our African American coworkers, peers, and acquaintances see life through a different lens. A lens we perpetuate by ignoring the truth. We can walk down the street without the fear that we will be mistaken for rapists, murderers, or worse. They are forced to take necessary precautions to avoid being caught up in a crime they didn’t commit.
We can open the latest issue of Vogue and find white standards of beauty represented throughout the magazine. They can go six months never seeing a member of their race pictured.
We can apply for bank loans with the knowledge that being white will not negate our ability to repay our debts. Minorities repeatedly do not bother filling out the application as the color of their skin will work against their credibility, anyway.
When is the last time you worried your job application would be rejected because you’re white? Or that your race wasn’t being represented equally in the government? That your voice might not be heard? This fear is the reality so many of our friends and family experience each day. We are constantly surrounded by this pain, concern, and worry and we brush it under the rug. I think we’re better than that. I think we would want to make a difference if we had the opportunity. And we do.
We shouldn’t listen to stereotypes spewed for political gain, hatred expressed out of ignorance, or an ill-informed media. Our responsibilities are only to listen and to learn. I’ve seen twelve Facebook posts today alone about blacks reveling in “government handouts” or prolonging their own suffering. What if that’s not the whole truth? What if we’re missing parts of the story? Or turning a blind eye to information we don’t want to see? You don’t have to concede to any of those statements. But if you truly want to be the best person you can be, if you have compassion and believe in equality, you have to listen. You have to entertain the thoughts and admit that you might have disregarded the other side of the story. You have to be willing to hear your friends, family, and acquaintances with an unbiased and receptive ear. A little understanding can go a long way.
Can you imagine the distrust and hopelessness you would feel if you were left to fend for yourself in a world of uncertainty? Can you imagine the hurt it would cause if you felt you had no voice and no one would listen? Take the time to understand. We are careful in our refusal to admit white privilege. We are relentless in our ignorance of the matter. We don’t want to be held accountable for the pain of others. And that’s the beauty of it all. We don’t have to be.
We can make the decision right now to have a positive impact on the lives of others. We can make the decision right now to listen, to learn, to understand, and to give a voice to those who have none. If you decide to go on with your life ignoring white privilege, believing it doesn’t apply to you, or thinking minorities create their own suffering, you’re also making the decision to let others live a life full of fear, worry, and uncertainty they can’t escape. They don’t expect our help. They don’t need our help. They’ve been living in a predominantly white society for as long as they can remember.
But can you honestly live with yourself if you go on, ignoring reality, knowing you could have made a difference? You can choose to take action for the betterment of society. Or you can use your white privilege to disregard the truth that others can’t dismiss.