Tracey McKee • August 22, 2023
The first time I heard the term white privilege, I remember thinking that it didn’t apply to me. My reaction was not unique; as you have probably seen, the media has covered a lot of stories about the backlash to terms like white privilege and oppression. Almost as if a default setting had kicked in, when I first heard the term, I began a mental list of things that could prove I was not privileged. I thought about examples of hard work and the personal adversities I had overcome. Others have shared that their minds went to work taking inventory of their lifestyles and financial responsibilities, and they questioned how they could be considered privileged.
Participating in Brownicity’s What Lies Between Us course, helped me to understand white privilege.
White privilege (or white skin privilege) is a term for societal privileges that benefit white people in Western countries beyond what is commonly experienced by people who are not racialized as white under the same social, political, or economic circumstances.
It is simply a phrase to express how, as white people, our skin color has not been an obstacle for us. For example, white people can easily find flesh-colored bandaids, make-up, crayons, or dolls matching their skin tone. White people are generally trusted to be financially responsible and have good credit. White families can expect that their children will be taught history the honors white people in school. White people don’t have to be wary that a salesperson will want to hold their bags as they shop in a department store. We typically navigate through a world tailored to us, and most of us don’t see it.
The first time I recognized white privilege was when I was searching for a Black baby doll for a Christmas gift. I went to several stores and found no dolls that represented any people of color. I finally found one Black baby doll that was terribly sad in comparison to the many white dolls on the shelves. That really spoke to me; I didn’t know at the time that what I was experiencing was an example of white privilege.
“Having white privilege doesn’t mean that your life isn’t difficult; it simply means that your skin color isn’t one of the things contributing to your life difficulties.”Shola M Richards, Workplace Civility Activist (https://www.staffnet.manchester.ac.uk/equality-and-diversity/race-charter-mark/support-race-equality/)
Acknowledging white privilege does not mean you are being held accountable for how our world was handed to us. When I understood that white privilege was not about me personally and that it was about seeing the differences in how white people can navigate the world versus how people of color must navigate the world, lightbulbs went on. I am happy that I recently went to Target looking for a birthday gift for a friend’s child, and there were black, brown, and white dolls. I liked the feeling I had when I looked at those shelves and thought of the children who would be able to see themselves reflected in those toys.