Black Vs White Privilege Essay

1. You should know about ... Peggy McIntosh's 'Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack'

In 1988, Academic and Feminist, Peggy McIntosh wrote a 50-point essay, identifying and noting down some of the daily effects of privilege in her life as a white person living in the U.S.

Although the underlying concepts date back at least as far as to the work of W.E.B Du Bois in the 1930s, it was McIntosh's essay in the 1980s that made 'white privilege' gain popularity in social discourse. (It is well worth noting, and with no small amount of irony, that it took the work of a white person to gain notoriety for a concept that many prominent black academics and intellectuals had been identifying and 'unpacking' for decades already.)

Some of 'Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack' is here,

  • 'I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race'.
  • 'I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.'
  • 'I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.'

2. You should know that ... White privilege is not class privilege

As the word 'privilege' is often associated with the upper classes; people who went to private schools, those who got a car for their sweet 16th, those who have hired 'help' or people whose parents paid their rent throughout university, many white people who come from low socioeconomic backgrounds negate the concept of white privilege.

White privilege doesn't mean that you are born into money, that's class privilege.

White privilege means that you are born into the racial 'norm', another kind of privilege. A privilege where you can;

  • Turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of your race widely represented.
  • If you wish, you can arrange to be in the company of people of your race most of the time.
  • If you buy “flesh” coloured items like band-aids or stockings, they will more or less match your skin tone.
  • If you were able to use the original suite of emoji's, the 'thumbs up' or 'peace sign' hand gestures represented your race.
  • You can easily can find picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and magazines featuring people of your race.

Being born white means that you were born into a system that validates and reaffirms that you are socially included - and being socially included, is a very valuable privilege.

And lastly, unlike class, a person cannot hide their race.

3. You should know about ... Jane Elliott's brown-eyed-blue-eyed experiment

A school teacher named Jane Elliott was living and working in segregated 1960s America where black citizens' civil rights were perpetually denied. She became so affected by the widespread prejudice, particularly after the racially motivated assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, that she made an effort to teach her students - the future generation - how illogical it is to discriminate a person purely because of the way they look.  

Like skin colour, eye colour is determined by pigmentation and Elliott's classroom became a 'society' where brown-eyed students were privileged over blue-eyed students, and then after time, reversed this blue-eyed children to feel superior. By creating a microcosm of power and prejudice, where children were briefly exposed to both, Elliot was able to impart on them a life long lesson about the absurdity of racism and of white privilege.

Since then she has replicated this exercise for adults around the world.

4. You should know that ... It's not about what white people do get, it's about what they don't get 

You should know that the opposite of privilege is disadvantage. While a person might not feel like significant opportunity (like the private schooling or the car) has been handed to them on account of their whiteness, on the flip side - and more importantly - disadvantages haven't either. 

White privilege doesn't mean that you get to walk into a supermarket, shoplift and not be reprimanded. Instead, it means that you are less likely to be racially profiled and followed around by store security with the assumption you're going to steal, because you're not white.

When you are white, you are less likely to,

  • Have been called racial slurs
  • Have been the victim of racially motivated abuse
  • Be asked 'where you're from' in a way that is not polite
  • To have marched in a protest in order to demand equal rights for, or call out the suffering of, your race.
  • See your cultural ethnicity hanging on shelves of party stores as a costume

Do you have the privilege to avoid having your race, religion and cultural identity made into a costume and worn by a group who have oppressed your people for hundreds of years?

To understand privilege, you need to understand disadvantage. What disadvantages does a person avoid by being white? 

5. You should know that ... "You have white privilege" does not automatically translate as 'you are a racist'. 

In the words of Peggy McIntosh, “I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group”. 

Having your white privilege mentioned doesn't mean that you are being labelled as someone who is actively prejudice toward non-white people. Instead, it is making the point that as a white person, you receive benefits from being the dominant ethnicity in society. Also admitting that you have white privilege doesn't conflict with your own acceptance of diversity. 

6. You should know that ... The greatest trick white privilege ever pulled was convincing the world it doesn't exist.  

The myth of the meritocracy, and the fallacy that at some magical point in the last few decades, is that racism was not only abolished, but was slowly replaced with 'reverse racism' and that white people are now the disadvantaged group. This has made the realities of white privilege more elusive than ever before.

This can be seen in levels of representation in all of our institutions, both in terms of under representation of non-white people in positions of power and influence, and in the over representation of non-white people in prisons, in poverty, in unemployment and in all of the areas that - in an Indigenous context - create the 'gap' that we are forever trying to close.

7. You should know that ... Acknowledging white privilege isn't enough to end it.

Because so few people acknowledge the existence of white privilege, and because it can feel like such an overwhelming awakening to finally see it, many people feel that the work is done simply by acknowledging it. While this is an important first step, it doesn't actually do much to reduce it, or to eventually end it.

Privilege should be distributed in order to actually spread the social, policitical and economic opportunities and advantages to other groups. For example, rather than just acknowledging the existence of Indigenous arts organisations, using the resources of Indigenous peak bodies and the skills of their artists will be active in making change. The same principle goes for actively using Indigenous run businesses and distributing the wealth of employment. Also, having equal representation in the media and advertising. And distributing the wealth of policy and decision making.

8. You should know about ... The role of white privilege in 'reverse racism'.

9. You should know that ... It's not the job of those who are disadvantaged by white privilege to calmly educate white people about it.

10. You should know that ... Pretending that colour doesn't exist is not the solution to abolishing white privilege.

Race may be a social construct, but that doesn't change the fact that racism is real; that people are different colours, or that the consequences of this history have not been redressed or removed from the society we still live in.  

Taking the "I don't see colour" approach may sound like a great idea in theory, but it doesn't undo the impacts of racism.

At best, what it does do is allow you to wipe your hands of playing an active part in the work that needs to be done to eradicate racism, and at worst it means you are perpetuating the existing status quo by denying the identity and the very real experiences of people who live with the realities of racism every day.

Also, isn't it funny how many white people are 'colourblind' compared to non-white people? Having the opportunity to pretend that race doesn't exist the epitome of white privilege.

Like the content? Follow the authors; @sophieverass and @LukeLPearson


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Scroll down to read the full essay.

The black 15-year-old winner of an essay contest about white privilege says older residents of the well-to-do Connecticut town who caused a national debate about the competition could learn a thing or two from the youth.

Chet Ellis, a sophomore at Staples High School, won the competition’s $1,000 first prize for writing about the “unavoidable” racial incidents growing up in Westport, which is 93% white.

“I can come at the issue from a young black teen perspective rather than all the old white men of Westport,” he told the Daily News Tuesday, a day after receiving his award.

‘White privilege’ essay contest sparks controversy

The contest put on by the town’s diversity council TEAM Westport gained widespread attention after some residents reacted strongly against it, saying it was an indictment of an affluent community that considers itself welcoming.

“There are no barricades here. Nobody says if you’re black or whatever, you can’t move here,” Bari Reiner, 72, said in January.

Other parents said the board overstepped its bounds by bringing up white privilege, the unseen advantages given automatically to white people in a society where positions of power are dominated by people who look like them.

Chet, who moved to Westport from Morningside Heights, Manhattan, six years ago, said in his essay that he had not thought about white privilege until he moved to the wealthy suburb.

Conn. politican allegedly insulted and groped woman

He recounted incidents where a white student said the N-word when talking about diversity in an almost all-white classroom, and another classmate saying he would have an easier time getting into college because he is black.

“I was stunned,” Chet wrote, “and mumbled something instead of firing back, ‘Your parents are third-generation Princeton and your father runs a hedge fund and yet you think my ride is free?”’

The teen, who wants to go into law or social work to help others, told the News that the episodes in his essay were just two examples of all the racially tinged interactions he has had in Westport, such as when a middle school teacher called him Jamal despite no student at the school having that name.

He urged more inclusive discussions and sensitivity about privilege, words echoed by his mother Amanda Freeman, a white college sociology professor at University of Hartford.

“We have the kids discuss these things at the dinner table because it’s part of our work,” she told the Daily News.

Chet’s father, Trey Ellis, is a Columbia University professor and the screenwriter of films such as 1995’s "The Tuskegee Airmen."

Freeman said she has been contacted by many parents who said they were moved after reading her son’s essay, though Chet said he met with a local police chief to discuss possible hate mail he may receive.

He also said some at his school claimed he only won the hotly debated contest because he is black.

“I think it’s a factor but I think rightfully so it’s a factor,” he said adding that he has an uncommon perspective for the town.

Chet said he was aware of the backlash against the contest, but said “I never in a million years thought I could win so I wrote my essay from my heart.”

Second place and $750 was awarded to Josiah Tarrant, a white student who wrote about seeing white privilege while growing up with a little brother adopted from Ethiopia.

Claire Dinshaw, a white student who wrote that “being ignorant of my privilege is a privilege itself,” won third place and $500.

With News Wire Services

The Colors of Privilege

By Chet Ellis

It was second period and our US History class quieted once the bell rang. But not just because of the bell. Our classroom, usually busy with thought provoking conversations was anxiously anticipating the lecture today on racial equality. My teacher was thankful to have at least some diversity in class this year. We three African American students in the same classroom at Staples High School was a rare sight. Since our town is 92.6% white and just 1.2% black, she explained how most years when addressing issues of race in the classroom she would get to use the line, “let’s ask all the black people in the class...” to a silent room. Her joke broke the ice, and we dove into a thoughtful discussion about race relations in Fairfield County, Connecticut.

In the midst of our discussion, a student raised her hand to add an anecdote about seeing a student from another school holding a sign at a football game. She said that on the sign was written, “Warde [High School] has N******,” except she used the actual word. In US History class. In our 92.6% white Fairfield County suburb. My body froze. Time stopped. I never did hear the end of her story. The air became viscous and the tension in the room felt palpable. The teacher deftly interjected to continue the flow of the conversation, pointing out the power, sometimes, of confronting such ugliness head on, but for the rest of class, I sat stunned. I knew the student hadn’t used the word in a malicious way, but the response from my body was primal.

The N-word is a word that takes African Americans back to 1619 on the tobacco fields of Jamestown and the very beginnings of the American tragedy of human enslavement. It reminds us of Jim Crow, of the senseless beating of Rodney King, and of the killings of 258 black people by the police in 2016. Nevertheless, several of my white friends want to use the N-word in recounting their favorite lyrics. Others even claim that keeping them from saying it is some form of reverse racism. They, like the student in my class, don’t understand how the word takes my breath away.

As a black teen in Westport, race issues in and outside the classroom are unavoidable. One afternoon at track practice, some white friends were discussing how hard it would be to get into college and then out of nowhere one said, “Chet you don’t have this problem because you’re black.” I was stunned and mumbled something instead of firing back, “Your parents are third-generation Princeton and your father runs a hedge fund and yet you think my ride is free?” Even seemingly safe discussions about our sport can be racial minefields. I remember a terrific runner on our team saying after he lost, “I mean I was running against two giant black guys” and the other teammates nodding with understanding.

All of this casual black envy doesn’t take into account American history. A history where slavery and segregation were the law, and black inferiority the unwritten law. In 1940 an experiment was conducted by Kenneth and Mamie Clark to help understand the physiological effects of segregation on children. Today this study is colloquially known as the “The Doll Tests.” In these tests, students would be given identical dolls, except for color, and asked which one they liked more, which one was more pretty. An overwhelming amount of participants from both white and black communities chose the white doll.

My own “Doll Test” occurred in the fifth grade, when I moved to Westport from Manhattan where I thought we were upper middle class. I would look up at all the houses bigger than our rental and imagine what life would be like if I were born lighter and richer. I had no grasp of the deep social issues that had been keeping my people from attaining such heights of prosperity; didn’t yet understand the lack of truly wealthy black residents in my town as indicative of larger social issues. Now as a sophomore in high school, I have a better understanding of the legacy of institutionalized racism. Now I see the history behind the big houses.

I see my fifth grade envy mirrored in my classmates’ jealousy of how fast I can run or how high I can jump. I know my classmates know about the deep social issues African Americans have had to face and are still facing today, but in our peaceful bedroom community that struggle is not present on a day-to-day basis. Students get blinded by the thought that a student could get into college more easily because of their skin color, while not seeing that African-Americans are twice as likely to be unemployed, and once employed earn nearly 25 percent less than their white counterparts. They don’t see that despite making up 12% of the population, we are 35% of jail inmates and 24% of people shot by the police.

Honestly, I never really thought much about white privilege until I moved to Westport. From a young age, I was taught that not everything is meant to be fair and to deal with it. But living in this place where almost everyone is white makes me question, when I’m in Walgreens and the manager follows me around the store, would this happen if I looked different? Now I see the need to speak out, to address white privilege when it happens, so that people know that it’s real despite their best intentions, like the girl in my class pointing out that despicable sign at the football game. We need to make sure there is an open discourse that includes a more diverse history and a sensitivity to each other. In our town it’s impossible to have three black students in every class, but maybe we should all imagine that they are there just the same, and that they will speak out.

Tags:
connecticut
racial injustice
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