Owning white privilege
‘White privilege’ is a phrase that has been added to the collective vernacular almost overnight. It is a phrase that sits uncomfortably with a lot of people – generally white people. I will be honest, it was a phrase I couldn’t easily place in my vocabulary either – how can I speak about privilege when I am one of the privileged people this phrase seems to chastise?
I may be behind the wave, but I recently watched this video by the wonderful Brené Brown. She sums up privilege in such a simple but relatable way. So relatable in fact that it silenced my inner squirm!
“Privilege, when it comes to race, is about unearned rights.
I can walk into any store and find a doll that matches my daughter’s skin.
I can drive in any area near my home and not get pulled over.
I can go to the movies and hold hands with my partner [when I’m straight] and not fear getting hit in the head with a baseball bat.
I can wear a symbol of my religion like a cross necklace and not fear being called a murderer or terrorist.”
Brené is talking about America. But that same experience exists in the UK too. I can walk around Stratford without fearing acid being thrown in face because I look ‘foreign’, I can apply for a job and my ‘white name’ won’t put people off, I can cover my head with a hood and not be seen as a thug or criminal. My list could go on.
Privilege isn’t about saying everything in life has been given to you, it isn’t about saying someone who is white has ‘had life easy’, but it is about acknowledging that because of the bias and injustice in this world some of us have less hurdles to jump. And that isn’t something to feel guilty about. But it is something to take action on! Because to not do anything at all really is wallowing in that privilege.
Privilege comes with power, and as Spider-Man once said with power comes responsibility. One of my major motivators in the work I do is the anger I feel when I see people born into poverty, conflict or discrimination. It is wrong we live in a world where our place of birth determines the lives we will lead in such a starkly unfair and unbalanced way. The ultimate privilege (white or otherwise) is being able to dream! To be able to focus on our dreams rather than focus on putting food on the table.
I really encourage you to spend 30 minutes of your life watching the Brené Brown live feed. I then also encourage you to join me in stepping out of the unhealthy habit of thinking privilege is all ‘about me’ – privilege is not about the privileged. Privilege is about failing to acknowledge those who suffer as a result of that privilege. As Brown more eloquently states:
‘If we don’t acknowledge our privilege, we don’t acknowledge the pain of others”.
Of course these conversations are uncomfortable. Really uncomfortable. But, “to opt out of this conversation because you can’t do it perfectly, is the definition of privilege”. I am up for more complicated, imperfect conversations about privilege. Are you?