Discussing today’s topic is a no-win situation – like when your wife asks you if her new dress makes her look fat. The term “white privilege” is fraught with rhetorical disaster. I’m foolish for even raising the issue, and more foolish still for a variety of substantive reasons in raising the issue.
Frankly, <a href=”http://occupywallstreet.net/story/explaining-white-privilege-broke-white-person” target=”_blank”>I don’t know the meaning of white privilege</a> but feel compelled to raise the issue because, evidently, I’m guilty of it. So, let’s begin with the politically correct meaning of white privilege.
The radically liberal <a href=”http://www.tolerance.org/article/racism-and-white-privilege” target=”_blank”>Southern Poverty Law Center</a> explains, “White skin privilege is not something that white people necessarily do, create or enjoy on purpose. Unlike the more overt individual and institutional manifestations of racism…white skin privilege is a transparent preference for whiteness that saturates our society.”
Now, I have to admit, none of that explanation makes sense to me. It’s gibberish to me. Fortunately, there is no lack of specific examples of white privilege. It seems white people receive all sorts of perks because their skin is white. Here are a few of these perks:
<ul><li>When I cut my finger and go to my school or office’s first aid kit, the flesh-colored band-aid generally matches my skin tone.</li><li>When I stay in a hotel, the complimentary shampoo generally works with the texture of my hair.</li><li>When my wife runs to the store to buy pantyhose at the last minute, the ‘nude’ color generally appears nude on her legs.</li><li>When I buy hair care products in a grocery store or drug store, my shampoos and conditioners are in the aisle and section labeled ‘hair care’ and not in a separate section for ‘ethnic products.</li></ul>
And beyond perks, if those examples aren’t enough to convince you about white privilege, it seems the color of our skin gives white people distinct advantages in life – circumstances white people rarely encounter that black people and other minorities must face:
<ul><li>My skin color does not work against me in terms of how people perceive my financial responsibility, style of dress, public speaking skills, or job performance.</li><li>People do not assume that I got where I am professionally because of my race (or because of affirmative action programs).</li><li>Store security personnel or law enforcement officers do not harass me, pull me over or follow me because of my race.</li></ul>
The first time this issue of white privilege presented itself to me was through my sister. Through a second marriage to an African-American woman, my dad adopted her daughter and then went on to have a son. I have an African-American sister and brother – both of whom I love dearly. My sister and I got on the subject of white privilege and it had me scratching my head. While I don’t see what she sees, I certainly accept that what she sees is real. I must have a blind spot.
And it’s that blind spot that is most frustrating. I can’t see my white privilege because I’m white and yet I’m accused of something bordering on racism I can’t do anything about because I can’t see it.
So let me describe the other side of the coin – white frustration. If I’m a room filled with white people and I’m trying to point out to my wife the black guy standing across the crowded room, how would I describe the guy? I’d probably tell my wife, “Yeah, it’s that black guy over there.” Is that racist? How would that black guy describe me to his wife in that circumstance? He’d probably say, “Yeah, it’s that guy with glasses and a beard.”
I don’t control the color of band-aids. I don’t control the kind of shampoo a hotel makes available to its guests. I don’t control how supermarkets label their aisles. Nor do I have a problem if the supermarket in Oakland, CA, only sells hair products for African-Americans. I get it – I’m the vast minority in that situation.
Is white privilege <a href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demography_of_the_United_States” target=”_blank”>the simple result of demographics</a>? Blacks represent 13 percent of the U.S. population and 1.1 percent of our Utah population. Whites represent 72 percent and 80 percent, respectively. When I travel overseas, I hate that other countries don’t cater to my preferences. I get frustrated that I’m seen differently. But, you know what? I’m just one person and I don’t expect even the most diverse countries to bend to my preferences. I let the marketplace handle these things – and it’s also why I don’t like traveling overseas!
So the real question for me about white privilege is this: Setting aside every obvious and logical explanation that might account for white privilege, does white privilege exist nonetheless? Obviously, I don’t know what it’s like to be a black man in America today or any day. So is there anything inherent in my skin color that creates a blind spot of racial ignorance for me? Maybe there is. Am I privileged for having white skin? Maybe I am.
What is frustrating is that I am accused of white privilege without knowing what it is, seeing it for what it is and not being able to do anything about it even if I did know it when I saw it. Until that time comes, I’m just going to have to love my neighbor as myself and treat others as I would want to be treated. Maybe that’s the real solution.
I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.