Privilege, in the context of race, refers to unearned benefits that we receive from our culture. Privilege is not about having money or not working for what we have. Privilege refers to the things we’re able to take for granted in our daily lives. The things we don’t even have to think about that others have to grapple with on a daily basis. Here are 13 examples of how my life has been made easier by the fact that I am a straight, white, cisgender woman.
1. When I walk into a store or restaurant, I feel welcome. I can expect to be treated with respect. I won’t be followed around with suspicion or given worse service than other patrons.
2. When I learned about history in school, most of the people I learned about looked like me. People who didn’t were presented as ‘other’ or exceptions. It’s just like when I open a magazine or turn on the TV.
3. When I drive my son to school or myself to work, I know I won’t be pulled over unless I’ve actually broken a law. If I am pulled over for doing something wrong, I can expect the officer to treat me with respect.
4. When I submit a resume for a job, I know it won’t be removed from consideration because my name sounds ‘black’ or ‘too ethnic’.
5. People assume I have my job because I’m competent. They don’t make snide comments or speculate behind my back that I got it because of affirmative action.
6. When I send my kids to school, I don’t have to worry that none of the adults at the school will look like them. I know that they won’t be labeled, singled out, or treated differently because of their race.
7. If I wake up late, I can twist my hair into a quick updo and look ‘professional’ for work. I don’t have to spend hours and lots of money at a salon or put carcinogen containing chemicals on my hair because my workplace doesn’t find my natural hair acceptable.
8. When I go to buy products for my hair, they are in a section called ‘hair care’. I can even buy them in trial sizes.
9. When I go to rent an apartment or buy a house, I don’t wonder if the real estate agent is “screening” the listings she shows me based on the color of my skin. Whatever property I’m interested in, she will assume I can afford it.
10. When I go out with my husband, we can hold hands or otherwise show affection without worrying that someone will become hateful, insulting, or even violent.
11. When I go to Target, I don’t have to worry about whether or not they will have a shade of makeup that matches my skin. Bonus: the “flesh-tone” band-aids I buy will match my kids skin too.
12. Nothing I do or say will be construed to be the opinion or voice of all white people.
13. I have the privilege of not talking, writing or even thinking about this issue if I choose not to.
These are just a few examples, not by any means an exhaustive list. We live in a society that professes to value what is earned, rather than what is given. This makes discussions about privilege uncomfortable because privilege is, by definition, unearned.
But this is exactly why we need to keep talking about it. It’s only by naming and working through the things that cause discomfort that we can begin to heal.
Let’s keep talking.