I’m NOT racist!
Let’s interpret that a bit differently: I’m polite to people whose skin is a different colour to mine.
Me too. But I won’t say that I’m not racist, because as a white person, I had privilege bestowed upon me at birth. Am I polite to people with different skin? Of course?! but part of living in a non racist way, is to constantly examine ways in which my privilege may give me an advantage over someone else, simply because of the colour of their skin. The second I claim to be non racist – especially in an indignant, defensive way – is the second I lose my ability to speak against racism, to learn how racism impacts other people.
White people are really challenged by the idea of privilege. They confuse the statement “You have white privilege” with the statement “you are a racist person”. And they defend themselves to the hilt, from a position of privilege. They refuse to hear what people of colour are saying, and this makes them racist.
It is not racist to have privilege.
It IS racist to deny privilege. It’s racist to deny the reality of people who tell us white people that we have privileges that other people do not have. It is racist to refuse to participate in conversations about privilege and racism because you do not perceive yourself as racist… and you are polite to people whose skin is not the same colour as yours.
Dear Fellow White People,
It’s really good that you’re trying to do away with racism isn’t it? Does that make you feel good? Me too!
It’s really good that you are polite to people no matter what colour their skin is. BUT!!! It doesn’t mean you aren’t privileged, and how you respond to conversations about your privilege might well differentiate you from those people you refer to as racist.
If you think that just because this one time you were treated badly, or someone wasn’t polite to you because they didn’t like you, that you don’t have privilege then you have a fundamental misunderstanding of what privilege is. Wilfully disregarding that, after you’ve read this will put you in the YOU ARE A RACIST camp. So consider yourself pre-warned.
- Privilege is being able to read your children stories about other children with skin the same colour as yours. Stories that aren’t about slavery, they aren’t myths, they’re not about living in a tribe, or invasion. Stories that aren’t produced for inclusive practices.
- Privilege is about being able to buy your children a toy doll – that doesn’t cost extra because it’s an inclusive practice doll – that has the same colour skin as your kids.
- Privilege is being able to take your kids to a movie about people with the same colour skin as you, and that movie isn’t a stereotyped “comedy”.
- Privilege is when you can be shocked that the children from families which aren’t white skinned, deal with people who are rude to their children because of the colour of their skin.
- Privilege is being shocked that some white people are rude to people who don’t have white skin.
- Privilege is saying I AM NOT RACIST and having all the other white people pat you on the back. It’s wanting people who aren’t white to applaud you for being nice to them.
This is a very short list of privilege that I, as a white mother of four white children, live with. There are an enormous number of far more insidious ways that I am privileged, but the list above is the privilege light list, presented to highlight that privilege doesn’t necessarily have to be about life and death situations.
Other privileges can actually be that difference though. These range from health care, access to the law (and in what capacity) the treatment I receive within institutions and more. In the interest of complete disclosure here, I need to say that I hadn’t even really thought about it until the last few years when I started to read more about systematic racism and white privilege. And why would I think about them? I mean, they don’t impact on me at all. They don’t impact on anyone I know in my day to day life. They DO however, impact on some very dear friends that I have made on the internet. And I am privileged, and eternally grateful because they have taken the time to talk to me about it. (Thankyou Ms J and Mrs Q) They had no obligation to do so, at all
People with different coloured skin don’t have to explain privilege or racism to you, me, or to anyone else for that matter. However many have taken the time to create amazing blogs, write in depth articles, they have made music, art, poetry, given speeches, and written books, detailing their lives. If you can read those stories, you can find a way to understand privilege, and by understanding privilege, you come closer to being able to claim that you are not an intentionally racist person. Some coloured people are willing and prepared to talk to you and help you understand racism and privilege better, but those that aren’t are entitled to their privacy without criticism or explanation.
I don’t have the solution to racism and privilege. What I have is the ability to listen to stories of oppression and learn. I have the ability to openly expose my own privilege and encourage other white people to examine and expose theirs. I have the obligation to question the systems and institutions which either directly, or indirectly privilege me over a sister whose skin is different to mine.
And here’s where a lot of people get bogged down:
They think that to admit to white privilege means two things, and two things only.
If you admit to having white privilege it means that you are not oppressed because you are white:
No, that’s not what it means. Oppression has many layers. Women are oppressed, people are oppressed for being lesbian or gay. People are oppressed by poverty and the inability to move up the wealth ladder. Lots of people are oppressed in different ways, by different systems. People of colour are oppressed too. Some people are oppressed on more than one front, some are privileged on more than one front. It’s about awareness, that’s all!
If you admit to white privilege it means that you will lose basic human rights and other advantages in your life:
It means no such thing. No one is asking you to hand back your privilege, they’re simply asking that you extend the same privilege to them, there’s plenty to share! When white women fought for, and won the right to vote, it didn’t stop men from voting, right? Apply that, all round.
Unpacking white privilege is a lifelong project, and thanks to being white, and living in a white area (of a country white people stole from black Australians …) and being educated in a white education system, I spent more than half my life largely unaware, and later on challenged by the concept that I was privileged because I lived with oppression. I had to choose to listen with compassion, to stop defending myself, because I wasn’t actually under attack.
I will never know, or be able to fully comprehend ALL the ways that I am privileged. I can never speak to every oppressed person in the world, nor read all their stories. Furthermore, it’s hard to imagine what some people live through, even when they are able to find a way to share their story. BUT, that doesn’t mean I can’t have empathy, and it doesn’t mean that I can’t move on over and make room for people to enjoy the same privileges that I took for granted for so long. I can give myself a pat on the back and say that – to the best of my ability – I live my life, and raise my children in the least racist way that I can possibly manage, with the knowledge that I currently have. And that will have to be enough for me in this life time.