Recently, the word white privilege has been thrown around a lot in conversation and social media. Some people might be wondering, “what exactly is white privilege?” People often describe white privilege in the same way that Peggy McIntosh did in her essay, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. White privilege refers to the societal privilege that benefits white people over non-white people in societies. You might be like, ‘this makes no sense! I am not privileged compared to others.’ However, when you go into a store, how many shampoos and conditioners are catered to African hair? Are the bandaids you pick up matching your skin? When you turn on your TV, how many black people are there? If there are black people in the show, chances are that they are used to “enhance diversity.” Black people with dark skin are barely cast in shows. People with “ethnic-sounding names” have a lower chance of being cast in shows. Furthermore, directors go as far as whitewashing the cast. Whitewashing is a casting practice in which white actors are cast in non-white roles. People of color are not represented in the media. By presenting white people in colored people’s roles, it sends a message to little kids to want to be like white people. Additionally, white people are more likely to see positive portrayals of people who look like them on the news, on TV shows, and in movies.
White privilege is not the assumption that everything a white person has accomplished is unearned. White privilege should be viewed as a built-in advantage, separate from one’s level of income or effort. White privilege can also be viewed as the “power of normal.” The items that we find in the grocery store are things that reflect the cultural traditions of most white people. Though people dismiss these inconveniences of having their needs be labeled as special, these inconveniences hide something beneath the surface. If public spaces and goods cater to one race and segregate the needs of people of other races into special sections, it shows that these places aren’t welcoming to other races.
Why does white privilege prevail? Who built the system that caused white privilege to prevail and keeps it going? It prevails because of systemic racism. Systemic Racism is what happens when racism (which is defined as “individual- and group-level processes and structures that are implicated in the reproduction of racial inequality”) are carried out by groups with power like governments, businesses, or schools. It had started when the government was tasked with divvying up the cities into sections that designated what part was desirable and undesirable for investing. This process was called “redlining.” It blocked off black neighborhoods from access to public and private investments. Banks would use these maps to deny black families loans and other services. So, black people weren’t able to buy a house due to banks, AND they weren’t able to go to college because of LEGAL SEGREGATION. Today, redlining is still used in Chicago and other areas.
To learn more about systemic racism, raceforward.org has created a series of videos that show how racism shows up in our lives across institutions and society.
Another great video that explains systemic racism simply is act.tv’s video.