Friday, March 30, 2012

Tough talk, easy times

                Privilege in society comes in many shapes and forms, it is very easy to take privilege for granted and not even realize what you are exempted from.  Most people do not wake up in the morning and say hey, I want to think of my privilege as a man today, or I want to think of my privilege as a Christian today.   Still, some like the author of this article below do.

                Neesha Powell was inspired to think of privilege as a white person in reflection on the Florida death of Trayvon Martin.   His death and the continuing controversy surrounding it are (hopefully) causing many people to re-examine their stereotypes and take a critical look at the behaviors that played out.  Ms. Powell recounts a recent racist-remark filled party she attended at a friend’s house and how that also made her re-think both the common culture and privilege for white persons.  If Trayvon had been a white teen doing the same things, wandering in a hoodie on a call with their girlfriend, would that have inspired the same reaction?


                Ms. Powell gives a candid examination of her view on white privilege.  She draws an important distinction – white privilege is not white power.  White privilege is not a conscious choice to gain rights or advantages for whites only.  White privilege is the privileges that society normatively gives to white people, things like non- automatic discrimination and no assumptions about our home life or preferred foods.  It is a product of embedded expectations and stereotypes in contemporary society.   In examining white privilege, the author of this article set the stage for her readers to think of themselves.  There are many benefits society doles out simply for being white.  For example, in a police encounter I doubt I would garner much attitude, but rather attentiveness and trust in my words; proven innocent until guilty not assumed guilt that must be disproved. 

Take a look at a history book and how much non-white history do you see?   World History Textbooks in American schools focuses on Europe, its conquests, and on America.  Where is the in-depth detail on the great Chinese empire, the Japanese, the Maori of New Zeeland, the great African kingdoms of Nubia or Great Zimbabwe?  Beyond that, if a group of silent white people entered an elevator would you go on your guard?  Have you had anyone ever say your name in a questioning tone, because the individual does not feel your name matches up with what they think ‘would fit’ with what you look like?

                White privilege is only one type of privilege though.  I never thought of my privileges until recent months.  My privileges as a mixed-race white, a woman, a US citizen, a heterosexual, a college student, a driver, a Christian…. I never thought about what makes my life work the way it does.   I have light skin, I’m given the advantages and privileges of whites.  I am a woman, if I scream someone will come and help, not come to watch me defend myself or fail.  I can travel in trust and assurance, I can get well-paying jobs and I have so much political and everyday freedom as a born American.  The privileges go on.  

                I have a challenge for those who read this, think of your privileges, think of your disadvantages.  Take the time to think about what society has to say in your life.

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