Someone (straight white Canadian female) posted a video of a (straight white American?) man criticizing the idea of “straight white male” (SWM) privilege. It was apparent that the man did not know what WP is, had a false understanding, and was attacking a straight white straw man.
He said it meant that cops will hand him $20 bills, say “have a nice day”, that he should be making six figures right out of high school, have no debt, and other misguided fairy tale nonsense. He thinks that people who believe it exists think he’s living high on the horse, reality notwithstanding.
No, darling. That’s not what WP means.
First, to be clear, WP has nothing to do with the person, him- or herself. If it ever occurs, there is nothing the privileged person can do about it. That may seem obvious, but just want to take it step by step. So what does this mean? Well, it means that the SWM himself need not be racist/discriminatory, but some third party who projects their racism/discriminations upon the unsuspecting SWM. Ironically, this is what the critic in the video accuses people who believe white privilege exists, of thinking or being: racist and other not-so-good-things.
The definition of privilege is that it is something bestowed upon someone, a special right or advantage available to a particular group/person.
Now, the funny thing about privilege — and it’s not part of the definition, but c’mon, think about it — is that it’s invisible to the recipient. This is super important. It’s also dangerous.
You’re not supposed to be constantly conscious of it, or else its comfort is ruined by the reality that others are or may be suffering around you because of it. If you’re a sociopath who has no sympathy/empathy for others, sure, maybe you can happily smack on your quarter pounder in front of the starving Nepali boy. But for most of us, if we were always aware of who got left in the cold whenever we received comfort, the comfort would become uncomfortable.
The invisibility of privilege is dangerous because it’s deceptive, and deception is dangerous and damaging to relationships. Its invisibility damages relationships because due to its invisibility, we get used to it, don’t realize it’s happening or happened, and when others do realize it when we fail to, people get hurt. And the recipient remains confused until the veil is lifted. Again, the recipient had nothing to do with the special advantage, didn’t ask for it, didn’t start it, probably wouldn’t have accepted it, but it’s there, obvious to the person denied.
Is this to say that EVERYTHING good that happens to WASPs or SWM is because they’re who they are, and vice versa for non-WASPs/SWM? Of course not. That would be painting FAR too broad a stroke on reality. No, no, no. Absolutely not. Life is complex. We all have our weaknesses and strengths, talents, skills…We all start somewhere and end up somewhere else. And I apologize for anyone who’s had (white) privilege hammered into their heads like that. It’s so much more subtle than that, and it’s my opinion that while privilege is much more common than blatant racism/discrimination, but not as common as classism! It’s not The New Race War.
What are some examples of privilege?
The most common is visibility. That is, the ability to go into any store or public venue and see things that appeal exclusively to you. Or it’s the bandaid or crayon that is called “nude” when it’s really “caucasian” colored. Or it’s the other “default” settings in society that we don’t really think about until someone points it out, or we grow tired and confused about why we’re somehow…alone. These things aren’t overt and aggressive. They are the status quo. The mundane. Death by a thousand tiny cuts. Things that you really feel silly getting upset about, but at the same time, wonder why it just HAS to be so.
Here’s a broader example: I recently heard about a journalist who was traveling between Syria and Turkey. At the border, there was a hold up. In what must have felt straight out of Hollywood, he frantically screamed that he was AMERICAN and his car was quickly waved through while the other people, Arabs, continued to battle to the front of the line. He said that in the heat of the moment, that seemed like the right thing to say/do, but later on, felt somewhat mortified. Why? Because his privilege had snuck up on him. Being American, I experience privilege for the same reason (and I get to witness the incomprehensible and institutionalized racism and self-loathing among Arabs — blows my mind!). I may not have white privilege, but I have American, and that gets you far. Even as a woman in Saudi Arabia, I have the privilege of usually going to the front of a line of men. Take it when I can get it!
Which brings me to say that I do understand the bewilderment of those who don’t really get it, or who deny it. It doesn’t make much sense. The world is equalizing racially! Enabling privilege is racist, but sorry to say, calling out white privilege is NOT racist. My only advice is to not think that (otherwise?) intelligent believers in the existence of white privilege actually think that EVERYTHING is about race or that the recipient of privilege is him- or herself racist. It just so happens that there remains a couple of racist people in the world, and until they disappear, someone is always going to get preferential treatment.
Just remember to bring your disadvantaged friend along for the ride!