I’m nervous. I’m nervous about saying the wrong thing, of exposing my naivety so publicly and possibly offending someone, even though it’s unintentional. I’m nervous about being another white girl talking about an issue she will never experience. I am, however, more nervous to not say anything at all.
It was a week ago that unarmed African-American George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis. This was the final straw of bubbling frustration and injustice that people of colour have been experiencing since the beginning of time. The last breathe that George Floyd took was the start of an uprising.
Like most of us, I have been glued to the news sites and scrolling through social media like a demon. Last night I stumbled across a post that made me realise that I have been “not sure” how to respond, act, or talk about what is going on. The fact I have been “not sure” is absolutely a part of my white privilege. I get that white privilege is uncomfortable to speak about. As a white woman I didn’t ask for this privilege, but the reality is that I was born into a system where I just have it and if you are white, you have it too. There are countless actions I take everyday blindly unaware that I am benefiting from this privilege. But I can’t walk blindly anymore.
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On the recent murders, and on the systematic racism that continues to fuel ongoing genocide, not only in the US but in Australia and everywhere else. I hear too much “I’m just not sure how to navigate all this” from other white people. Yes it’s upsetting, yes it’s overwhelming, yes it’s uncomfortable to unpack your own privilege and see how you benefit from a racist system. No, it’s not enough to be “not sure” about it all. We’ve had far too long to learn, unpack, understand and act, at the cost of generations of Black & Brown lives. Be sure of that and do something. #blacklivesmatter #acab #justiceforgeorgefloyd
In 1988, American feminist, anti-racism activist and Research Scientist Peggy McIntosh wrote a groundbreaking essay “White Privilege, Unpacking the Knapsack”. This essay helped people recognise and better understand what white privilege actually is in a very real and relatable way. It shines a big arse light on the undeniable privilege being born with white skin affords you. Of course, prominent black people had been unpacking this idea for decades, so it is with a big shovel full of irony that it took the words of a white woman to bring it to centre stage.
Peggy highlights how we are taught of racism as being something that puts others at a disadvantage but we were never taught that in equal measure, racism gives others an advantage. That advantage is white privilege.
“I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege.” This sentence in the essay really resonated with me. It made it impossible for me to ignore all the advantages I have because I am white. Here are just a few of the points Peggy states that resonated with me…
As a white person:
- I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
- Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin colour not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
- I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
- I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the “person in charge”, I will be facing a person of my race.
- I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.
- I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odour will be taken as a reflection on my race.
- I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.
- I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.
- I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.
- I can chose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” colour and have them more or less match my skin.
The list of white privilege is long and my day is full of them – there are a million things I have never given a second thought to. One of these advantages has been avoiding talking to my boys about the racism front and centre at the moment. I have hidden behind overwhelm as well as wanting to keep their innocence and ignorance about our world. I haven’t just avoided this conversation, I have actively shut it down, when my 8 year old asked why ‘the man was on the ground’, I simply said “hmmm, I’m not sure” and changed the subject. I have been able to hold off this conversation because my children will never be at risk because of the colour of their skin.
On the 3pm Pick Up today we reached out to Anice Chenault who is a woman of colour and on the Leadership Board of ‘Showing Up For Racial Justice’. Again I was nervous as I sat opposite my fellow white female co-host worried that our want to help would be articulated in an offensive, clunky, patronising way. So all I could do was ask for advice and listen to what she offered. Below are active ways to help…
- Talk about and acknowledge the impact of white privilege and the fact that our systems are build for and by white people. Australia has a similar colonial history as America and although we don’t have the legacy of enslaved people, racism is well and truly alive here. Aboriginal deaths in our backyard are not nearly as public as they should be, as there have been at least 432 deaths in custody since the royal commission in 1991. Five of those deaths occurred since late last year, two of which have resulted in murder charges being laid.
- Get educated – Look up white privilege. Read books written by people of colour about their history and reality.
- Break white silence – We are conditioned to just let it go and accept the privileges that we get without even really seeing that they are there. We need to start talking about it and acknowledging that it is very much there.
- Follow leaders of colour who know the way to liberation.
- Find age appropriate ways to talk about racism to your children, the younger the better. Don’t shy away from it. It is pure privilege for us not to talk to our kids.
Here is the full chat we had with Anice. Well worth a listen.
When I sat down at my computer, I didn’t realise what I would gain from taking the time to sit in the uncomfortable knowledge of my white privilege. I feel emotionally exhausted and blindingly uneducated but so committed to remaining teachable, educating myself and using my privilege and platform in this fight for justice. It is not enough for me to be passively anti racist anymore.