For white people, one of the most important foundations of racial justice work is recognizing and accepting one’s existing white privilege.
White privilege, once embraced as a dynamic, constant reality in American life, is not something to feel defensive or guilty about. More helpfully, awareness of privilege can cultivate gratitude–and the will to extend privileges to those from Historically Underrepresented Groups (HUGs) who suffer a great deal due to ongoing injustices.
For me, this awareness is seasoned with an increasing realization that no one can take all or even most of the credit for “being successful” in life. Circumstances, luck, and the goodwill and efforts of countless (and, sometimes, nameless) other people are significant factors for any person’s well-being in this world. No one “pulls themselves up by their bootstraps” without a sizable support network.
I’ve written out the numerous privileges I benefit from every day, whether consciously or subconsciously. And I’m not naive enough to believe that these groupings just below are comprehensive or complete. Like almost all people, I’m still plagued with unconscious bias, ignorance, and unwieldy reluctance to see and name realities.
But, for me, this is a start; a decision to wrestle with discomfort, and develop skillful, loving means to influence the elimination of unjust policies and help enhance the well-being of those who still suffer so much in this country.
Privileges of Birth
It doesn’t get much more privileged than this: I’m a Caucasian, heterosexual male, of European descent, born in the United States. Even if I didn’t possess the privileges that follow in this post, I would still have a tremendous “head start” compared to most of the global population.
Privileges of Birth Family
My parents, who were married for nearly 53 years when my father passed, provided me with safety, nourishment, clothing, shelter, education, and encouragement. Neither parent was ever arrested or incarcerated, and neither abused alcohol or drugs. I also had the benefit of a live-in grandmother and three older siblings who loved me unconditionally and looked after me.
Privileges of Health
I enjoy, as of this writing, a lack of any chronic health conditions that disrupt my quality of life, and don’t have any mental or physical disabilities. I’ve always, as an adult, had affordable health insurance, including dental and vision care, along with affordable access to preventative and emergency care. I’m lucky enough to have been born with an athletic physique, height, and, mostly, a full head of hair. I’ve never starved; if I’ve wanted to eat, I’ve done it.
Privileges of Safety
In addition to the safety afforded by my parents and by the resources I possess as an adult, I enjoy the privilege of having never been threatened by a police officer. I’ve never been arrested or questioned about a criminal incident. I’ve always had a safe place to exercise, and it’s safe for me to exercise just about anywhere because I’m a white, straight male.
Privileges of Shelter
I’ve always lived in the comfortable suburbs, and never spent even a second being homeless. Even during those times in my younger adult years when my bank account was empty, I did not lose access to housing, utilities, or other crucial needs.
Privileges of Education
I was encouraged by my parents to study and be responsible at school. I was never sent to the principal’s office, suspended, or expelled. Teachers placed me in advanced or honors classes. My parents paid in full for my undergraduate education, and I incurred no graduate school debt due to scholarships, donations, and a full-time working spouse.
Privileges of Adult Love and Parenting
I benefit from having a loving wife, and have had a female partner for most of my adult years. I also have three daughters who love me, are healthy, are motivated to do well in school and life, and who care about other people.
Privileges of Friendships and Acquaintances
I’ve always had at least a few friends or mentors I could reach out to for advice, help, and comfort.
Privileges of Work
I’ve always had the privilege of interesting, challenging professional work as an adult, accompanied by health and life insurance, retirement savings, and vacation benefits. I’ve had numerous certifications, conferences, and books paid for by employers. I’ve been able to travel across much of the U.S. through my work, and have had the privilege of working from the comfort of my home for more than seven years.
Privileges of Resources
I have the privilege of numerous resources, financial and otherwise. I’ve had a significant cell phone plan discount through my employer for almost 13 years. I was able to buy a very inexpensive first car that ran well for six years, and then my parents gave me my second car. I lived at home, rent free, the first two years that I was building my early career as a journalist. My spouse is a well-educated, successful professional.
Privileges of Ongoing Intellectual, Emotional, and Spiritual Nourishment
Finally, I recognize the benefit of having always had access to psychological care and treatment when I’ve needed it. I’ve benefited from frequent access to spiritual teachers, churches, meditation centers, and more. I’ve always been able to focus on spiritual growth without the fear of physical danger or threats to my health. I’ve been able to enjoy leisure when I’ve felt like it, and have traveled for pleasure to numerous American cities and several countries.
In Summary: Impossible to “Un-Know”
The summary of all of this privilege? The benefit of the doubt from American society. The lack of automatic strikes against me before I even step up to the plate. That aforementioned head start.
I’m not a “hero” because I have privilege and recognize it and am trying to fight injustice. I’m not an “ally” just because I occasionally call myself one. What I am is a flawed human being, trying to become more self-aware and more aware of the needs and perspectives of others.
It’s a long journey; all this “unlearning,” seeing many realities for the first time due to the obscuring lenses of white, male privilege. But it’s the only journey I can take at this point in my life. It’s impossible to “un-know” what I’ve come to know.