Sharp Edges

Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. He can be reached at rewrite@shaw.ca.

White privilege is not about guilt

A new term has crept into the lexicon of race relations — “white privilege.”

Don’t confuse white privilege with white supremacy. White supremacy means that you actively assert the superiority of people with white skins over anyone who has skin of a different colour — using politics, religion, legislation, or violence.

White privilege, on the other hand, refers to aspects of life that we — I speak for myself, but I assume others are like me — have never previously considered, but have simply taken for granted. Examples:

No one has ever called me a racial epithet.

Nobody ever suggested that I shouldn’t go to university. Although, interestingly enough, that suggestion was made to my wife — the first person in her extended family ever to seek higher education.

I have never been pulled over by police on suspicion. If I’ve been pulled over, it was for some clear violation, such as speeding. Or failing to yield the right of way to a pedestrian.

I’ve never been roughly treated by cops. As soon as I open my mouth, it’s obvious I belong to the educated classes.

I have never been turned down for a hotel room, or barred from a restaurant.

I have never felt that the books I read ignore or belittle my experience.

But at least one of those has happened to anyone who is Black, Asian, or Indigenous.

That’s white privilege. We don’t have to think about these things. We don’t have to train ourselves not to react with hostility.

My 16-year-old granddaughter is Black. She got into an animated Facebook discussion with a friend’s mother, who genuinely believes that she has no race prejudice. She told my granddaughter, “I just don’t see colour.”

My granddaughter replied, “Although the intent behind saying ‘I don’t see colour’ might be positive, saying ‘I don’t see color’ in a world that uses skin color to determine your humanity is basically saying that you choose to ignore the injustices carried out on people of colour. In order to see me and who I am and will always be, in order to truly acknowledge what is going on with the black community around the world, you HAVE to see my colour!”

I won’t name my granddaughter. I want to protect her from the hate mail that she’d surely get.

According to SomeOfUs (an online lobbying body) researchers have identified “more than 6,000 social media accounts and pages in Canada pumping violent and racist propaganda to millions worldwide.”

I don’t want my granddaughter singled out for abuse.

But you may say, “Nobody’s ever threatened me like that.” Precisely. That’s white privilege. You’re assumed to be safe, acceptable, because you’re not Black, Asian, Indigenous, female, gay, whatever…

A recent article in Yes! magazine quoted a white male’s Facebook post: “I profess a blissful ignorance of this ‘White Privilege’ I’m apparently guilty of possessing. Not being from a background/race/religion/gender/nationality/body type that differs from my own makes me part of the problem, according to what I’m hearing. Despite treating everyone with respect and humour my entire life (as far as I know), I’m somehow complicit in the misfortune of others.”

To which the article’s author, Lori Lakin Hutcherson, responded, “Many of my friends — especially the white ones — have no idea what I’ve experienced/dealt with unless they were present (and aware) when it happened.”

After enumerating a dozen instances of unintentional prejudice, Hutcherson ended, “I hope my experiences shed some light for you on how institutional and personal racism have affected the entire life of a friend of yours … I hope what I’ve shared makes you realize it’s not just strangers, but people you know and care for, who have suffered and are suffering, because we are excluded from the privilege you have — not to be judged, questioned, or assaulted because of your race.

“As for you ‘being part of the problem,’ trust me, nobody is mad at you for being white. Just like nobody should be mad at me for being black. Or female. Or whatever. But what IS being asked of you is to acknowledge that white privilege DOES exist and not only to treat people of races that differ from yours ‘with respect and humour,’ but also to stand up for fair treatment and justice.”

There’s nothing I can do to change, alter, or remove my “white privilege.” But I can make sure that it doesn’t blind me to the LACK of privilege that others may experience.

Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. He can be reached at rewrite@shaw.ca.