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White Privilege

-and what can we do about it? 


Par Fatimata Keita

In the present circumstances, conversations about racism, discrimination, and equality are louder than ever. And along with those necessary conversations you may have heard about ‘white privilege’ - but what is it? 

White privilege: inherent advantages possessed by a white person on the basis of their race in a society characterized by racial inequality and injustice. 

Unlike what some claim, white privilege is not a new concept at all. There are multiple examples highlighting the advantage that comes with white skin. For example, the fact that being white will make you never have to fear being misdiagnosed; that before a job interview you don't have to try your best not to look ‘offensive’; or that even when applying for the job, as a white person you aren't stressed that maybe your name will cause you to be rejected. White privilege is not having to constantly prove your worth because of the categorization your community suffers. It is not having a perpetual anxiety of confirming those stereotypes. White privilege provides you the right to be part of the most valued community in our society and also be a total individual. However, being part of non-white groups - black for example - is most often seen as a personality trait.

What I’ve witnessed : 

One example of white privilege in daily life is not having to wonder, when going to the market, hairdresser or dermatologist, if you’ll find what suits your skin or hair type. 

I remember talking to my friend about a skin institute and showing her their Instagram, which had plenty of photographs. The institute specialized in black skin (there’s actually only two well known institutions that specialize in black skin in France) and she was so disappointed that “it’s only for black women” even as I explained to her that it wasn’t. And I realized the entitlement was so deep, because seeing literally 4 pictures of black women was enough to make her feel uncomfortable and dismissed.  That’s also when I realized it's been like this my whole life and unlike her, I rarely find products that suit me, especially where I’m from, and that alone is a sign of white privilege. 

Another privilege I witnessed while I was in college, during a class about media education. Our professor was talking about the current debates in France. Most of them were around racism and Islamophobia, and at some point he said: "I love this debate!" And it hit me, hard! Some people can overlook situations, because these situations are so distant to their reality. I will never be able to love those kind of debates, because what’s been up for debate is my right to exist and to live. Those debates are hard for me, they are exhausting, no matter how pertinent they may be, no matter what results from them. I won’t find anything interesting about a bunch of white men that never have and never will experience something similar; watch them sitting, debating, while excluding the concern and telling us how we should do more to have the right to live.

What about facts? 

White privilege is a daily advantage, that has been theorized, and studied, but yet is still denied by most of those who have it. 

A study of Duncan, 1976 is one great example. The study stages different situations, with the only variation being the skin color, either black or white. The experiment consists of showing a video of two men talking, and then one jostles the other. The perception of violence is the indicator measured here. Can you guess the results? 

  • Jostling is considered violent by 75% of people when the assailant is black. 

  • Jostling is considered violent by 15% of people when the aggressor is white. 

And that’s not the end of it, when the subjects are asked the reason for the aggression, the answers depend on the skin color of the aggressor:

  • When the aggressor is white, the causality is external, i.e. it is centered on the situation

  • When the aggressor is black, the causality is internal, i.e. it is centered on the person

Another study conducted in Australia perfectly illustrates how white privilege can manifest in day-to-day interactions. In the experiment, people of different racial and ethnic identities tried to board public buses, telling the driver they didn’t have enough money to pay for the ride. Researchers documented more than 1,500 attempts. The results: 72 percent of white people were allowed to stay on the bus. Only 36 percent of black people were extended the same kindness.

Also a few months ago, in France, a doctor shared part of her experience and admits, with such disdain, her racism, while not calling her actions what they truly were: a racist act. She explained how she gave different treatment to her non-white patients. And that in order to give them appropriate care, she had to imagine them as if they were middle-aged white women! As ethnics stats are forbidden in France (I'd like to know why, though) we’ll never know exactly the extension of those types of behaviors in the medical field! 

Back to America! In a very interesting article on white privilege, mentions a report showing that “Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native (AI/AN) women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women and this disparity increases with age.” 

In a TED talk, Monique W. Morris, author and social justice scholar, explained the disparities between white and black girls. According to a National Black Women's Justice Institute analysis of civil rights data collected by the US Department of Education, black girls are the only group of girls who are over-represented along the entire continuum of discipline in schools. Black girls are seven times more likely than their white counterparts to experience one or more out-of-school suspensions and they're nearly three times more likely than their white and Latinx counterparts to be referred to the juvenile court. 

A recent study by the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality partially explained why this disparity is taking place when they confirmed that black girls experience a specific type of age compression, where they're seen as more adult-like than their white peers. Among other things, the study found that people perceive black girls to need less nurturing, less protection, to know more about sex and to be more independent than their white peers.

White privilege is also not having to spend your childhood protesting, marching for your rights to be acknowledged. In the latest issues of Vanity Fair, actress Viola Davis explained that her “whole life has been a protest” and it hit me that mine has too! I am a young black girl from France, we probably have a very different experience of life, but one thing links us: the hardship, the disadvantage of being a black woman in a society like ours. 

The fact that the concept of white privilege is referred to as a myth, that people question its existence when there are numerous examples, theorizations, studies etc. that have been given, is quite impressive. White privilege is both the heritage and the cause of racism. And the first step, in order to eradicate it, is to acknowledge its constant presence.

What can we do about it? 

To be honest, I feel like the minorities have done their part - or at least, I don’t know what they can do next. We’ve exposed the white privilege, we’ve defined it, we’ve given it examples, highlighted it - everything. We shared our experiences. So one thing left to do for everybody white and non white is to stop denying it. The fact that those advantages are invisible and result from implicit bias makes it very difficult, I know. But it’s our responsibility to check ourselves and each and every one of us. 

Then it seems at least for me, that the rest of the work must be done by the concerned. It has been said, repeatedly, now is the time to be anti-racist! Time to fight inequality directly to the source. White folks must use their privilege to establish equality, to dismantle a society that only benefits them. Most often I hear people denying white privilege, because they struggled or because some person of minority succeeded. And to be honest, I’m still looking for the correlation.

The fact that minorities can succeed doesn't erase the obstacles the society has created and keep creating around their identity. And neither does the fact that white people are suffering. Because the reason for their suffering has nothing to do with this part of the color of their skin. 

Sources :

Credit photo : @ woc.power

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