White Privilege: The existence of poor white people doesn’t erase Racism


Around 2:00am this morning, I was woken up by a WhatsApp message from an ex. What did he want in the middle of the night? Well, it turned out he has just seen a homeless white couple and he wanted me to know racism is a figment of my imagination.

Just saw this drug couple sitting in the street in front the train station with a two years old daughter. It really breaks my heart. Not all children are born equal

Alert – Assumption that all homeless people are drug addicts.

His conclusion –

In Ipswich, skin colour is the least problem

I was like, “White Satan, get thee away from me this ungodly hour!”

I refused to be dragged into that discussion again, especially at such hour. However, the message kept nagging at me, I really wanted to ignore it but thought i should not. So, first thing in the morning, I sent him a few lengthy responses about what the reaction would have been if it was a homeless black couple with their two-year-old daughter sitting outside a train station, and in Ipswich of all places. The reaction would more have been around the line of-

  • “WTF is a black person doing in our white neighbourhood”
  • “Those immigrants are filthy and have bought their poverty to our dear Ipswich”
  • “Go home niggers, we don’t need your type here.”

Unfortunately, I’ve had this type of discussion with him so many times. He thinks because he was a cash strapped German who came to UK about twenty years ago, and had to do some menial jobs to survive, black people cannot blame anything, including their economic circumstances, on racism. In fact, to him it is not racism, it is a class struggle issue. Unfortunately, he is one of those white people who think that racism is a thing of the past and that Classicism is the problem.

I cannot reiterate enough that White people who claim not to see colour while benefiting from systemic racism are part of the problem.

While on a date with a nice, white gentleman who identify as a progressive, I told him his white skin was like winning a lottery. He immediately thought I wanted to be white and that I had internalised self-hate for my black skin! I tried to explain how being a white person can be a lottery you did not even sign up to play, but I doubt he got the point. Also, he wanted me to put a label on his sexual orientation because as a cis, upper middle class white man, he dated a very feminine Asian trans woman. I point blank told him i don’t put label on anyone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. However, I think if as a cis man you date a trans woman, this would not in any way affect your sexual orientation or gender identity. You dated a woman, that is all there is to it. No, it doesn’t make you queer or means you can now identify as LGBTQ, not if you truly believe you dated a woman, anyway.

Well, back to the issue of my ex and his erasure and denial of racism because of the existence of poor white people. My attempts to make him consider that he probably reacted that way because they were homeless white people and not homeless black people only made him angrier than see sense. He responded that it was about the girl, not my egoism. Yeah, my lived experience of racism as an immigrant black woman in a western country is all about my ego. Racism is a figment of my egoist imagination.

I was like okay, if you can’t take my black ass word for it as i am an egoist black woman, maybe you will consider the word of a white person. Then I googled some articles on white privilege and immediately the beloved article, ‘Explaining White Privilege To A Broke White Personby Gina Crosley-Corcoran came up. I thought yeah, I’d share that, but then I thought. “Shit, a white woman wrote it”. I know a white man would stand a better chance of getting to my ex than a white woman, but well, I sent him the article anyway. Unfortunately, all he saw was that it was a Huffington post article, and before he even read it, he responded that Huffington post is conformist propaganda. I told him he probably was confusing it with Daily mail or Fox news.

Anyway, I wanted to share this enlightening article by Gina Crosley-Corcoran with you. The article was her reaction to the acclaimed academic piece by Peggy McIntosh titled- ‘White privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack’.

Excerpts from Explaining White Privilege To A Broke White Person by Gina Crosley-Corcoran

I, maybe more than most people, can completely understand why broke white folks get pissed when the word “privilege” is thrown around. As a child I was constantly discriminated against because of my poverty, and those wounds still run very deep. But luckily my college education introduced me to a more nuanced concept of privilege: the term “intersectionality.” The concept of intersectionality recognizes that people can be privileged in some ways and definitely not privileged in others. There are many different types of privilege, not just skin-color privilege, that impact the way people can move through the world or are discriminated against. These are all things you are born into, not things you earned, that afford you opportunities that others may not have. For example:

Citizenship: Simply being born in this country affords you certain privileges that non-citizens will never access.

Class: Being born into a financially stable family can help guarantee your health, happiness, safety, education, intelligence, and future opportunities.

Sexual orientation: If you were born straight, every state in this country affords you privileges that non-straight folks have to fight the Supreme Court for.

Sex: If you were born male, you can assume that you can walk through a parking garage without worrying that you’ll be raped and then have to deal with a defense attorney blaming it on what you were wearing.

Ability: If you were born able-bodied, you probably don’t have to plan your life around handicap access, braille, or other special needs.

Gender identity: If you were born cisgender (that is, your gender identity matches the sex you were assigned at birth), you don’t have to worry that using the restroom or locker room will invoke public outrage.

As you can see, belonging to one or more category of privilege, especially being a straight, white, middle-class, able-bodied male, can be like winning a lottery you didn’t even know you were playing. But this is not to imply that any form of privilege is exactly the same as another, or that people lacking in one area of privilege understand what it’s like to be lacking in other areas. Race discrimination is not equal to sex discrimination and so forth.

And listen: Recognizing privilege doesn’t mean suffering guilt or shame for your lot in life. Nobody’s saying that straight, white, middle-class, able-bodied males are all a bunch of assholes who don’t work hard for what they have. Recognizing privilege simply means being aware that some people have to work much harder just to experience the things you take for granted (if they ever can experience them at all).

I know now that I am privileged in many ways. I am privileged as a natural-born white citizen. I am privileged as a cisgender woman. I am privileged as an able-bodied person. I am privileged that my first language is also our national language, and that I was born with an intellect and ambition that pulled me out of the poverty that I was otherwise destined for. I was privileged to be able to marry my way “up” by partnering with a privileged, middle-class, educated male who fully expected me to earn a college degree.

There are a million ways I experience privilege, and some that I certainly don’t. But thankfully, intersectionality allows us to examine these varying dimensions and degrees of discrimination while raising awareness of the results of multiple systems of oppression at work.

Excerpts from –White privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh –

Thinking through unacknowledged male privilege as a phenomenon, I realized that, since
hierarchies in our society are interlocking, there are most likely a phenomenon of while privilege
that was similarly denied and protected. As a white person, I realized I had been taught about
racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see on of its
corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.
I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to
recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white
privilege. I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can
count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White
privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports,
codebooks, visas, clothes, tools , and blank checks.
Describing white privilege makes one newly accountable.

She further wrote-

I usually think of privilege as being a favored state, whether earned or conferred by birth or luck.
Yet some of the conditions I have described here work to systematically overempower certain
groups. Such privilege simply confers dominance because of one’s race or sex.
1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
2. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure renting or purchasing housing in an area
which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
3. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
4. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed
or harassed.
5. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my
race widely represented.
6. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that
people of my color made it what it is.
7. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the
existence of their race.
8. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
9. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a
supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a
hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.
10. Whether I use checks, credit cards, or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work
against the appearance of financial reliability.
11. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like
them.
12. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people
attribute these choices to the bad morals,the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.
13. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.
14. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
15. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
16. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the
world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.
17. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior
without being seen as a cultural outsider.
18. 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.
19. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t
been singled out because of my race.
20. I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and
children’s magazines featuring people of my race.
21. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in,
rather than isolated, out-of-place, out numbered, unheard, held at a distance, or feared.
22. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having coworkers on the job
suspect that I got it because of race.
23. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in
or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.
24. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.
25. If my day, week, or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or
situation whether it has racial overtones.
26. I can choose blemish cover or bandages in flesh color and have them more or less match
my skin.

I would encourage reading the two articles in full if you have not, and if you have, it is refreshing to read them again.

Also, don’t be like my Ex.

 

Comments

  1. Bruce says

    Thanks for this article. I think it is indeed very valid, from my perspective as a white American man. I think it makes several key points, including that the phenomenon of noticing privilege depends on being aware of several different possible reference classes or control groups. In other words, to be aware of it, one has to be able to imagine several different aspects of comparison. A reference to privilege only means that SOME forms of comparison happen to work in my favor, whether I had been thinking of them or not. It could still be true that many comparisons don’t work in my favor.
    You Europeans are privileged to live in societies with universal health care, while I have to comparison shop to see which doctors and which medical facilities are in the specific medical network set up by the specific insurance company selected by my employer. I may still have big hassles with their bills, but at least I won’t be denied service as I might if I go to an out-of-network provider.
    Yet, whenever I go to a new facility, I can expect to be treated respectfully by the staff and doctors there, even if none of them are Anglo-Saxon men, because this is the USA and I am a white guy.

  2. says

    It’s amazing how two things can’t be a problem at the same time… Gee, maybe some people are subject to classism and racism. And sexism. Or a host of other assumptions or bigotries.

    This person seems to be perpetuating classism as well as racism while trying to argue that classism is the only real problem. Good work, late night message poster.

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