Privilege + 6 Questions to Understand it Better
In our last blog post, I talked about celebrating Black History Month as a white girl. One of the 4 ways I suggested to celebrate is acknowledging privilege. Specifically your own privilege. Privilege (or lack thereof) can come from many different things. Skin color, financial status, family history, genetics, weight, education, geography. All can affect your privilege and status in our society (I’m sure I missed a few too!). Today, we are specifically going to focus on privilege due to skin color. So don’t get all defensive on me when I ignore all the other factors. I know they exist, but we’re just focusing on one extremely pervasive, often overlooked (by people who benefit from it), and often anger-causing form of privilege.
Everyone is somewhere on the spectrum of prejudice and preference, with most of us naturally preferring those who look and act similar to us.
We have all been fed different information regarding race in our country. Everyone is somewhere on the spectrum of prejudice and preference, with most of us naturally preferring those who look and act similar to us. Because of this (and so many other deeper historical things that we don’t have time to delve into right now), we have remained relatively segregated as a society. Sure, you may work and go to school with people who are different than you. But what about the people you do life with? Do those closest to you have the same skin tone as you?
If your answer is no, then leave a comment with some advice for the rest of us. If your answer is yes, you are not alone. Neighborhoods, churches and close friend groups are still fairly “monochromatic” in our country (although it is more pervasive in certain areas than others). This segregation leads to another issue. Blinders. When we don’t interact on a deep level with people who are different than us, we get ourselves into an echo chamber. Where our own lifestyle and culture are mirrored back at us and we start to believe (consciously or subconsciously) that we’ve gotten it right. And subsequently, that everyone else is doing something wrong or weird, or at least not as good as what we’re doing. You stop being able to see the world from a different perspective. You become blind to the way others think and feel. And if you’re white, you become blind to your privilege.
(I’m painting a broad brush here, so please don’t get defensive. Real life contains so much nuance. But I ask you to be humble enough to acknowledge some truth, light-skinned friends.)
The Cambridge Dictionary defines privilege as "a special advantage or authority possessed by a particular person or group.” American society has consistently favored light-skinned people. Giving them more opportunities and advantages, viewing them as superior to those with darker skin. Therefore, given our continued segregation and the general understanding that opportunities are provided based on “who you know”, white privilege has continued on with a full force.
given our continued segregation and the general understanding that opportunities are provided based on “who you know”, white privilege has continued on with a full force.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll need a major kick in the pants to realize just how much privilege you actually have. Talking about privilege makes me feel like I’m just a product of my family and society. A robot with no control over my own life or success. It makes me feel like I live in a world where my fate has already been decided for me. And if I succeed in my job or do well in life, it’s only because I had a “good upbringing.” So why care about anything? Why work hard? It’s already been decided! (Kristin’s internal thoughts bubbling out of control…)
Whoa, Kristin. Put on the breaks. The reality is both/and. Our “success” is based on a combination of external factors (that we can’t control), hard work (that we can control), and luck. I know, I know, you’re thinking this is all common sense. But sometimes I think we all need a reminder. We have a tendency to lean one way or the other, and need to remember it’s more of a dance than an either/or.
Now for the 6 questions…
So, if you need the kick in the pants that I do, here’s six questions that can gently kick your pants in the right direction (that came out weird, but you get my point). Some fairly “shallow” some a little deeper. All here to help you see your privilege (specifically for my light-skinned friends in the room).
Have you ever had trouble finding undergarments or shoes to match your skin tone?
You know, when you want to wear those white pants without your underwear showing, or make your legs look long and sexy in those skin-color heels? Is YOUR skin color a “staple color” in most stores?
Do you [instinctively] consider the color “nude” to include shades of dark brown?
Or do you only think of “nude” as beige/light tan, like the majority of these? A few years ago I had a conversation with a dear friend of mine about this. My mind was blown. Thus, the first blog we posted was about redefining the color “nude.”
Have you ever had trouble finding a bandaid that didn’t relatively match your skin tone?
We talked briefly about bandaids in our last blog, but it still blows my mind every time I think about it. And every time I go to the bandaid isle in any store ever. Even at my local Kroger where the customers are about 50% white and 50% black. The bandaids are 99% light beige and 1% slightly darker beige.
Have you ever had trouble finding a clothing brand that has models who’s skin color looks like yours?
Brands are slowly realizing they need to represent minority groups, but we still have a long way to go. Another spin on this question. When scrolling Pinterest, do the women you see look like you? I have specifically searched for women of color but the platform still only spits out white girls. Don’t get me wrong, I love Pinterest. It is just so pretty! But it is also reflecting to me (and everyone else on the platform) what we value most and what we see as most beautiful. Ehem, light skin (and light hair, youthfulness, slimness, toned-ness, but that’s another conversation for another time).
When you have an issue at a restaurant, do you usually deal with a manager that has a different skin tone than you?
This one depends highly on your location and what type of restaurants you frequent. But in general, do you have the “same-tribe rapport” with the person in charge?
If you talk about racism, does anyone think you are being selfish or self-serving?
Maybe they wouldn’t say it, but would people think it? Do people think you’re “pulling the race card”? Or do people think you care about social justice?
If you answered “no” to any or all of these questions, you have privilege. It probably looks different than someone else’s privilege, but it’s there, baby. Take it, care for it. I encourage you to read the questions again, imagining you had a different color of skin. Try to see the world as someone else experiences it.
If you never have before, it’s time to acknowledge the defenses that are bubbling up inside you AND acknowledge your privilege. Acknowledge that privilege as something for you to steward. Not something to fill you with shame (although I definitely think some mourning is necessary). It is a resource. One that has been given to you in a greater dose based on no merit of your own.
Be comfortable with the uncomfortable. Except for your clothes. They should just be comfortable.
*Some of my questions I borrowed from a wonderful resource my sister shared with me by the wonderful Peggy McIntosh. If you want to continue to understand white privilege more, you can check out her essay here.