In an essay titled “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies,” Peggy McIntosh, a senior research scientist and former associate director of the Wellesley Centers for Women, presents a checklist of ways privilege affects white people on a daily basis. You can read the full essay and see the entire checklist here, but below are a few examples of the ways white people benefit from privilege, according to McIntosh’s studies.
“I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely and positively represented.”
“I can go into a book shop and count on finding the writing of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods that fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can deal with my hair.”
“I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.”
“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.”
Simply being born Black can guarantee you entirely different life experiences than being born white. Addressing your privilege by reading resources such as McIntosh’s can help point out all the way those experiences differ for you. Imagine what life would be like if you didn’t experience the privileges listed above (among many others)? You would absolutely want to fight for change and equality if you didn’t have them.
As white people, acknowledging our privilege like this may be uncomfortable, but it’s important. Sit with that discomfort, and think about what it means. It shouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable to look colonization and systemic racism in the eye, address our part in it, and think about what we can do to dismantle it.
Take responsibility for educating yourself and having difficult conversations about racism
Some white people might think it’s helpful to directly ask Black friends, family, or colleagues to explain issues of race to them or assure them that they aren’t a part of the problem. By doing this, however, you can insinuate that it is the Black community’s responsibility to eradicate the racism that they are victim to — and to spare white people’s feelings about their part in racism. It puts even more labor on those who have been dealing with these things for centuries.
Francis E. Kendall, a diversity consultant who specializes in matters of white privilege, explains that these types of actions can selfishly disrupt constructive conversations about race. In her essay titled “Understanding White Privilege,” she writes:
“We shift the focus back to us, even when the conversation is not about us. A classic example of this is white women crying during conversations about racism and women of color having to put their pain aside to help the white women who are crying. (African Americans and gays and lesbians, in particular, are expected to take responsibility for other people’s responses to and discomfort with them.)”
Instead, take the responsibility to educate yourself with content that Black creators have already made of their own will and interest — again, more on that later. You can put this education to further use by spreading it to the non-Black people in your lives. Take moments to acknowledge the movement within your family and social circles, and prepare to have difficult conversations with those who don’t understand why Black Lives Matter, period.
Follow Black community leaders on social media
A simple, free, and fast way you can surround yourself with Black voices is to actively follow more Black community leaders on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and wherever else you like to get your information from. This isn’t limited to activists or policymakers, by the way, although those are great places to start. If you’re into beauty, follow more Black beauty professionals. If you’re into fashion, follow Black designers. If you’re a bookworm, follow Black authors. If you’re a foodie, find more Black-owned restaurants to follow in your area (which you can do easily with apps like EatOkra).
Read books, watch films, listen to podcasts, and observe art about racism and police brutality
Another reason you don’t need to ask your Black friends to educate you directly is that Black people are actively contributing to the conversation all the time by writing books, making films, producing podcasts, and creating other forms of art to expose racism and offer solutions to end it. Watching, reading, or listening to these things typically doesn’t require a whole lot of money (though supporting creators financially is always welcome, especially during this global pandemic).