White privilege is a word that I see on my Twitter feed every day. While Twitter dark mode allows me to scroll endlessly without any eye strain, it also means that I get to learn about White privilege through the eyes of White people who shout into the Twitter abyss.
White privilege is a buzzword to critics and an explanation of our way of life for marginalized racial and ethnic identities. White critics have taught me one thing about being Black and Mexican in America: no one wants to hear about privilege. Little do they know that White privilege as a concept was thrust to the forefront of society when Peggy McIntosh, a White women’s studies scholar, wrote a paper in 1988 which listed 46 examples of White privilege.
32 years have passed since she wrote that paper and surprisingly, White privilege looks exactly the same. There are some nuances that affected social movements and technology, but overall, White privilege is still as engrained into society as arguments on Facebook are.
Many White people hear “White privilege” and think it’s an attack on them, but it’s only a statement of fact, and it’s a fact that they prove constantly by refusing that it exists. Imagine, the majority of the world telling you that you have privilege and not believing it. It’s like when someone points out a stain on your shirt and you’re embarrassed, so you say it’s a part of the design (which I’ve done).
If you’re wondering what White privilege is, then giving you a dictionary definition isn’t going to open your eyes very much. Instead, here’s 19 things that White people don’t have to think about so that you can experience what White privilege is.
1. Band-Aid Color
Instagram – @bandaidbrand
The original bandage from the Band-Aid brand was a pinkish, fleshy color. While it didn’t match everyone, it stood out especially against the myriad of brown tones found in the skin of marginalized racial and ethnic people. Finally, Band-Aid, the leading bandage brand, launched a new range of bandages that will feature bandages for darker skin tones. They announced this change on June 10th in 2020. The first Band-Aid adhesive bandage sold in 1921. For nearly a century, brown skin tones didn’t have access to premium bandages that matched their skin color. For White people, the color of the bandage probably never crossed their mind, nor was it a political statement to speak out against systemic racism. Just saying.
Pinterest – newrepublic.com
This is a large word for something very simple. When an influx of White people moves into a neighborhood of underserved people of color, gentrification occurs. While this sounds fine, what comes with that movement isn’t. Displacement occurs. New bars, waterfronts, and housing developments, although they sound amazing, accompany a rise of rent usually. This forces the underserved residents to leave and the White people who moved in stay, enjoying the new amenities only they could afford. This is complex and there are a lot of socioeconomic influences that come with this, but White privilege is what allows them to bring those new land developments and afford the effects of it.
3. Coloring And Having Their Skin Color
Pinterest – hilobrow.com
Have you ever received a new coloring book and become so excited? The fresh, new pages filled with your favorite characters or beautiful gowns was always a welcome distraction. You settle down on the rug in your room and get comfortable. After grabbing your box of crayons, you grab the color for the face of the princess you want to make look like you. I always had to mix brown with an orange and a little yellow to get my skin tone, and despite my best efforts, it never got quite as good as it would’ve been had I just grabbed the color named “Apricot.”
4. The Police
Pexels – @rosemaryketchum
This is a topic that’s picked apart on social media every day following the taped deaths, or executions, of Black men in America. It’s painful to watch those tapes, but they’re not for me. They’re for justice, and for the White privilege that allows White people to call the police when they’re in trouble. Instead of giving you an explanation of how the criminal justice system has failed Black people, I’ll tell you quick story. Someone I know works at a prominent chain and two Black boys began fighting in the store. A Black worker decided to pry them apart and he said, “They’re going to call the cops. People are dying. Stop.” They immediately did.
5. Makeup Selection
Unsplash – @jazminantoinette
The shades of foundation and concealer announced by brands never fail to be missing something. There are a lot of brands trying to diversify the shades available for brown skin tones, but many of them lack understanding of what that means. I can’t shop in store for foundation or concealer. I had to go online and use a more expensive brand (which I will share if asked) that allows me to test the shades and get a new one if needed. Many White people will say that it’s hard to find darker shades, but the reality is that I’m a darker tan shade. If I struggle to find my foundation, imagine the struggle of darker people. Everyone should be able to feel beautiful, but White privilege just means it’s a little easier for them to.
6. Seeing Their Culture’s Trauma Win an Oscar
Unsplash – @hitflix
I bet you can name a Black film that won an Oscar. Now, I also bet that it’s about slavery. I’d win both of those bets without a doubt. The people who choose the Oscars are undoubtedly White men. White men choose what we view as the pinnacle of film in society. I’m sure they have amazing credentials, but they don’t reflect the population watching from behind a screen. When people of color tune in to the Oscars, we see White people getting awards for playing newscasters, models, celebrities, or sports players, and Black people getting awards for playing slaves. We recount the trauma of our ancestors for awards and White privilege gives White people awards for playing iconic celebrities. There’s something wrong with that.
7. Having Toys That Look Like Them
Pinterest – Kathyrn Bender
This is something that’s only recently being changed to fight back against systemic racism since it’s something they just realized exist. Before, there was a “dark skinned” (note the quotation marks) Barbie doll released and that caused a rush of excitement. Finally, kids had a premium toy company making dolls that looked more like them than the porcelain skinned, blonde doll they had. Now, there are dolls from many companies that have released brown skinned dolls from different ethnic backgrounds. White privilege means that White dolls existed since the beginning of toys.
8. Neighborhood Selection
Pexels – @davidmcbee
I’m not saying that White people don’t worry about where they’re moving. I’m saying that they worry about the house or apartment. They care about the busyness of the street and the distance from the supermarket. People of color care about so much more than that. First, we have to consider the number of other people of color in the city and the neighborhood. Then, we look to see if there were any hate crimes. Everything else is second to our safety and comfort. I’d love to just worry about whether a Starbucks is close by, but I have to be alive to drink a latte.
9. Seeing Characters That Look Like Them
Unsplash – @king_lip
Although this might seem small, this is a huge deal for children. Kids look up to the characters they see on television. They want to save the world like Batman or be a beautiful as Rapunzel, and this can impact how they view themselves in the future. There were so many times when my friends would liken themselves to a cartoon character as fuel for their dreams. Without brown skinned characters, brown kids can’t see that they can save the world or be beautiful too.
10. Negative Racial Stereotypes That Hinder Life
Shutterstock – Aleutie
Racial stereotypes are all in good fun, until you realize they’re stopping people from getting jobs or having a peaceful shopping trip. Jokes are fine, but sometimes they reinforce the negative stereotypes about ethnic people. These follow people no matter where they go. Ethnic people are sometimes the only ethnic candidate for the job position, and if those negative stereotypes are in the mind of the hiring manager, they won’t get the job. These stereotypes go on a journey from person to person until they reach someone who can’t get them out of their mind. Think about that before you laugh at a racial stereotype.
11. Being Taught By People That Look like Them
Unsplash – @neonbrand
There was this Twitter trend (there’s always a Twitter trend) where people listed the first time they had a non-white teacher. The results were as expected. Many people said high school or middle school. Some even said college. This is an issue because children look up to their teachers. Teachers can fuel new dreams and open doors to opportunities for their students. If the teachers don’t look like the brown students, then this reinforces that they have to look a certain way to be that inspiration for someone else. White privilege means that White students don’t have to spend years taught by teachers that didn’t look like them. They never felt alone in a classroom.
12. Being On The Pages of Children’s Books
Unsplash – @helloimnik
I remember all my favorite stories being about White kids going on adventures. That’s fine, but I wanted whimsy in the lives of the brown skinned kids too. I wanted to see curly haired brown girls stepping through magic mirrors and casting spells on villains. I see them now, and I go back and read them for the little brown girl who needed it when she was younger. White privilege means that publishers have always been publishing White stories, and it’s only a recent push to have more diverse novels. This means that I’m in my 20s with a sparkling princess pop up book because little me didn’t have it. I have no shame.
13. Learning About Themselves in History Classes
Unsplash – @steve02
Everyone reaches a point in schooling where they dedicate years to learning about White people and history. By default, we learn White history in class, and for only segments of history classes do we learn about the experiences of other ethnicities in history. People deem the plights of Black people and ethnic communities as “other.” We’re an elective, 2 weeks, or a few chapters. We always existed, and those tales don’t receive the same attention as White stories. Sure, history classes induce sleep, but I would’ve liked the chance to learn about my people in history books.
14. The Singled-Out Experience
Unsplash – @nci
White privilege means never explaining their own race. I’ve seen many teachers use a student in their class as the spokesperson for their entire race or ethnicity. They forget that it’s singling them out and making them feel out of place. It’s basically letting everyone in the class know the student is “other.” While it’s understandable, allowing the student to have a choice to speak up and share information is more respectful.
15. Hearing Slurs For Them
Pinterest – topbuzz.com
Not a lot of people understand slurs. Slurs have a history of oppression behind them. There’s a different between an insult and a slur. You insult people when you want to cast them in bad light. If you call someone a slur, a word used to belittle their people and dehumanize their existence, you’re choosing to be hateful. There’s a distinct difference. Think about that the next time the n-word discussion comes up, and don’t allow hate to flourish.
16. Giving Themselves an American Name
Pexels – @domas_life
There were so many kids with beautiful names in my classes as a kid. I always regret using the name they told the teacher. I wish I went back and asked them what their name truly was instead of calling them the American name they chose for the school year. We learn the complex names of so many European actors and actresses. They roll off out tongue easily, but the Asian or African children find themselves with nicknames to make the lives of everyone else easier. Remember that the next time your friend or coworker uses a name that isn’t their own. It’s a small gesture, but learn to pronounce their name, no matter the inconvenience. It will mean a lot.
17. Hair Styles
Everyone thinks about their hair before they leave their house (most of the time), and even though this doesn’t seem important, there’s a lot of identity in your hairstyle. Many Black people with tightly coiled hair choose short or straight hairstyles to look more professional. There are more protective or culturally significant styles, like dreadlocks or box braids, that are beneficial for the hair and easier to deal with. White privilege means that people don’t have to erase their culture or ruin their hair to be professional or beautiful.
18. Seeing Themselves in Magazines
Pexels – @element5digital
Magazines are the gatekeepers of beauty. The average American isn’t as fit or thin as the models that grace the pages of them, but they still make or break the beauty standards. White privilege means that the majority of the models are White. The truth of the matter is that the fashion industry is predominantly White, but they cultural appropriate different cultures or feature dark skinned models as part of a diversity campaign. Dark skinned models aren’t a social statement. They’re beautiful and deserve to be the face of campaigns all year round instead of just during Black History Month.
19. Teaching Their Children About Their Skin Color
Pexels – @andreapiacquadio_
Parents teach their children how to sing the alphabet or how to get dressed, for people of color, there are more serious lessons to be learned. Many are taught how others might perceive them. Their children hear how their skin might be accompanied by negative stereotypes that cause them to be treated a certain way by shopkeepers or cops. White privilege means that authority figures or shopkeepers won’t see them and think “danger” or “thief”. There are too many dead Black boys and men in headlines for this to be in our heads.
This isn’t an attack or declaration. It’s a chance to look within and notice what you have that’s unearned. Once you do that, you’ll notice privilege, racial or not. That self-awareness is enough for anyone to take what they know about privilege and use it to change the world.