White Privilege

I always assumed that I was not racist.  I considered myself anti-racist.  However, a class assignment has made me question myself and look beyond personal prejudice.

Racism is not just discrimination or a prejudice against a racialized group.  That is just discrimination or ethnocentrism.  It is when this discrimination is attached with the power to oppress that it becomes racism.

Personally, I don’t feel I have much power.  I do have prejudices, but they are often counter-cultural.  For example, women who have perfect hair scare me.  I assume that they spend hours on their appearance and label them as materialistic and shallow.  This is an unfair judgment, but hardly like racism. 

 When I was younger, I believed that people of European descent, especially the English, were a horrible blight on the earth.  Because that area of the world was responsible for colonizing so much of the rest of the world, I blamed them explicitly.  While this caused me to read more First Nations mythology than the Knights of the Round Table, it was only discrimination. 

Because I preferred non-Eurocentric stories, food and friends, I believed that I was immune from racism.  Our local church had a large population of black people, an anomaly in rural prairie town, and I was so envious of their skin colour.  The few First Nations kids in town were nice to me and I considered them some of my best friends.

How could I be racist?  Well, I was blind to my own privilege and so I contributed to the problem.  

When I lived in Mexico I worked as an edican.  Canada has no equivalent- it is a cross between a model and a sample clerk.  I was hired to represent different companies at events, doing everything from handing out samples to singing onstage.  I did more high end events, where I wore suits and socialized with the cultural elite, and fewer low end events which sometimes included bathing suits and standing on curb corners with signs.

I always assumed I spent more time in certain venues because I was bilingual, or because I was nerdy and could quickly memorize large amounts of information.  Now I must admit it was because I was blonder (and taller) than the other models. 

This still doesn’t make me racist, but if I stay in denial of how I’ve been privileged I am feeding the myth of meritocracy that contributes to social inequality. 

Honestly, I benefit from a lot of society’s biases: I am tallish, pale, able-bodied, young, slim, English-speaking and hetero.   I always thought I had special privileges because I earned them.  Oh well.  I can still be smart and blonde 🙂

Denial by Barry Deutsch

6 thoughts on “White Privilege

  1. Lorena says:

    I often think about my prejudices and tend to feel guilty as well. I think our world has moved on a little bit from racism to a more generalized form of exclusivity. Or maybe it always existed.

    Like you said, not in so many words perhaps, just about in all parts of the world, the ugly, the fat, the different, the old, the gay, the short, and others do not get the same opportunities in life as their “perfect” counterparts.

    Maybe there will be a day when we will all be entitled to equal opportunities. But for now, it doesn’t look good. Even blondes are looked down upon as stupid.

    • prairienymph says:

      Even if I was an upper class male with brown hair I would be assumed to be sexist and racist. Although I doubt those assumptions would hurt my career trajectory 🙂
      It is difficult because there are different levels to these isms. I don’t know what one person can do to help change institutionalized sexism, racism, or ableism. Maybe just refusing to look at a person as a wheelchair or ethnicity is enough.
      I think a big part of my adherence to Christianity was with the hope of a utopia where people were judged on their religious fanaticism instead of their background or colouring. Now that doesn’t seem like much better model, but at least there was this lovely myth that all injustices would be righted in the unknown future.

  2. If people would accept themselves for what they are and stop feeling guilty it would sure help a lot.
    My girls are certain I am racist because I “noticed that Obama was black”.

    Of course, I am racist, bigoted, prejudiced and discriminatory. As are all humans who do not suffer from envy of someone else. I am also a white male of European descent. Everything bad that happened in the past 1000 years is our fault. Of course, everything good that happened is also our fault because for the past 1000 years white European males were the only ones doing anything. For the reasons why, read Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel.

  3. prairienymph says:

    You are right. Guilt does not help.
    Your son used to tell racist jokes and laugh when I got mad. This went on for years until one day he pointed out that his best friends were Jewish and black and he was only bugging me for entertainment.

    I did read that book. It was great! Some white Euro males were also actively destroying other people’s works. As almost every other group that has ever been in power has also done. What helped me get over white guilt was moving to another country and realizing that people can be jerks no matter where they are.

    The point of this post was sadness in realizing that maybe I’m not as smart as I want to be, and that some of my breaks in life really were because of my hair colour and not my own work. That makes me sad, but not guilty.

    • All of us need all the breaks we can get. If blond hair works for you, milk it for all you are worth. Just be careful where you go by yourself in eg North Africa or you’ll end up kidnapped into some rich guy’s harem.

  4. Why do brides wear white? So they match the other kitchen appliances.
    You can beat me later.

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