White People: Confronting Our Privilege

The world is reeling in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. The list of black lives taken by white people in abuse of power grows longer. With protests spreading across the world, public outrage is at an all-time high. But while the black community experiences fatigue and frustration at the cyclical nature of these atrocities, many white people are in shock and disbelief that this death even occurred. Could this be an isolated incident caused by one bad cop? Once he’s arrested things can go back to normal, right?

The reality is, ‘normal’ is a society built on white dominance and black oppression. ‘Normal’ is a system where your path in life is determined by the colour of your skin. ‘Normal’ is thinking there is no problem with this system because you are not negatively affected by it. ‘Normal’ is how George Floyd died on the pavement under the knee of a white police officer on the 25th of May, 2020.

We do not want to go back to normal.

The cycle will continue until white people make a conscious choice to remove our blinkers and see society for what it is, and the role we play in it. Ignoring the everyday injustices around you, however seemingly insignificant you find them, is an example of white privilege further perpetuating an oppressive system.

“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist.”
– Angela Davis

For too long white people have benefited from the daily privileges of just being white, claiming to be ‘not racist’ while reaping the rewards of a racist system. It is time to confront our uncomfortable history and actively make the changes we need to make if there is ever a hope in ending racial discrimination. It is time to turn up, and keep turning up, even when the media have moved on, the hashtags are no longer trending and we are tempted to ‘go back to normal’.

It can be overwhelming to even know where to start when it comes to understanding white privilege. It is a complex issue so deeply ingrained in society that many people are unaware of even benefiting from it, or take offence at the implication they’ve had it easy. To these people, it is simple: white privilege doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been hard, it just means the colour of your skin hasn’t been one of the things making your life harder.

Here are five actions we must take when unpacking our privilege:

1. Do your research

It is impossible to make a permanent change without understanding the history of where we have come from, where we are now and what affect this history has had on our society. But where to start? Luckily there are so many resources available to help you on this journey. Here are just a few of many books, podcasts and TV series out there:

Books:

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Exploring everything from eradicated black history to the inextricable link between class and race, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race is the essential handbook for anyone who wants to understand race relations in Britain today.

Biased by Jennifer Eberhardt
From one of the world’s leading experts on unconscious racial bias comes a landmark examination of one of the most culturally powerful issues of our time.

Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch
A nation in denial about our imperial past and the racism that plagues our present. Brit(ish) is Afua Hirsch’s personal and provocative exploration of how this came to be – and an urgent call for change.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
It is not enough to simply hold abstract progressive views and condemn the obvious racists on social media – change starts with us all at a practical, granular level, and it is time for all white people to take responsibility for relinquishing their own racial supremacy.

Me and White Supremacy: How to Recognise Your Privilege, Combat Racism and Change the World by Layla Saad
 Me and White Supremacy teaches readers how to dismantle the privilege within themselves so that they can stop (often unconsciously) inflicting damage on people of colour, and in turn, help other white people do better, too.

Podcasts:

Creative Tension with Elliot Robinson
The Creative Tension podcast explores the history and legacy of Jim Crow segregation. Host Elliott Robinson provides the missing chapters from American History class, through a mixture of interviews, archival audio and roundtable discussions. Creative Tension also uses open and frank discussions, to dissect how the legacy of Jim Crow is still impacting our world today.

Good Ancestor Podcast with Layla Saad
An interview series with change-makers & culture-shapers exploring what it means to be a good ancestor.

Speak Out with Tim Wise
Speak Out focuses on the ongoing fight for racial and economic justice in the age of Trump, and strategies for building the movement for real and lasting change. The show features dialogue with some of the nation’s leading scholars, artists and activists.

Documentaries/TV series/Movies:

13th – Netflix
In this thought-provoking documentary, scholars, activists and politicians analyse the criminalisation of African Americans and the U.S. prison boom.

Dear White People – Netflix
This series follows a group of students of color at Winchester University, a predominantly white Ivy League college. The students are faced with a landscape of cultural bias, social injustice, misguided activism and slippery politics.

When They See Us – Netflix
Five teens from Harlem become trapped in a nightmare when they’re falsely accused of a brutal attack in Central Park. Based on the true story of the Central Park Five.

The Hate U Give – Prime/Hulu
A teenager witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer. Now, facing pressure from all sides of the community, she must find her voice and stand up for what’s right.

Little Fires Everywhere – Prime/Hulu
A study of two women who become inextricably linked. Their relationships stir up a dangerous obsession among both families, revealing the story to be less a crime thriller and more a moving examination of motherhood, secrecy, white privilege and the white saviour syndrome. 

Education is ongoing, and the resources are endless. But make sure to do some personal research as well. What do you know about your own ancestors? How did they settle? Were they involved in taking land/rights from indigenous people? You may not like the answers you find but they are crucial in confronting your privilege. Get out of your comfort zone and throw ‘ignorance is bliss’ in the bin.

2. Listen to the right people

You may have already noticed members of the media using different terms when describing white-led protests versus black-led protests. And you are probably aware of the power hungry people (Trump and Brexit campaigners, to name just a few) pushing a racist agenda to divide citizens and incite fear. But you may not be aware of who owns the networks, tabloids and newspapers delivering these agendas, what their affiliations are and what they stand to gain from spreading their own racially fuelled propaganda. It is so important to apply critical thought when consuming media, to be able to identify bias and seek the facts. A good place to start is knowing where your country ranks in the World Press Freedom Index.

Social media can be a great tool for gaining first hand access to information, especially right now during the protests. 
While discussing white privilege with other white people is important, it is crucial that you are listening to people of colour first and foremost. Though they don’t owe you a free education on the injustices they have faced for hundreds of years, there are many activists online providing key information that will help you to identify systemic racism and its byproduct, white privilege.

Some great activist accounts are:

Rachel Cargle @rachel.cargle
Layla Saad @laylafsaad
Mona Chalabi @monachalabi
No White Saviors @nowhitesaviors
Tamika Mallory @tamikadmallory

Be mindful and respectful of their spaces. Having a diverse social media feed ensures that all voices are heard, which is sadly not reflected in mainstream media. You can fight this by boycotting the media and curating your own news feed.

3. Contribute in any way you can

There are a number of organisations you can donate to in supporting the rights of black people and people of colour. Search for organisations in your area, or donate to global movements. Some examples of global organisations can be found here: Fund Racial Justice.
Support the United States 
National Police Accountability Project, campaigning for changes to the flawed legal system and fighting to put an end to police brutality. Or you can directly support George Floyd’s family on their Go Fund Me fundraiser here.
United Kingdom based anti-racism organisations that you can support include Stand Up To Racism and Show Racism The Red Card. Another key organisation is The Black Curriculum, a social enterprise founded in 2019 by young people to address the lack of Black British history in the UK Curriculum.

If you are unable to donate, signing petitions is a key component in the fight against racism. See the Black Lives Matter website for available petitions, or search the Change.org website for relevant petitions. A great one is this petition calling for the UK government to update the GCSE reading list to include black perspectives.
To demand justice for George Floyd, you can sign the petition
here.
You can search open petitions to the UK government here.

Another way you can show support is by watching youtube videos where 100% of the ad revenue goes back into the BLM cause. Zoe Amira created this movement, you can watch her video here. The info bar of this video also contains links to a large number of petitions you can sign. *Update: Over $30,000 has been raised already!

You can also show your support by marching in protests in your area. Follow social media hashtags and anti-racism organisations to stay up to date on planned protests.

Use your vote to support people of colour and minorities. Vote for inclusive policies. Vote for morals. Vote for change. Vote as if you are not white.

If your workplace is predominately white, raise this with your manager. Ask them to review their hiring process, suggest team workshops on anti-bias training and inclusivity.

Be picky with companies and who you give your money to. Don’t support brands that are solely targeted at white people. A quick walk down your supermarket aisles will find that images on beauty products, baby products, cleaning products etc are overwhelmingly white. Call these companies out on social media. Pressure them to do better. Boycott. Support brands that promote diversity. Don’t support brands that fund Trump’s tyranny. Research, research, research. Then use your money to speak for you.

And most importantly, supporting black-owned businesses is a way that you can help fight the racial wealth gap, support local communities and effect long-term change. For the United States, Support Black Owned has an extensive state-based directory of businesses you can support. And in the United Kingdom, check out the UK Black Owned Businesses website. TimeOut have recently posted resources for finding black-owned businesses in London here

Also do keep an eye out for white-led companies making real efforts to diversify and using their platform to uplift black-owned businesses, such as Glossier with their latest initiative. And Ben & Jerry’s set the bar high with their call to action in the fight against white supremacy.
But for every company making a positive step there are at least ten taking a step backwards, with empty gestures and failure to follow through. DollsKill are problematic to say the least, and this article by Marketing Week shows just how white the boardrooms really are at those big companies – proclaiming support for BLM in public, but with very different priorities in private.  

4. Have the tough conversations

There isn’t a quick fix to a massive systemic issue that is infecting all aspects of society and taking innocent lives every day. There are years ahead of holding your friends and family accountable for those ‘harmless’ jokes and ignorant comments. It can be scary to speak out, but it’s a lot less scary than being complicit in an unjust system.
The older generation are more likely to resist confronting their privilege so be patient, stay calm and stay focused. And when it gets too tough, remember that a tough conversation is incomparable to hundreds of years of oppression, a societal system that is set up to provide opportunities to others over you, and being murdered in the street simply because of the colour of your skin.

The below pyramid demonstrates the shocking amount of white supremacy indicators that are socially acceptable. You are likely to see a lot of indicators that apply to your friends, family and yourself.

white supremacy

Overt white supremacy is racism.
Covert white supremacy is also racism. 

Call people out, call yourself out. Question political choices, question everything. Don’t go down in history as yet another generation to take no action against the most enduring global social issue of human existence. We have so much work to do.

5. Accept that you may make mistakes

When living in an inescapable racial system, you are not going to be perfect. This is something we must continuously work on. Be humble if you are called out and learn from your mistake. This isn’t about you as an individual, it’s about breaking an unjust system that is designed to lift some and crush others.

You are likely to feel guilt when you start to confront your privilege and learn more about the history of black people and people of colour. This is natural – feel it, accept it, and move on. Guilt is not productive when fighting for a better world.

The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.
– Ijeoma Oluo

And you may not be from the United States, or the United Kingdom. But if you are a product of European colonisation, this applies to you as well. White privilege is everywhere.

Let’s get to work.

 

Main photo by @sefidemart

3 Replies to “White People: Confronting Our Privilege”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s