Tackling White Privilege as a White Person

Sophia Rottman / 5/31/2020 / Feature

In North America white privilege shapes our society, but is not always acknowledged. I think that for many white people there is silence about it until there is another case of police brutality and it shouldn’t be that way, but that in itself is an example of white privilege. It should not take another murder of a black person by the police for white people to talk, or write, about white privilege but it seems to. 

I will admit that clearly this article is an example of that, it took the recent horrific events of the past week for me to write this. For me, part of using my privilege is making the conscious effort in the future to have these conversations with or without it being the “hot topic” in the media that day.  I have the privilege that I am able to not have to talk about this on a daily basis, I can choose not to have this conversation; but the silence of white people on matters like white privilege, police brutality and any form of racism is in itself violence. Some people view silence as neutral, but you can’t be neutral on the matter of racism; Desmond Tutu, a black man, human rights activist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize once said “if you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” 

White privilege is ultimately a problem that belongs to white people yet affects people of colour the most. It isn't the job of people of colour to educate white people about racism. It isn’t their job to explain their experiences and to teach white people how to treat them better. White people must take the initiative to educate themselves and each other about the impact of racism. I as a white person will never have a complete understanding of the experiences of black people, simply because I am not. But I and other white people can always work towards creating a more empathetic understanding.  One of the easiest ways to gain this more empathetic understanding and dismantle white privilege is to consider how being white has impacted your own life. Due to the fact that whenever you’ve had privilege, been “up,” someone has had to be “down.” To reveal the reality of privilege, white people can ask themselves the following questions. Have I always seen my race well represented in the media? Have I ever been the only person of my race in a class? Have most of my teachers been my race? And those are just surface level examples of white privilege, never mind ones that actually concern safety, life and death.

Nobody is saying white privilege means you’ve had an easy life, maybe you have, maybe you haven’t. It is simply saying that you don’t face difficulties in life because of the colour of your skin. There are many other forms of privilege out there, socio-economic, male, straight privilege (etc.) but white privilege has in my opinion been the most pervasive in North America. It is so prevalent because it stems from structural racism and is fueled everyday by individual racism. Structural racism is largely depicted as white supremacy; favoured treatments, power, access and opportunities that white people get at the downfall of people of colour. Structural racism embodies all of white supremacy and is driven by our laws, history, politics, economics and so on. It is the foundation that allows all other forms of racism to continue on in society today. An example of structural racism is the disproportionate rate of incarceration of black people compared to white people across North America. Individual racism encompasses the racist beliefs, values and behaviours that derive from the personal bias and prejudice of the individual. This stems from and is continued to be strengthened by structural racism. The societal conversation about racism amongst white people generally emphasizes talking about and “getting rid of” individual racism. But frankly that is useless, racism isn’t just some personal psychological issue that can be solved by discussion. It is frequently seen as that, but is driven by centuries of systemic and structural oppression created to benefit white people. And in order to get to a society in which there is no racial hierarchy of power we need to dismantle structural racism, not just individual.

There are many more steps forward that I and everyone else can take, writing an article about it is step one. Starting with this article, I believe that Tigertalk should and needs to cover more content that will help increase awareness and students’ understanding of how racism plays out in Toronto. White privilege, anti-black racism and every other form of racism can not just be spoken about once and then left behind because you have the privilege to do so. Don’t just be “not racist”, be anti-racist. Confront issues even if it’s uncomfortable, because having a knee on your neck for eight entire minutes is a lot more uncomfortable than your conversation. If you don’t already have these conversations, they are important, you may say the wrong thing or say it the wrong way at some point; recognize it, apologize and learn from it. That being said, I make mistakes too, so if in this article I said something wrong or the wrong way please don’t hesitate to reach out and let me know. If you have racial privilege, recognize your privilege, use your privilege for the benefit of everyone; speak up, argue and learn.