Written by Morgan DeLisle
Edited by Steven Spear, Jr.
It only took me my first three years of college to get completely fed up with the “white privilege” talk. Hearing over and over that the group I was born into held the winning cards at birth, dominates every public and private sphere, and kept the rest of the world in oppressive bondage grated on my nerves and eventually was sure to get me riled up (you can see how angry it got my deep-south-self because I just said “riled up”). It seemed like a direct attack on my abilities and work ethic, as well as my family’s. My parents are amazing people who overcame a lot to be where they are, and they raised me and my sisters to view everything as within our grasp if we put in enough effort. So, the idea that my education or my job had more to do with my skin than my competency irked me to no end.
Even more than “white privilege” stealing whatever pride I had in my accomplishments, it made me feel I had to prove that I’m not racist. But how do you do that? I mean, you try and explain that your close friends are black and suddenly people you genuinely love are being called tokens and you are being laughed into silence by people who don’t know you and aren’t interested in knowing you. Admitting that I benefit from white privilege equated to writing “racist” across my forehead, and everything in me raged against that. I related (at the beginning of this journey) to the writer Peggy McIntosh when she said, “I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.” Racism has always been something I have hated, something I have felt I would fight against, but not something I saw an active struggle against for me to engage in. Further, there was no tie between racism and the way I lived my life, as far as I could see, privilege or not.
Key words: “as far as I could see”
I hope that way of thinking can be received with some understanding, because it is a genuine explanation of my experience, not because it is right or good or acceptable. I hope it can be received because it is no longer where I find myself or a position I wish to defend, and because the journey that moved me from that anger has been invaluable and lengthy, even as it continues. White privilege is by no means my favorite topic, and I am not an expert by any means, but it is an important topic, and one that needs to be faced honestly by a lot of people. “A lot of people” including but not limited to white people who cannot see their privilege, colored people who cannot see beyond privilege, men, women, immigrants, natives and anyone else who values equality and open dialogue. Because white privilege opens the door to talk about all privilege and how we – all of us – ought to use it.
In warning, the conversation may seem a little one-sided, as the quotes will be coming from women and the ties connecting them will be made by myself, a woman. This is not with the intention of excluding male voices (it’s almost ironic that women have only recently found themselves privileged enough to have this discussion without having to include male voices), it is just a plot chart of what has guided me and since the development occurred mostly in a class that solely used texts authored by women, it seems natural and right that those are what I share with you. I believe that most of these ideas however, apply to each of us.
If you agree or disagree throughout the series, let us know in the comment section! For now, I would love to hear how you view privilege, white or otherwise. We are going to see the importance of communication throughout this series, so feel free to practice below in the comments section.
The next article in the series: Calling It What It Is (Privilege) and Where It Is (Everywhere)
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