Opinion: Recognizing our racism: Lifting the veil on the ugly truth of white privilege

If you are white, you have been a continuous recipient of white privilege over the course of your life.

If you are white, you may have an adverse reaction to the assertion in the previous sentence. The topic of white privilege is a slippery, complicated one. Discussing white privilege often makes white people uncomfortable.

If you are white, I am here to make you uncomfortable. This column will attempt to flesh out the ideas surrounding white privilege.

Just because you think you have not actively exercised your white privilege does not mean that you have not benefited from it. In fact, white privilege is so institutionalized and embedded in our culture that most of us white folk don’t even realize we are benefiting from the color of our skin. The thought that white life is normative and not privileged further reflects how deeply ingrained white privilege is.

Perhaps this will clarify.

Here are two less obvious, everyday examples of white privilege: If you are white, do you think about race on a daily basis or even multiple times throughout the day? If not, you are the lucky recipient of white privilege.

If you are white, have you ever claimed to be “colorblind” or “not to see the color of people’s skin”?

Having the opportunity to fool yourself into thinking that you are colorblind [in the sense of race, that is, because even literally colorblind people can distinguish shades of skin color] is, again, white privilege.

Some white people make an effort to ignore or overlook race; people of color, however, are constantly confronted with and reminded of race. Since whiteness is “normative,” many white folk attempt to place themselves in a race-less bubble. However, white people are the only group of people who can even begin to ignore their racial identity.

Now, if you are white like me and have come to terms with the fact that you have, indeed, been the lifelong recipient of white privilege, you may ask yourself, “What do I even do with this privilege?”

Personally, I made the executive decision to manipulate my white privilege to benefit people of color. This is a complicated goal.

I was recently in a situation here at Allegheny where there was a clear issue of institutional racism. Even after bringing this to the attention of various administrators, the racism intertwined with my situation was overlooked and dismissed. This frightened me. I had tried to use my white privilege, my voice as a white woman, to draw attention to the fact that institutional racism had occurred but I failed. I was ignored. I began to wonder if my plan to manipulate my white privilege was a realistic one.

So, how do white people combat their white privilege? I am not entirely sure. Since the privilege is WHITE privilege, no matter how hard people like me try, there can never be a transference of power. Even the sheer notion that privilege needs to be bestowed upon people of color by a white beneficiary is highly problematic.

Nonetheless, I have concluded that education is one of the only venues through which white people can actively manipulate their white privilege to benefit people of color.

White people generally have access to better education. Since education is something that cannot be taken from a person once the process has been completed, white people could use their white education to pursue even MORE white education at an institution of higher learning which (let’s face it, unless we’re talking about a Historically Black College or University) is predominantly white. White people can then use this education, placed so haphazardly on their alabaster shoulders, to teach low–income areas and help close the achievement gap which is, after all, a racialized issue.

But this is the thing about manipulating white privilege: you can’t let the white people know that you are using your white privilege to benefit people of color. That makes white people angry.  You have to be covert. You must, to use the cliché, be a wolf in sheep’s white clothing.

Only then can you maintain your white privilege and have the narrow opportunity to upset the delicate racial equilibrium propagated by whites.

Jessica R. McGrady is a member of the class of 2010. She can be reached at [email protected]