Let's chat. Redditor u/coronorbakery wanted to hear from everyone who was willing to chat about about understanding their place in life and how they got there by asking.... (Serious) White people who grew up in low-income families or didn't experience "the good life", what does white privilege mean to you and how do you feel about the term?
I view privilege as a way of describing statistical tendencies. Are Black Americans more likely to experience a negative encounter with police? Yes. Does that mean that every white guy has had only positive experience with police? Of course not. It's a probability metric, not an exact description of each person's individual life.
It is entirely possible that you have an attribute that, on average, favors you... but you were extremely unlucky and landed in the bottom end of the bell curve. Experiencing tough times personally doesn't invalidate statistical averages.
The only time it really annoys me is when people assume they know all about someone based solely on privilege and generalizing from a few obvious traits.
The 2 of Us.
I grew up very poor. Luckily with my parents who are good people.
My partner also grew up poor with his amazing mom who brought them from a war torn country in Africa to the Bronx as refugees before finally getting refugee status here in Canada. If you look at us both based only on economic backgrounds, how much money we had and that we both know what it's like to go without hydro or heat or food you could compare our situations but that is where it ends.
I've never been arrested for being poor. He has. We've both done illegal things to survive yet how come I have never spent a day in jail and have a squeaky clean record yet he does not? I've never been pulled over for driving over a year with expired tags because I couldn't afford the renewal yet he gets pulled over all the time for nothing. Especially now that we have a nice car. I've never been harassed or beat by police for just existing in my body, he has. When I went to university it wasn't assumed that my athletic ability got me there. When I dropped out of university to work full time to support my parents it was not assumed that I dropped out because I wasn't smart enough. I was not considered a drop out.
He was. Today, as a successful, educated woman when I present myself to people who do not know my background no one assumes anything about how I got here. No one asks me how I could possibly do it. They assume I earned it and that I had what they consider a normal upbringing. He does not get that assumption.
There's so, so much more. At the end of the day we both pulled ourselves out of poverty and suffering but yet the assumptions made about us are not the same. Not at all.
Among the Ivy League.
We were immigrants from Eastern Europe. Although we never thought of ourselves as poor I guess that's what we were - our furniture came from the street, my dad worked pumping gas and driving cabs, my brother got beat up in school for wearing the same clothes every day. My cousins all went to prison, I dropped out of high school.
I have a white collar job now and work among Ivy League grads. No one knows I'm a dropout. Was it easier for me because I'm not black? Probably. Do i feel guilty? Hell no, I've had my share of problems and more in this life and I'm happy for every advantage I got. That's not to say I wouldn't want to see Black Americans succeed and play on a more level field, I very much would. But i can't feel guilty about my own success.
I was able to work my way out of it and never once worried that my appearance would be the deciding factor in an opportunity (unless you're thinking about the hospitality industry - then it's about attractiveness no matter the race.)
EDIT: Thanks for the awards.
Also, I meant to say that the hospitality industry discriminates based on attractiveness AND race, not that it doesn't discriminate on race. Many, many other jobs do too, but probably not to the same degree.
I wasn't dirt poor but had a single mom, lived in a duplex and was on welfare periodically. To me white privilege was when I was caught smoking or trespassing or some stupid kid stuff and I got sat on the curb and picked up by my mom while my black friends were cuffed, went to the station or were threatened with violence.
Edit: For those saying "I'm white and I still got in trouble" I'm not implying that I never got in trouble because I'm white. That's not true. However throughout my teenage years it was blatantly obvious that my black and latino friends consistently faced harsher consequences for similar transgressions.
I grew up below the poverty line and was homeless at times, one in which I lived in a semi truck with my mother, her husband, 3 of my sisters, and 2 of my brothers. My bed was literally the passenger seat floor board.
That being said, white privilege means to me that I can get pulled over or stopped by the cops without the fear of being shot. When I go to the mall, no one assumes I'm shoplifting.
People aren't scared of me or think I'm in a gang just because of the color of my skin. Finding a job in my adult life has been relatively easy. My only real struggles now, as an adult, are that of being a woman, but I do not face the same hurdles women of color face daily. I hope that helps in some way to answer your question honestly.
I grew up poor with a mother who was very irresponsible (spending money we didn't have and time better spent raising her kids doing drugs). I got into a lot of trouble in my teen years with drugs and generally being a screw up. Im only half white but i look white, and to me white privilege is not getting into as much trouble as i deserved to be in. So many times i was let off with a warning for loitering or shoplifting or brushed of by teachers as being "tired" or "troubled" when i was showing up to school high, and i know i wouldn't have gotten that kind of leeway if i wasn't (mostly) white.
The Way of Words.
I think the word privilege irks people a bit. "I had struggles, how am I privileged? Everything I own I earned myself!" I can understand how people would feel that way to some degree and it usually comes from a lack of understanding due to the phrase of white privilege. That and racism... sometimes.
"Reduced discrimination due to being white" doesn't have the same ring to it as "white privilege."
"what's he up too?"
I legit walked in with a black friend to a store. He got tailed by the store clerk whole time. I didn't.
Friend got called pretty for a black girl. I got told I have nice hair. Heard "wow he sounds so professional I thought that he was white".
Its not about living the good life. I grew up poor. I grew up with a kerosene heater in my kitchen because our lights and power were cut off very often or "let's have a camp fire tonight!" Cause we didn't have electricity for the stove to turn on.
It's about how you are treated. White privilege isn't "oh you didn't grow up poor" white privilege is being treated like a human being because you're a human being and your skin tone being ignored. I don't get shot if I steal I get arrested. I get the benefit of the doubt.
Its not about your money. Or your class. It's about not being treated like you're a criminal or a sub human.
the good life.
I grew up white and dirt poor. I had nothing even remotely resembling "the good life". My life was sh*t by most standards and yet I:
- Didn't feel the need to fear the police in my neighborhood
- Didn't get the police called on me for simply walking down the street
- Didn't cause people to cross to the other side of the street to avoid walking past me
- Was able to walk around a store without being followed by security
- Was statistically far less likely to end up in the criminal justice system
- Saw good role models on TV that I could relate to
- Never had someone be surprised that I accomplished something or could "speak well".
- Could find Band-Aids in my skin color.
I worked my tail off to claw my way out of the mess of my childhood and it was hard, but I have no doubt it would have been exponentially harder if my skin wasn't white.
There are many other examples. White privilege is not about money, nor does it suggest that white people don't struggle for what they have. It is about the fact that the systems we live under were designed by and for white people and others have to adapt to them, change them, or fail.
It's about the unconscious power of the status quo.
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