I don’t know about you but when someone calls me privileged, it gets my back up. It’s a trigger word. When I think of the word ‘privileged’, it conjures up images of the wealthy echelons of society who have never had to work a hard day’s labour to splash out on the luxury they surround themselves with. They are the top of the food chain, looking down on the rest of us below. I do not fit into this category and to be deemed someone who does sets off a rage inside of me.
Words hold so much power. We know that. We witness it when Donald Trump bellows his divisive and destructive rhetoric at every given opportunity. One single word can provoke so much emotion- for better or for worse.
I’ve never really explored the term white privilege in great detail before until now, I will be honest. That alone probably highlights my privilege, perhaps. It is not a term I have been exposed to throughout my life. It is a term, along with the British Empire and Colonialism, that is greatly missing from the education system and curriculum. It goes without saying that I am aware of racism and where I fit in the societal hierarchy, but I’ve never invested time in truly understanding what white privilege is until the tragic death of George Floyd. Does that make me ignorant? Yes. But this is a lesson for us all and I know I’m not alone when I say that.
The term privilege, on its own, without context, is not the kind of privilege we are talking about when we talk about white privilege. This is an important point I am learning to accept. As a woman, I am still deemed a second class citizen. People may not say this out-loud but there are plenty of facts to support this. Despite the fact that, on average, women in the UK have a higher level education than men do, we still earn less than men. We are still more likely to fall victim to domestic abuse than men. We are still fighting to ensure that more of us have a seat at the executive table and that we are fairly represented in parliament. So, to be deemed privileged in the generic sense makes me feel uncomfortable, but I realise that the conversation around gender is a completely separate dialogue entirely and I’m learning to detach myself from my gender when discussing white privilege.
I think educating ourselves about this term is something that many white people are struggling with as the black lives matter movement gains well-deserved momentum. Even those of us who deem ourselves to be socially conscious feel guilt and disgust for our lack of exposure and understanding of the term until now. The research I have done into white privilege has revealed so many things I had previously taken for granted and hadn’t thought about twice, mainly because society has made sure I don’t have to. Growing up, I watched soaps full of people who looked like me. When I hurt myself, I was given a plaster that matched my skin tone. All the adverts I saw were full of people who looked like me and my family. I’ve grown up completely unaware of my own privilege which, by itself, emphasises my privilege.
We have to unlearn our associations with the word ‘privileged’ and re-educate ourselves about what being privileged means in a racial context. You can be earning minimum wage and still have white privilege. You can have left school with no qualifications and still have white privilege. You can be living in the most dangerous areas in the UK and still have white privilege. You can be a woman and still have white privilege.
As white people, we have a lot of work to do, and we can start by getting less offended by the term ‘white privilege’ and recognise that it is, in fact, what we are. It is no reflection on us as a person. It is not a reflection on how hard we work or how much we might be struggling on a day to day basis. It is a reflection of a historic societal and political structures that mean that before we have even taken our very first steps in life, we are already ahead of anyone and everyone in the black community who are going to have to try a lot harder than we are in life to get to where they want to be.
So, tell me I have white privilege and watch how I am no longer filled with rage. Instead, see how I am filled with sadness at the heartbreaking reality that privilege cannot currently belong to us all until we all recognise and eradicate white privilege’s existence.
To find out more about how you can help the Black Lives Matter movement, visit https://blacklivesmatter.com/