It must be really nice to be able to categorically state that white privilege doesn’t exist and for that to be the end of the discussion for you.
The argument often goes that class and wealth are the great dividers, and that privilege is nothing to do with race. You’ll point to poor white people and say “where the hell is their privilege?” And yeah, I get it, it’s difficult to see.
There’s no denying that wealth will buy you a nice hat. And whatever your thoughts on class as a construct, there are definitely some advantages – some privileges – that money, education, the right tie, and a few words from daddy might bring.
But the thing is, we’re complex people, capable of holding several things in our heads at once. It’s possible for class and wealth issues to exist both independently and alongside, in tandem with, issues of race and ethnicity (and I mean seriously let’s just fucking look at that for a second when we’ve got the time – Reni Eddo-Lodge perfectly explores the intersection of class and race in her book, ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White Poeple About Race‘).
Anyway, confusion and resistance to the notion of white privilege is often a result of not really understanding the term properly. White privilege isn’t to say all white people are more privileged than all people of colour. It’s not to say that any white person’s achievement and any black person’s struggle is down to their relative privileges. It would be really dumb to think that.
It’s also a lot more complex than not being able to get a wedding card with brown people on it, although yes, that can be a pain in the arse – I genuinely considered colouring in the groom with a brown crayon for my friend’s wedding a few years ago. I kind of wish I had, just for the lolz.
But this confusion and immediate resistance to the idea of privilege prevents us from discussing it in any meaningful way. People get defensive when it’s pointed out that they might enjoy privilege. They assume they’re under attack, or that they should be made to feel guilty. And that’s hard to swallow for piss poor, thick-as-shit, Gaz from Wallsend. What the fuck has he got to feel privileged about?
For starters, while class and wealth can be easily hidden, colour cannot. I can’t hide my skin colour by putting on a nice suit or a posh voice. The fact is, I’m six to seven times more likely to get stopped and searched in the street under a Section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act than our Gary, a whopping 26 times more likely to be stopped and searched under a Section 60, and three times more likely to be arrested (at time of writing).
I am, generally speaking, more likely to get a longer prison sentence for the same crime, less likely to get an interview for the same job (given that our qualifications and experience are the same), and so on.
But I’ve got a good job and a nice place to live. Poor old Gaz has neither, amd sure as shit doesn’t feel privileged, and in a lot of ways he isn’t.
And that’s why so many people baulk at the notion of white privilege. If, however, you’re open to even trying to understand, you’ll see that privilege is layered. It’s possible for white privilege to exist alongside other issues of economic, class, sex, gender, and a host of other privileges too.
Despite the recent surge in far right politics here in the UK and across Europe, and toilet-people like that teeny, tiny, wee Yaxley-Lennon man-child gaining popularity, I’d say that overall, we’re probably in a better place than we were in the 70s and 80s, although we’re trying really fucking hard to take ourselves back there and beyond.
“Make our own wattle and daub huts, worship our own household gods, bring it back like how it used to be!”
The whole idea of “positive discrimination” or affirmative action can be a bit of a minefield too, and another reason why white people refuse to believe in their privilege. So let’s break down an example.
The police force in the UK is overwhelmingly white. As of March 2018, the police force in England and Wales was 93.4% white.
The percentage of police officers from other ethnic groups did rise from 3.9 to 6.6% over the last 10 years or so, but they’re hardly taking over. The population of England and Wales is 86% white (2011 census so a conservative estimate). Now if the police are supposed to represent the communities they serve, there’s a discrepancy there. Obviously there will be some regional variations, there’ll be more black people in Brixton than in Harrogate, but we’re dealing with overall numbers here.
Anyway, last year the police launched a campaign to encourage applications from more women and more minority groups which was met with a furious backlash… I say furious backlash, I mean a handful of bellends on the internet crying “what about the white men, it’s not fair.”
Well the 93.4% white make-up of the police tells you that there are already plenty of applications from white people. There’s no need to encourage an already overrepresented group to apply, but there is a need to encourage an underrepresented group to apply.
And that’s all it is, encouraging underrepresented groups to apply for positions that they traditionally don’t see as a viable option. I’ve also heard the argument that the entry test for the police force has been dumbed down to allow more people from ‘ethnic minorities’ to pass it. Now, that’s some racist shit in itself, and I have no idea whether it’s true or not (it probably isn’t).
Personally I’d want people armed with fucking tasers to be capable of critical thought and have better than average decision making skills, but even if it were true and the test had been dumbed down, does that negatively impact on white people? No, of course not, how could it?
One of the problems here is that there definitely are various examples of organisations getting it wrong. And there’s always someone who knows someone whose cousin’s mate was looked over for a job that went to a person from a minoritised ethnic group. People latch on to these examples of “positive discrimination” (which isn’t actually a thing by the way) being a bad thing and think that it’s “political correctness gone mad”, when by and large, it’s really not that at all.
“We particularly welcome applications from ethnic minorities” is a phrase that strikes fear into people’s hearts, but for no real reason, other than what they perceive is happening. And don’t get me wrong, it’s easy to understand why people think that way, given our overwhelmingly right-wing press that feeds these fears on a daily (mail) basis.
The ill-informed will also point to crime in predominantly black areas, pointing at things like absentee fathers, poor educational achievement, gangs. They’ll say that ‘black communities’ need to look inward and solve their own problems rather than blaming their struggles on white privilege (I say black communities, but I don’t really know what that actually means).
The idea that everyone should be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps is fundamentally flawed. It depends entirely on the premise that everyone is given the same boots to begin with.
Again though, it is entirely possible think two things at once. We can be quite clever when we want to be. It’s possible to acknowledge that white privilege exists, but (at the same time) to believe that ‘black communities’ need to look at ‘their own’ (imagine how hard my eyes are rolling) issues and take steps to improve things.
Yes, there is absolutely an issue with young, black men involved in crime, gangs, and violence, in some areas. Leaving aside the need to explore the many, complex, overlapping, underlying reasons for that, the idea that everyone should be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps is fundamentally flawed. It depends entirely on the premise that everyone is given the same boots to begin with.
Bringing up a racist history is, more more often than not, met with rolled eyes, sighs, and accusations of playing the race card. “Slavery was ages ago, get over it!” But 400 years of systematic inequality can leave a bit of a fucking mark, and it has resulted in it being demonstrably more difficult for some populations to raise themselves up.
Communities can and should take responsibility for some of what goes on within them, but overall, it’s systematic, entrenched inequality that prevents people from truly getting out of their own mess. If we’re going to make sure everyone has the same boots – if we genuinely want a fairer society and actually care about that happening – we have to be okay with the fact that some people need repairs to their existing ones, some people need brand new ones, and some people have been walking barefoot for so long that they don’t even know how to put a pair on.
Just to really squeeze everything out of this metaphor that I can, even though my own boots are in pretty good condition, I’m still much more likely than my white friends to get tasered in the fucking face.
If you’re white, you’ve probably never worried that your interactions with the police might turn sour. In exactly the same way that as a man, I’ve never worried about having my drink spiked in a bar. As someone who is straight, I’ve never worried about holding hands with my partner in public. As someone who doesn’t use a wheelchair, I’ve never worried about getting around easily at work or in town. These are unearned privileges I have that I barely even think about.
No one is asking me to feel guilty about them, or even apologise for then. But just acknowledging that I have them, being aware that I have them, means that I can use my privilege to highlight injustice and work towards a fairer society.
Being able to put all of that to one side, to say that you don’t think white privilege exists or that you’re bored of the conversation – and for that to be the end of the discussion for you – well that’s your white privilege right there.