What is White Privilege and Why Do We Get It So Wrong?

Hey Party People,


The term white privilege is so often misunderstood. It causes many white people to rage up and defend their voice, success, or position because they feel any kind of privilege diminishes what they have accomplished.


A good example we’re all familiar with is the responsive hashtag #AllLivesMatter to rebut #BlackLivesMatter. I had to unpack and learn this as well. The message of the Black Lives Matter movement is not to say that other lives don’t matter, what it is saying is that there is unequal protection, respect and safety provided to different lives. It’s protesting against this inequity and bringing Black lives to the forefront into a space that white lives have always lived and dominated.


The fact that white people don’t have to think about their position in society is an example of white privilege.


Before I really dive into this topic, I want to preface it with a disclaimer that I am by no means an expert on racial equity. I am likely going to get some of it wrong and likely describe things that expose my own white privilege. I hope any member of the Black community who might read this can remain patient with me as I learn and mess up along the way. And I hope the White communities can begin to open their eyes and accept that we are in fact… privileged.


What sparked me to write on this topic was a very public outcry against a big influencer in the personal development space. You’ve heard me talk about her before, Rachel Hollis. A few weeks ago, she exposed her privilege hard on social media, more than once within a few days time. I’ll give you the Coles note version of what she did. You can look to the media for more of the story but like all media take it with a grain of salt.


So, what happened? Rachel was on a Facebook live or Instagram live, and someone made a comment that she was privileged, this didn’t sit well with her, so she went and made a Tik Tok video in response. Her video said she wasn’t privileged and her ability to have someone clean her toilets every week was not privilege but a result of her hard work. She goes on to say that she works harder than most people and that not many others would get up at 4 am to do all the things. She was called out by numerous people, both black and white, that she clearly didn’t understand what privilege meant and that she missed the point. It got even worst than that when she compared herself to many prominent women in history, including Harriet Tubman, a black woman who escaped slavery and committed her life to help rescue others from the trade.


Her actions are a perfect example of how white people are triggered when they are called privileged and respond with defensive rhetoric. This post is not meant to revitalize the debate on the rights and wrongs of what Rachel did or said but rather to focus on why the term privilege is so triggering to some.


It’s a multi-layered issue, and something massively protected by our systems, and I know I still have a slim view of the privileges I have been given over the course of my life. First let’s get to terms, what is the definition of white privilege?


In my own words, I would describe white privilege as the automatic advantages, resources and rights granted by a system (a system that was built and created by white individuals) to white people based on the colour of their skin. Said another way, white privilege represents the lack of advantages, resources, and rights granted by a system to people of colour based on their skin.


You can also check out this article called How to Explain White Privilege in Terms Simple Enough for a Child for more insight. In that article, they state white privilege is, “a specific type of privilege, which people of colour describe as the ability to be in the world without having to think about what it means to be white.”


What does that mean? “The ability to be in the world without having to think about what it means to be white. I think what it is describing is that as a white person we don’t see or experience a world that sees us as lesser because of the colour of our skin. We can walk through life protected by a system that was built by us, so naturally we will be the most comfortable in it. BIPOC communities try to tell us that a white person’s ability to walk through life ignorant to this privilege is not something they get to experience.


I want to share a few more pieces of what privilege is and what it is not.


  • Privilege is feeling like you belong when you want in a room.

  • Privilege is not being talked over.

  • Privilege is having complete ownership over your body without fear.

  • Privilege is having your values, culture and language reflected back to you.

  • Privilege is not having your resume eliminated because of your name.

  • Privilege is not a reflection of or diminishment of one’s hard work.

  • Privilege is not dismissing white voices or white lives.

  • Privilege does not mean one didn’t work hard for one’s success.

  • Privilege does not come without personal life hardships.

  • Privilege is not equal to financial wealth.


Have you ever thought about some of these instances and how they may or may not have impacted your life or your opportunities in this world?


The challenge with talking about white privilege, and one of the reasons white people can get so ragey, is because so many of our privileges are unconscious and therefore perceived as insignificant. But our experience is simply not the same as members of the BIPOC community and it is something they have been saying for centuries. Unfortunately, we refuse to believe it. Alternatively, we are afraid of what it might mean for us (white people) if we admit that we do in fact have unearned privilege in this world.


This week’s party jam is by an incredibly talented local artist who is making moves on the RnB scene.


Warning Signs - Justine Tyrell


With Gratitude,

-S


P.S. My ask for you this week is to consider your position in this world and how you can influence others to make it a better, more connected, and equitable place where we are all seen as human.


P.P.S. Shortly after this post went up, Rachel Hollis shared a new podcast and her response to her privileged position and her actions on social media that I prefaced in this post. She lost a significant amount of respect and following in the personal development space through her massive and public fail. She also chose to cancel an upcoming women's conference she had scheduled for May so she can better address how she shows up and teaches in this space.

I am not here to sway your opinion on what she did, you are 100% entitled to everything you feel or do not feel about this, but what I do want to say is that we all deserve compassion. We so often judge others by their actions and not by their intentions. It's easy to judge others for their failures or fuck-ups, and its even easier to stand on the sidelines and point out everything someone else did wrong. You're not perfect. I'm not perfect. We have all fucked up in some way in our lifetime, haven't we? So instead of throwing around judgement can we try to give one another some grace when we fail? Can we create space to do better, to show up and try again?

I was not someone who was deeply hurt by Rachel's videos or comments, so I acknowledge that my grace might be more easily afforded to her in this situation. But I just know that if, no when, I fail or I hurt others unintentionally through my actions, I hope that I will be given a chance to redeem myself to do better. That I will not forever be judged by one fuck-up alone. We're all human and we all mess up. Let's be better together.