White Privilege – The Elephant in the Room

Last January I attended the Annual Borrego Springs Film Festival. It begins on Thursday and ends the following Monday. The films can be anywhere from a few minutes long to an hour. You buy your tickets in blocks. At the end of the block writers, producers, actors, and more come to the stage and the audience can ask them questions about the movies. Some of the films are unique, others just OK and then there is a film that will leave a significant impact on the viewer.

Brooklyn in July” -“It is the summer of 1945. The War is all but won. The U.S. is riding a wave of triumph even as the undertow of unresolved issues roils beneath. Frank, like so many other African-Americans of the time, is drawn to New York by the promise of a better life only to be confronted by the same realities, fear, and hatred he hoped he had left behind. He is a man scarred by a past that is lurking skin deep.” This film is about the racism that most people of color endure on a daily basis, then and now. It was horrific and sad and very moving.

The movie was approximately 20 minutes long. It was one of the more uncomfortable 20 minutes I  remember enduring in a long time. At the end of the block, I discovered that it was an uncomfortable moment for this mostly white audience. The questions that were posed to this writer and producer were around this discomfort. Did he realize how uncomfortable this film was for his mostly white audience? What did he hope to achieve? What made him write this? Who were the actors and how as people of color did they feel in these rolls?

The writer and director stated that if it made us feel uncomfortable, then he had done his job. He had chosen the north to write this film because many people believe that racism did not exist in the northern states. He stated that racism in the northeastern part of the United States was not acknowledged. This type of racism can be stronger and more powerful and dividing than what we can blatantly see in the south. He mentioned that “White Privilege” continues to exist today. If we are white we experience “White Privilege”. This statement immediately made me experienced discomfort.

This topic has continued to be a part of my thought process since January. When I returned to San Diego my friends, Cynthia and Ward are studying,  Sacred Ground A Film-Based Dialogue Series on Race & Faith through the Episcopal Church. Since I am now sharing their space we have discussed this subject more than once.

“White Privilege” has made me feel uneasy. I don’t like the term and I especially don’t like this term in describing me. I am part of the white race and so I need to find a way to comfortably address this discomfort. There is no more important time than now to address this Elephant in the Room.

I have done reading on white privilege and institutional racism since January.  It remains an uncomfortable topic yet maybe a bit less so since I have been researching and exploring it.

White privilege is—perhaps most notably in this era of uncivil discourse—a concept that has fallen victim to its own connotations. The two-word term packs a double whammy that inspires pushback. 1) The word white creates discomfort among those who are not used to being defined or described by their race. And 2) the word privilege, especially for poor and rural white people, sounds like a word that doesn’t belong to them—like a word that suggests they have never struggled.

This defensiveness derails the conversation, which means, unfortunately, that defining white privilege must often begin with defining what it’s not. Otherwise, only the choir listens; the people you actually want to reach check out. White privilege is not the suggestion that white people have never struggled. Many white people do not enjoy the privileges that come with relative affluence, such as food security. Many do not experience the privileges that come with access, such as nearby hospitals.

And white privilege is not the assumption that everything a white person has accomplished is unearned; most white people who have reached a high level of success worked extremely hard to get there. Instead, white privilege should be viewed as a built-in advantage, separate from one’s level of income or effort.”  (from the article: What is White Privilege Really)

I experience white privilege every single day of my life. I have the freedom to move around as I please (except now due to Covid-19). I can move through the world and know or expect that my needs will be met most of the time. Books, even Children’s books usually have white characters.I don’t have to look in special sections of a store for hair or beauty products. I am less likely to be followed, interrogated, or searched by law enforcement because I look “suspicious.” My skin tone will not be a reason people hesitate to trust my credit or financial responsibility. My skin tone will not be a reason to look at my admission to institutions of higher learning as unique or impossible.  I can be comfortable in my world most of the time. And these examples are just a few of many. The more I have explored this topic the more I have come to realize that White is everywhere Color, well, not so much.

Institutional racism has been responsible for slavery, settlement, Indian reservations, segregation, residential schools (for American Indians), and internment camps. While most of these institutions no longer exist, they have had long-term impacts on our society. As a result of institutional racism, racial stratification and disparities have occurred in employment, housing, education, healthcare, government, and other sectors. While many laws were passed in the mid-20th century to make discrimination illegal, major inequalities still exist.” (from the article Definition and Analysis of Institutional Racism)

This past weekend has been painfully necessary for this country. In the 1960s Institutional Racism was addressed in many of the same ways it is being addressed now. This is a wake-up call for all people, no matter the race. It is time for us to address Institutional Racism and move towards equality for everyone. It is time for us to ask our police to treat lives as if All Lives Matter and to recognize that All Lives Matter only when All People of Color Lives Matter. It is time to address the Elephant in the room.

What can I do about this? The first step is to educate myself so I can learn what it may be like for someone else to live in a world that is not as comfortable to live in as mine. When I talk to my friends or even strangers of color I will stop, and really listen to what they have to say. I will remember to listen, really listen. When people of color speak to their experiences of oppression, it’s important for me not to question their experiences. I can use my privilege to make these voices heard and help create change.

I would like to recognize the times when I should speak up. All people need to take the lead on anti-bias work. All people need to intervene when something offensive is said. If I hear racist remarks, I will speak up. If I see opportunities to educate fellow white people about race, I will. As an ally, my privilege can be a tool to reach people who may be more likely to listen to me or relate to my educational journey.

I can stand up for inequality, in whatever way I can. I can acknowledge that it is OK for me to feel uncomfortable and move ahead anyway. I will support education and learning. I plan to explore more tools I can use to more comfortably address this elephant.

Although I am not actively protesting(Covid), I support those that are. (Please understand I support peaceful protest, not rioting) I have watched some of the protests on television and admire these groups for their stand. It is time we come together as all people, dialog, and create change. Then, maybe then I will become more comfortable with the term White Privilege and it will no longer be an Elephant in the Room.

Anything that is highlighted in Orange, you can click on and it will take you to the appropriate article or page on the web.

4 thoughts on “White Privilege – The Elephant in the Room

  1. God bless you Janet for writing this and sharing. It has been a number of years since I studied racism and the black American. It is time for a refresher so I look forward to reading the links you provided.

  2. This is a timely and poignant description of the privilege we enjoy merely as a result of having been born white. Thank you for putting into words what I believe many of us are feeling. May I share some of your post and, if so, how would you like to he credited?

    • Yes, you can share any of this post that you would like. Even better would be to share the whole blog post and then if they would like to follow my blog they can. However, you want to do this is fine with me. If you share parts of it acknowledge that it is from my blog, http://journeysofthankfulness.com If you share any of the parts that are in quotes please acknowledge the article or author. Thank you.

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