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Stories of White Privilege

Updated on October 14, 2017
k@ri profile image

I was a registered nurse for 25+ years. Working mainly in the operating room, I've been everything from staff nurse to Director of Nursing.

Source

"In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate."

— Toni Morrison, Author and Pulitzer Prize Winner

White Privilege

What exactly is "white privilege"? To me it is like my back pain. I know it is there, but others cannot see it. Some will think it is all made up and I am faking. Some will think it can not be that bad because I am still walking. Others will think it is just an excuse I made up because I am lazy and I do not want to work. A few will believe me and help me.

It seems to me that the same is true of white privilege. Some people think it is all made up. Some people think there may be some truth to it, but it could not be that bad. Others may think that it is just an excuse black people use so we will have pity on them. A few believe and want to help.

White privilege is an unconscious, systemic racial system that maintains the superiority of white people as the dominant group. White privilege is not the same thing as overt racism. It is not the same as white supremacy. But it is a type of racism and a type of supremacy.

This privilege is built into our society and white people do not know it exists. I'm not saying white people are to blame, although Jonathon R. Miller states:

“Having privilege means that you have worked hard, but in a world more likely to enable, recognize, and financially reward hard work; that you have suffered, but in a world with fewer forms of suffering, with more mechanisms to prevent it, and stronger remedies when it occurs; that you are not responsible for the atrocities committed by your people in the past, but insofar as you do nothing today, you are complicit in the present created by them.”

I guess this puts some of the blame on those of us unwilling or unable to acknowledge privilege's existence, "insofar as you do nothing today". But, this article is not about blame, it is for understanding. It is to help those of us today to understand this great calamity.

I do not mean this article to be a call to action. I do not know what to do about this problem. But I think the place to begin is by looking at the idea. Just let it mull around in your thoughts. See if there is any merit to it. Begin an understanding.

Ignorant

I am still very ignorant regarding privilege. Not just white privilege, but privilege in general. I think you will find the proof of this fact as you read what I've written. I left it as I wrote it to show how privilege is so central to how I think, without ever being recognized by me.

I am not making excuses, I am trying to come to an understanding. I thought myself so open minded, so compassionate, so caring. Now I find how blind I have been. How could I have been so compassionate and never seen this before?

"White privilege" refers to the myriad of social advantages, benefits, and courtesies that come with being a member of the dominant race."

— Delgado, Richard; Stefancic, Jean (2001). "Critical Race Theory: An Introduction"

Peggy McIntosh

White people should take a look at, or read, Peggy McIntosh's paper, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack". I feel white women will understand better because of her comparisons to male privilege. Most white women I know understand "male privilege". Males are better paid and more often put in positions of power. Men say between themselves that women are dubious because of their physical nature. Just as white people unconsciously believe racist things about blacks, so white men unconsciously believe sexist things about women.

White privilege is not something white people know about. It is not something that we think is our right. We just do not believe in it. We are raised and conditioned that we have these things. We do not think about it. We are oblivious to it's presence.

We are not all racists. No more than all men are sexist. However, like men, our being there holds others back. I do not know of any white woman who is unaware of male privilege. But, I know many males who are unaware of male privilege. Just as many black people are aware of white privilege, while white people are ignorant.

What can we do to make life equal? What are you willing to do? Will you give up the job for your son or daughter for another equally qualified applicant? Probably not, you want the ones you know to succeed, not the people you don't know. You may even want everyone to succeed, but you would rather see your child do so.

White people experience life differently than black people. When I was promoted, my race never came into the issue. Believe me when I say that I am as ignorant as the next white person. I commented once that I could go much further if I was only black and a woman. Then I would be a double minority. Stupid, stupid, stupid me!

"It seems to me that obliviousness

about white advantage, like

obliviousness about male

advantage, is kept strongly

inculturated in the United States

so as to maintain the myth of

meritocracy, the myth that

democratic choice is equally

available to all."

— Peggy McIntosh, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack"

Growing Up Blind

I was raised in a white, upper-middle class, evangelical family. I had no idea that people lived differently than myself. My friends were my parents’ friends’ children. We all lived similar lives, professional fathers and stay-at-home mothers.

I did know one child at school who lived with just his mother. I was not allowed to be friends with him. Later in life I recognized his parents had been divorced. A girl moved in down the street. I thought she was nice, but my mom would not let me go to her house. Years later I realized she had been Puerto Rican.

I never really thought about or understood these rules. I was a complacent and compliant child. I did not like getting in trouble and I hated to disappoint. I followed the rules.

As a child you do not think about differences as much, just boy, girl and age. "Are they friend material?" was my consideration. Same age and same sex made someone friend material. All the other differences did not matter. (Not that there were other differences when I was a child.)

“Race doesn't really exist for you because it has never been a barrier. Black folks don't have that choice.”

— Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, "Americanah" (2013)

Everything Was White

As a child and even a young teen, everything was white in my world. All my textbooks were about white people. Pretty much everyone on TV was white. Most famous athletes were white. I did not know that there was any other way of being.

As I grew older, and I went to a pharmacy, all the makeup was for whites. All the hair-care was for whites. Flesh colored band aids were for whites.

The few examples above are all brought out by Peggy McIntosh in her paper "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack". I use them here because it was true of my life. I did not know that black people needed different hair-care products. I never thought about anyone needing a different toned makeup. Flesh colored band aids were, of course, my flesh colored.

I was not aware of the many simple privileges I had. I call them simple because they were just a fact of life. They were not even near my thought horizon. They just were. But for the recent talk of white privilege they would still be.

I still am not aware of how many things I take for granted growing up in the dominant culture. I never even knew there was a dominant culture. But isn't that how we are made, to not think about certain things.

As a child, I never questioned the fact that white people have been trying to "civilize" the world for centuries. It was a fact that the disadvantaged non-white people would benefit if they were more like white men. It was what God wanted and we had a responsibility to bring it about. It was our manifest destiny. I understand how atrocious this thought is now, but as I child I learned it in school and never thought twice about it.

Change

We moved from Long Island, NY to northwestern New Jersey. Way up into the boondocks above all the scurry and hustle. Behind our new house was a stream, woods and eventually a mountain. I had always loved nature and I was in my habitat.

Society was much different here. Maybe it was because my parents had not yet found a new church home, so they had no friends’ children for me to make friends with. NY had been white collar, NJ was blue collar. Granted, solidly middle-class blue collar, but blue collar non-the-less. People were different than my past experiences.

I had left NY while in elementary school and arrived in NJ in middle school. Middle school was much different than elementary school. Here everyone had boyfriends and spoke of “french-kissing”. I had left elementary school with boys still thinking girls had cooties. The girls were starting to have crushes, but never wanted the boys to know.

I was a very naive child, an innocent where these others were so knowledgeable. I guess I was pretty sheltered as a child. But, as a child I never thought about it. I thought it was the same for everyone.

I was shocked as a young teen to know people whose parents were divorced. I was shocked to see people I knew doing drugs (smoking marijuana). I was extremely shocked when a girl I went to school with quit after 8th grade to have a baby. Life was very different. It was the beginning of my knowledge that I had privilege over other white people.

“To be white, or straight, or male, or middle class is to be simultaneously ubiquitous and invisible. You’re everywhere you look, you’re the standard against which everyone else is measured. You’re like water, like air. People will tell you they went to see a “woman doctor” or they will say they went to see “the doctor.”... A white person will be happy to tell you about a “Black friend,” but when that same person simply mentions a “friend,” everyone will assume the person is white."

— Michael S. Kimmel, "Privilege: A Reader" (2014)
Source

Guilt

When I found out, at age 13, that regular people, people I know may have divorced parents, abusive parent, or negligent parents I felt guilty. I could not figure out why I had been so lucky and beloved by God, while these other poor souls were persecuted.

I felt guilty for the privilege I had that they did not. I thought about how different life may have been for me, but for the grace of God. This was guilt from having privilege over other white people. At this point in life I still had not met any black people.

The talk about white privilege has woken me up. Even the white people I felt guilty about were privileged over blacks. I understand this now. But, I was completely clueless for most of my life.

"White people’s privileges are

bestowed prenatally. We can’t not get

them and we cannot give them away, no

matter how much we do not want them."

— Francis E. Kendall, PhD, "Understanding White Privilege", 2002

Everyone Was White

Everyone was white while I was young. It was all I knew. When I heard about black people, it would be from my friends' parents stating how they were ruining New York. The blacks and the Puerto Ricans were wrecking everything. They did not say black or Puerto Rican though, they had other, not so nice names.

I was born in the 1960's, about one hundred years after the civil war. Many of the parents I knew had grandfathers who had fought in the war. That doesn't excuse the language, but it shows, a little, how ignorant we all were. One hundred years is just about a generation and a half. Not that long in life and habits.

This is one of the reasons we do not see white privilege. For us it has always existed. It's a way of life. A plain old everyday thing. It is uncomfortable to think about. Much less know how to cure it.

"But a “white” skin in

the United States opens many

doors for whites whether or not

we approve of the way

dominance has been conferred

on us. "

— Peggy McIntosh, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack"

White Evangelicist

I was raised into the religious right. Combined with the American Dream, I thought that everyone who worked hard and played by the rules would succeed. If you were unsuccessful you needed to try again, work hard and play by the rules. I truly thought that everyone had the same opportunity. Isn't that the American Dream? No matter who you are you can grow up to be president.

People who were homeless or drug addicts were just lazy. They refused to work hard and play by the rules. I cringe to think how unaware I was. Luckily for me I became a nurse and attended courses about mental illness, addiction and diversity.

These courses brought me to the realization that the problem was not laziness, but a variety of socioeconomic reasons and social problems. I was taught others were underprivileged, under educated and lived hard lives, but I was never taught that I was privileged. No one ever said, "See what life may have been for you if you had not been white."

"It is far more the norm for these courses and programs to use racially coded language such as 'urban,' 'inner city,' and 'disadvantaged' but to rarely use 'white' or 'overadvantaged' or 'privileged.' This racially coded language reproduces racist images and perspectives while it simultaneously reproduces the comfortable illusion that race and its problems are what 'they' have, not us."

— Robin DiAngelo, PhD

Higher on the Food Chain

Being a nurse never prepared me for white privilege. I was an operating room nurse. Shut up in a room with doctors and nurses all day. Again, everyone I knew was white and at least middle class.

All day, all week I encountered privilege from the doctors. I knew they did not know any better. Their fathers had been doctors or lawyers. They thought everyone lived like they did. (This understanding never challenged my view that everyone really lived like me.)

The doctors talked about everyone. If you were on Medicaid they thought you were lazy. If you were disabled they thought you were faking. Tattoos meant a derelict. It was just a thing they did. They did not believe they meant anything by it. It was just how they were raised.

I wonder how many times my black friends have given me a "pass" knowing I did not know any better. Probably often. I have spent so much of my life never questioning my privilege.

The doctors did not believe in privilege. It challenged their meritocracy. I think the higher you are on the food chain, the less you believe it. Maybe because it is more uncomfortable to think about it.

“Those who benefit from unearned privilege are too often quick to discount those who don't.”

— DaShanne Stokes

Fireworks

The air was still and the pond was dark. No moon shone that night. We gathered around Joe’s trunk to see what he had. “Wow, those are town fireworks,” I mused. I expected the usual assortment of fire crackers, bottle rockets and maybe some M80’s.

I did not know Joe very well, but Mark and Danny seemed to think he was OK. What would I know, I was just a girl of 18. Mark was 23 and Danny was 25. Joe looked older than Danny. I assumed he had done this before.

The first few went splendidly. Up in the sky, over the pond bursting brilliant and exquisite. I watched the glittering gleam above reflected below in the pond and appreciated the magnificence. More breathtaking than the town show over the football field had ever been .

Joe’s aim seemed off on the next one. It went up and part of it came down on a few trees across the pond. The wind started blowing and pushed some glittery shine towards a house by the trees.

“Oh man! That one nearly hit the roof." Mark danced around gleefully. “Best fireworks ever!”

Danny answered with a frown, “Cops are going to come."

“No way. You think that guy is going to call the cops about a little fireworks?”

“Nothing little about these fireworks.” I reflected. I was siding with Danny. The cops were going to come.

Joe shot off the last one. His aim was off again. This one almost, maybe did, hit the house.

Mark congratulated Joe on his aim. Danny frowned again. Fireworks were not legal in New Jersey. “Pick that stuff up and put it in the trunk”.

“They were fabuloso! Come on, calm down. We’re OK." Mark shouted as he and Joe started cleaning up the mess. “We just need another joint. That will calm you down."

Danny laughed. “Maybe, but not here. Let’s get going.”

“You can be such a stick in the mud.” Mark retorted.

“That’s why I never get arrested, unlike some people I know." Mark kept his mouth shut at that.

“Let’s go to the Alliance and get out of here”, Danny was getting antsy.

We saw headlights coming up the road. They slowed down as they approached us. We were eager to see who it was and tell them about the fireworks. The car pulled up. Suddenly, no one was eager to say anything about the fireworks. It was a police car.

“What are you boys doing here tonight?”, the police questioned.

“Just watching some fireworks”, Mark replied. “There were three black guys here shooting off fireworks. You just missed them."

The police took off like they were on the "Dukes of Hazard" and that was the last time we saw them. We laughed all the way to the Alliance. “Did you see them take off?”, Mark inquired, as we lit the joint.

"Most middle-class whites have no idea what it feels like to be subjected to police who are routinely suspicious, rude, belligerent, and brutal."

— Dr. Benjamin Spock from "Decent and Indecent: Our Personal and Political Behavior" (1970)
Source

Off the Radar

You may wonder why I consider that a story of white privilege. I think it shows that the police were not our enemies. We never feared them. Even carrying "drugs", it never crossed our consciousness they may search us. Cops were there to help us, not hinder us.

Having grown up in town, every one knew every one. We all went to the same events, played ball in the same field and drank beer with each other. Just a good-old-boy way of life.

I lived in ignorant bliss. I thought the police were everyone's friends. I didn't think twice when Mike blamed the fireworks on some "black guys". I didn't think twice when the police raced off looking for some black guys.

Now I wonder, why would they race off after some unknown car. Why not question us a little longer. We were obviously the only people there. I'm pretty sure it was the description of "black guys". The police did not even stick around to ask what type of car or for descriptions of the other men. I guess since the town was white, black was a good enough description.

Senator Tim Scott (SC) was pulled over by the police 7 times in one year (as a Senator). I have only been pulled over 4 times in my lifetime. Please watch.

"...when you understand racism as a system of structured relations into which we are all socialized, you understand that intentions are irrelevant. And when you understand how socialization works, you understand that much of racial bias is unconscious."

— Dr. Robin DiAngelo, "The Good Men Project"

Piano Bar

As we pulled up to the Holiday Inn, Sandy inquired, “Why are you stopping here? We are not dressed for this.”

The sign on the door listed the dress code as neat attire, ties required for men, no t-shirts, sleeveless shirts or ripped jeans. (Ripped, AKA weathered jeans was a new fad.)

“I want to see if we can talk ourselves in.” Laughing, I continued, “Mike’s shirt is ripped. My jeans are ripped, don’t worry, you are the best dressed in the group.” My sister found it impossible not to be neat and yuppie in her style of clothing, hair, and makeup. You could see our upbringing when you looked at her.

I had more of the rebel in me. I wore ripped jeans, a t-shirt and minimal makeup. My hair was long and straight and that was how I wore it. Topped with a cowboy hat more often than not. I was just a hippie stuck in the 80’s. I did not realize at the time, but people considered my sister and myself beautiful. Oh, I knew she was. I just didn’t think I was. I thought people liked me for my humor and intelligence. I was so naive back then.

Sandy was not convinced. Mike exclaimed flippantly, “Come on. What can they do, not let us in?” Sandy was forced to admit that the worst thing to happen would be that we did not get in. Personally, I felt she was a little embarrassed to be seen with us at a place this nice.

“Sorry, you can’t come in.” The white man at the door stated gruffly.

I could be quite alluring when I wanted. “Please, just for a couple? We’ve been driving and we just need to stretch our legs a bit. The only other place I saw looked like a dive bar.” I touched his arm and looked deep into his eyes, “Please?”.

I think he could see that Sandy and I were not really dive bar material. We came from an upper middle class upbringing and it showed in our manners. We were not forceful or overbearing, just friendly and inquisitive. Mike hung in the background and let me do the talking.

“Ok.” the man said. “But just for a couple.”

We thanked him profusely and declared that was fine. We would just have a couple and leave.

The atmosphere was polished. Small candles on the tables. Lights dim. A white gentleman playing the piano. A few white gentlemen in suits sitting at the bar looking into their drinks. Very subdued ambiance. Then we arrived.

We started chatting up the white bartender. He was a local guy, going to college. He enjoyed talking with my sister, myself and Mike. Mike could really turn on the charm when he wanted. They started talking sports. When they found out they were both Jets and Mets fans a firm friendship was established.

The liveliness of our group woke up the other men at the bar. One was a Giant and Yankee fan and the conversation became more animated. Men loved to talk Giant/Jets and Mets/Yankees in New Jersey. You hardly ever found a Giant/Met fan or a Jets/Yankee fan. I never did figure that one out.

While they were “discussing” the teams, I turned to my sister. “I’m going to ask the piano player to play “Rawhide” for us.” She looked at me as if I had egg on my face. “I bet he doesn’t know it.”, she voiced, trying to discourage me.

I laughed, “All he can say is no.”

I walked over to the piano and put a dollar in the cup. “Can you play “Rawhide” for us?” He made it clear that he did not think “Rawhide” was an appropriate song for the venue. “Do you mind if I ask the rest for their opinions?” I teased with a smile. He reluctantly said that he would play it if everyone wanted to hear it. (He should have said he didn’t know it.)

So I ambled back to the bar. I asked Mike if he would like to hear “Rawhide”, knowing full well he loved the song. We were fans of old westerns. Of course he wanted to hear it. I explained that the piano player would only play it if we all wanted to hear it.

He and the other men now had a great camaraderie going on. He asked, “Who wants to hear the piano player play “Rawhide”. Immediately the others were all shouting “Rawhide, Rawhide”. The piano player agreed and we all sang along. Mike, Sandy and I now had a new hobby; piano bars and "Rawhide".

White Privilege Vs Social Class

Is it white privilege or just a socioeconomic standing. I'm not really sure about this point. I had privilege over other white people, so maybe it is a class structure and not something all whites have. I can say that rich people are more comfortable with other rich people. We are taught not to be loud or obnoxious. To discuss, never argue. Even down to knowing which fork to use and sitting up straight at the table.

We all self-segregate. We call it cliques or groups. In high school it's always the athletic crowd, the brainy crowd, on and on. We are trained to get along with others who are trained the same way. Everyone is more comfortable with people like them.

During the "Piano Bar" segment I make a statement that the man at the door could tell my sister and I were not "dive bar" material. I am not sure if that is an example of white privilege or class structure. I do know that in the early 1980's you more commonly found black men, even in suits, in dive bars versus piano bars. I cannot imagine a group of blacks would have been let into this bar as we were.

Many whites would have been refused also. Those of a lower socioeconomic group would have been turned away. My jeans were ripped, but it was obviously on purpose. My shirt was obviously pretty new. Maybe their shirts would have that faded, dingy tinge that clothing takes on after many washes. Maybe they would not be belligerent when turned away. Maybe they would ask "please" nicely. But in the back of their minds they would know they were not getting in.

I never really thought we would be refused. I do not know why the man at the door let us in. Was it our manners? Was it our beauty? There were no other women at the bar. Our group had two women and only one man. But, in the back of my mind I knew we would be let in. I knew without a doubt because we were two nice white women. Why refuse us?

"White privilege is for the most part invisible to those who have it and unacknowledged by them."

— Peggy McIntosh

Bad Word

I was 17 before I ever met a black person. Dan was actually half black, his dad was white, his mom was black. His family had moved into town and he attended our high school. He was funny and intelligent; an all around nice guy.

The circus was in town and my boyfriend and I decide to go see it. Dan and his girlfriend decided to come with us.

We went and it was a just a circus. The usual mix of clowns, elephants and high wire acts. A decent way to spend a day in a rural town with nothing but bars, pizzerias and churches for entertainment. As we were walking out we noticed a black man. He was bowing and scraping in front of a white man. “Yea suh” he kept saying.

Walking to the car we talked about the circus and what we liked. I don’t remember how we got onto the conversation, but we started talking about the black man. I made a painful mistake that day. One I haven’t ever repeated and one I am not at all proud of. I can say it was one of the times I have been most disappointed in myself.

I commented, “Yea, did you see that n****r, all yes sir, no sir.” I still remember the look on my friend's face. I realized I had performed an unforgivable act. It was just one look, but it held such disgust and discouragement I knew I was wrong. Then I tried to backtrack which made it worse. I have learned in life that after I insert my foot into my mouth, backtracking makes it worse. I now just apologize and feel bad.

“I don’t mean I think you are a n******. Just the way that man was bowing and scraping is why I called him it.”

My parents had raised me not to be prejudiced. I never heard the word at home, but my friends used it often. I should have known it was not a nice word. My friends never used it nicely.

Dan and his girlfriend walked ahead to their car. I was so embarrassed. The experience ruined my day. I can’t say about his day, but things were never as easy and friendly between us again.

"Things like racism are institutionalized. You might not know any bigots. You feel like “well I don’t hate black people so I’m not a racist,” but you benefit from racism. Just by the merit, the color of your skin. The opportunities that you have, you’re privileged in ways that you might not even realize because you haven’t been deprived of certain things. We need to talk about these things in order for them to change."

— Dave Chappelle, American stand-up comedian, actor, writer, and producer

One Little Word, Irretrievable, Irrevocable

This was the hardest story to remember. The memory still brings tears to my eyes. I disappointed that young man down to his very soul. I know I have never disappointed anyone more in my life. I was very sorry, but the damage was done. One little word, irretrievable, irrevocable, showed my supreme ignorance that day.

One word and I saw all the hurt, anguish and despair in his eyes. I have never said it again, and I never will. Black people can call other black people by that word, but I will never use it again.

I do not know of any word that can wound me so badly. I know who I am and I am very acceptable. A middle class white lady who is nice and kind. That old saying, "sticks and stones can hurt my bones, but names will never harm me", applies to me. It did not apply to that nice young man. I did not even call him the name. But, it seemed to hurt him as badly as if I had.

“The irony of American history is the tendency of good white Americanas to presume racial innocence. Ignorance of how we are shaped racially is the first sign of privilege.

In other words. It is a privilege to ignore the consequences of race in America.”

— Tim Rise, Author of "White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son"

Cops Let Us Go

It was an autumn day of perfection at the Polish Alliance. The sun was shining brightly with just a few puffy clouds in the sky. The temperature was in the high 60’s. Like I said, perfection. We were hanging out, playing music and just having a good time. Lots of friends would come here to hang out. The fields were isolated from any houses and on a back road that did not get very much traffic. Most cars that came down it were friends coming to see if anyone was around.

That day it was not friends. It was the police. I guessed they saw all the cars and decided to come see what was going on. We knew all the police and most left us alone. They knew kids will be kids, even if we were in our 20’s. These were some of the younger guys who didn’t yet know.

We knew there was no hiding the beer. We had a case of beer between the 8 of us. Plenty of open bottles. There was nothing to hide, we were of age.

The drive through the fields was not long, The police were there before we could get the gnats out of our eyes. As I said, these were some of the younger force members. They did not look pleased getting out of their car.

“Yous guys know you’re drinking in public?” the bigger of the two asked.

“We are not in public.” We laughed still not taking this seriously. After all, there was nothing around us but fields, a pine forest and a lake. Not very public in our minds.

Things got serious then. “We will not ticket you, but we are taking the beer.” the officer stated.

“Taking the beer.” We were incredulous. What were these two talking about? We always drank here. No one ever bothered us.

“We had some complaints about loud music, we came to tell you to turn it down and we find you drinking in public.” the officer stated forcefully. “Now we are confiscating the beer.”

Sure enough, they took the beer and drove off. As the officers were pulling out of the fields, a couple of friends were pulling in. They had also chipped in for the beer.

“What do you mean they took our beer?!”, our friends exclaimed horrified. “They can’t do that! It’s stealing.”

One thought up the great idea to go up to the police station to make the police give the beer back. I did not feel this was a good idea at all. I did not want a ticket. All these two could think of was the beer.

They did go to the police station. The officers there laughed at them and sent them away. I was surprised that nothing more happened, but they knew these officers. One officer was friends with their fathers. All the officers did was tell my friends to go home.

Talking to my friends later, they told me the story that all the police officers were sharing our beer. I can’t state if that was true or not, but it sounded logical at the time.

"I have come to see

white privilege as an invisible

package of unearned assets that I

can count on cashing in each day,

but about which I was “meant” to

remain oblivious."

— Peggy McIntosh, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack"

Police Are Our Friends

I was raised to think police are my friends. I feel safe when I see police patrolling my neighborhood. I know if I am in trouble I should call the police. If someone is harassing me, I call the police. Police are there to protect me.

I cannot imagine police as the enemy. But I have read the stories. Police kill black people too often. I imagine it is an unconscious bias on the part of police. Many people were raised like me (there I go thinking my life is the norm). Many are scared of what they do not know. Many people had parents who were obviously racist.

I'm not trying to make excuses, I am just trying to understand. Having to regard the police as, not protectors, but harassers, staggers my understanding. I see the truth, but I still think police are my friends. Is there a small part of me that is happy I do not have to worry like that?

My "police" talk consisted of "if you are in trouble, find the police". I have told my children the same thing. I am anguished that some of us must say this

Different, How?

We had no fear what-so-ever of the police. I still do not fear the police. I'm a white, middle aged woman. I do the speed limit. I come to complete stops at stop signs. I stay within the rules. What would I have to fear.

Then I started hearing the stories of how black people need to train their children to never talk back to the police. To avoid any sudden moves. It makes me sick. I think to myself these people are the same as me. There in lies my ignorance. Obviously they are not the same. Not if they need to have "that talk" with their children.

Obviously something is different between me and them. But they are my neighbors, very nice people. They respect the laws, their children are polite and neat. There really is no difference but that I am white and they are black.

“White privilege is an absence of the consequences of racism. An absence of structural discrimination, an absence of your race being viewed as a problem first and foremost.”

— Reni Eddo-Lodge, "Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People about Race"

Peggy McIntosh, Ted Talks 11/05/1012. Please watch! Towards the end Peggy McIntosh states, "I don't think blame, shame or guilt are relevant..."

Please Let Me Know How You Feel

Do you agree there is white privilege?

See results

References

DiAngelo, R. (06/16/2015). 11 Ways White America Avoids Taking Responsibility For Its Racism. Retrieved October 2, 2017 from https://www.salon.com/2015/06/16/ 11_ways_white_america_avoids_taking_responsibility_for_its_racism_partner/

DiAngelo, R. (04/09/2015). White fragility: Why It's So Hard to Talk To White People About Racism. Retrieved October 2, 2017 from https://goodmenproject.com/ featured-content/white-fragility-why-its-so-hard-to-talk-to-white-people-about-racism-twlm/

Holladay, J. R. (2000). On Racism And White Privilege. Retrieved September 30, 2017 from https://www.tolerance.org/professional-development/on-racism-and-white-privilege

Kendall, F. E. (2002). Understanding White Privilege. Retrieved October 3, 2017 from https://www.cpt.org/files/Undoing%20Racism%20-%20Understanding%20White%20Privilege%20-%20Kendall.pdf

McIntosh, P. (1989). White Privilege: Unpacking The Invisible Knapsack. Retrieved from https://nationalseedproject.org/white-privilege-unpacking-the-invisible-knapsack

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    • k@ri profile image
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      Kari Poulsen 5 weeks ago from Ohio

      Thank you, FlourishAnyway, for reading and commenting. It's a hornet's nest for sure! Especially with the middle class going down the drain.

      Ronald E. Franklin wrote a great hub about middle class disenfranchisement. It is called "Keeping White People Alive: Hope From the Black Experience". Here's the link: https://soapboxie.com/social-issues/Keeping-White-...

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 5 weeks ago from USA

      Is this ever a hornet’s nest or what? I think economic class has a lot to do with feelings of disenfranchisement.

    • k@ri profile image
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      Kari Poulsen 5 weeks ago from Ohio

      Thank you, Paula, for reading and commenting. I can also say that my family is non-biased and finds prejudice atrocious. I remember my father would bring jokes home from work. He always had to use "a Dane" and "a Norwegian" (his heritage) in the jokes. My mother always said, if it was funny it would be funny no matter what type of people were in it.

      Luckily, my daughter does not have a biased bone in her body. She thinks it is ignorant. I raised her to have friends of all colors and nationalities. But she still realizes that white privilege exists. We are not happy about it, but we were born into it.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 6 weeks ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Well Kari....I can sincerely say that I find your article quite interesting, well-written and I appreciate that it has encouraged opinion & discussion.

      I do understand precisely what you mean by using the term, "white Privilege." Comparing it to male privilege, simplifies it.

      As I read your article, I was impressed by your admission of actually "knowing no better or knowing nothing else"....because I must admit to this as well, but for different reasons. My sister and I were born, raised and lived our first 2 decades of life in a relatively small community in Upstate NY (rural/suburb-like-area) Although this may be very difficult to believe by most people, the only non-whites my sister and I ever laid eyes on were those on TV or in movies.

      Shocked? I know. There were 2 black boys in our public school, but we attended Private school, so we didn't even know them. We knew they were talented athletes & thus, well-liked. They remained the only 2 black students for years & years. I don't know why that was, it just was. Therefore, My sister and I couldn't have possibly had any of the experiences that would magnify white privilege for us, now could we? Talk about growing up in a bubble!!

      As our lives would go forward, we went off to college, married, had children, moved around a bit, and neither of us ever had issues living, working &/or living with people of every single ethnicity, color, culture, lifestyle....we just knew how to get along, work hard, be fair, honest, sociable & non-biased. Maybe things were simpler back then. I'm not sure but have no need to delve into all the why & how.

      Our families (extended/in-laws, etc) & friends are so diverse, you name it, we have one! In fact, I married a Native American. My sis dated a Latino for quite a while, as well as a Dentist from Dominique. No one batted an eye, pointed at us or whispered behind our backs! LOL.....Does this all sound foreign to others? Because honestly, as you said once or twice, it never occurred to us, to think or live differently. We simply would not have understood nor accepted bigotry.

      Come to think of it Kari, after having shared my realities, perhaps I could not have qualified to comment! LOL

      At the end of the day, however, I'm aware of the existence of "white privilege" that some will insist upon, because this is their reality & their experience. My hope is that one day...the sooner, the better...it's an issue buried deep & long-forgotten. (I should have added~~in no way were we of "privilege." Both parents worked their entire lives and made damned sure we had jobs at 16 & thereafter!) Peace, Paula

    • k@ri profile image
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      Kari Poulsen 6 weeks ago from Ohio

      Thank you so much for commenting! I am looking for opposing opinions and you create such. I may not agree with you, but I really respect you opinion! Thank you again!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 6 weeks ago from England

      Hi, I totally respect your points. But as far as I am concerned there is no such thing as white privilege. White people have worked their socks off to get where they are. gone through wars, hardship, starvation, and so on. either here or in the States. We have been slaves to the Romans, Vikings and even longer 800 years, to the Arabs, barbary coast and so on. But we have endured. The other nationalitys have the same chances to push themselves, slavery stopped years ago. if people stopped going on about 'poor me' all the time then there would be none of it. but that's just my opinion, and we all have our own, interesting stuff.

    • k@ri profile image
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      Kari Poulsen 6 weeks ago from Ohio

      Thank you MizBejabbers for coming back and commenting. I do not mean to say it was a racist comment. White privilege is not about racism. It is just something that we do not know exists. It is like male privilege. Most males do not see it, but most women do.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 6 weeks ago

      No ma'm, that's not what I was implying by dressing respectably and behaving myself. White teenagers have gone through the same type of disrespectful conduct in society and have been harassed by the police. I heard their mothers complaining, and there was no hint of racism here although sometimes the police were black. One mother said that she put the fault on her kid because she didn't like his dress habits either. Her complaint was that the kids, skateboarders, both white and black and skateboarding together, were harassed by police, both white and black. No racism here nor could it be termed "white privilige".

      As for honkyburgers, I never heard of the tables being turned on the black customers. Had it happened, racial discrimination suits would have been filed against the restaurants. You don't hear of that happening when it happens to us "privileged whites".

      I haven't kept up with Tim Scott, so I have no opinion on what he does or does not do. I, too think you've handled your responses well, although I don't necessarily agree with your thoughts on white privilege. I think that there is an elite class that might qualify for white privilege, but I don't think most white Americans qualify. I think you would get some interesting stories if you went into the streets and talked trash with some "white trash."

    • k@ri profile image
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      Kari Poulsen 6 weeks ago from Ohio

      Thank you, Bill! It is a topic that arouses passion. I have so many questions about how I see life. I love to see how others think of it. Discussions on this matter are necessary. :)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Nice job on a hot topic. Few topics can trigger passionate responses like this one. I think you handled it well, and I admire the way you handled your responses to the comments. Very well done all around, and I appreciate you being willing to talk about such matters.

    • k@ri profile image
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      Kari Poulsen 6 weeks ago from Ohio

      MizBejabbers, Thank you for coming back and commenting again. I never meant to say that the police always favor white people in altercations. Also, I never meant to imply that black people do not unjustly dislike whites at times.

      You wrote, "I've always dressed in a respectable manner and behaved myself." Using this as an excuse for not being harassed by the police is white privilege. Do you mean to imply that black people do not dress "respectably" or that they do not "behave" themselves?

      Do you think the Republican Senator Tim Scott dresses with disrespect or that he does not know how to behave himself? I'm going to assume you mean neither. But this man, this State Senator, has been pulled over 7 times in one year. This is almost twice as many times as I have been pulled over in my life. I do a lot of driving. I've driven cross-country 3 times. I have worked as a traveling nurse, driving to different sites, getting lost and making illegal turns more often than I can count.

      Lastly, about the "honkeyburger", I would bet the white cashiers order them for certain customers also.

      Again, thank you for adding to this discussion.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 6 weeks ago

      As for not being harassed by the police, I've always dressed in a respectable manner and behaved myself. Only one time was I ever harassed by the police. I have a couple of pieces of rental property and was having problem with a black renter who wouldn't let me make a repair ordered by Code Enforcement. She called the police on me when I insisted that I had a time limit on making this repair. Instead of telling her that the law said that I had to make the repair, and that if I didn't, the city could shut down my property and evict her, he started telling her to take me to court and how to do it. Ridiculous, huh? I had to put up with his BS in order to keep from being arrested. So you see, the cops don't always favor the white person when the situation is reversed. My lawyer, who is a black woman, said that I should have gotten his name and badge number and filed a complaint on him for practicing law without a license.

      Re: Rafini's world. My sons and my friend's sons worked in fast food service when they were teenagers. They told us of "honkyburgers" in places where they worked. They sometimes occur when a white person orders from a black server or cashier. The server turns in an order for a "honkeyburger". A honkyburger at the least has fewer condiments on it, or at the most, is spit into by the cook or server. For years I was almost afraid to order from a black person at a McDonalds or Wendy's.

      White privilige, indeed!

    • k@ri profile image
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      Kari Poulsen 6 weeks ago from Ohio

      Jackie, Thank you for taking the time to come back and comment again. I do not mean to offend you, if I have I am very sorry. I did not see the answer to that question, but I can be obtuse, so maybe that is it.

      I do believe in white privilege, but as I said, I want to know how others feel. I'm sorry that I seem to speak for all white people. I could have done that better. I do not mean to speak for all, it is just my opinion after all.

    • k@ri profile image
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      Kari Poulsen 6 weeks ago from Ohio

      Thank you Rafini for reading and commenting. I have friends who complain of the store issue often. Personally, I can not fathom having clerks treat me this way. Then again, for all I know they do and I just never see it, because I do not think about it. I have had some very attentive sales people in the past, lol.

      It's the police harassment that really gets me. I am so glad I was raised in a world where the police were my friends. I am so sad that it is not that way for everyone!

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 6 weeks ago from The Beautiful South

      That question alone proves to me you are onto more than you claim.

      I have never seen your and Rafini's world. I wouldn't be shocked to experience one or two of these things, we are not a world of perfect people for sure, but as of yet I have not.

      I am middle class as are most of us who live in the real world. A world where suddenly a group wants to change us and make us bow to their new order.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 6 weeks ago from The Beautiful South

      I believe I did answer that question.

    • Rafini profile image

      Rafini 6 weeks ago from Somewhere I can't get away from

      Nice article on white privilege. Anyone who thinks or believes white privilege doesn't exist, simply doesn't understand it. White privilege has to do with many things, such as not being harassed by the police, earning more than minimum wage after working for the same employer for over ten years, going into a restaurant or department store and actually being served - with a smile rather than having to request service and getting it with a frown.

    • k@ri profile image
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      Kari Poulsen 6 weeks ago from Ohio

      Angel, Thanks for reading and commenting. I do believe the country and "powers that be" freaked out when Obama won. They restructured for years and now we have Trump. Funny thing is they are still restructuring.

    • k@ri profile image
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      Kari Poulsen 6 weeks ago from Ohio

      Jackie, Thank you for commenting again. I am not speaking of racism. I have lived all over the country and you are correct, people are people. I would say 99.9% of all people are extremely nice. I do not believe they are racist, what ever their race.

      I am speaking of something taken for granted. A wisp in the wind that cannot be seen. I am trying to understand. I agree, I had socioeconomic privilege of many. I was completely unaware of it until I was a young teen. Then I learned not everyone lived the same, but basically we are all the same.

      I certainly do not mean to say police are racist. I know and have known many officers. They are concerned and compassionate people. They are here to help.

      You never answered, when you were growing up, did you ever fear the police? Or, were they just a deterrent?

    • k@ri profile image
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      Kari Poulsen 6 weeks ago from Ohio

      MizB., Thank you for your comment and helping in my understanding. I wonder how much privilege is socioeconomic and how much is race related. When I say white privilege I am not talking about racism. I'm talking about something that is unknown to most people.

      Do believe male privilege still exists? Should we somehow fight against the male privilege that remains a part of our society.

      Or is it not privilege, but just that males are better than females in logical thinking and decision making?

      I am really trying to find an understanding.

    • Angel Guzman profile image

      Angel Guzman 6 weeks ago from Joliet, Illinois

      The power structure freaked out when Obama got in and they restructured it hoping it don't happen again :(

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 7 weeks ago from The Beautiful South

      Like MizBjabbers, I have worked with many races and running a business many years besides that I can tell you people are people as long as they are American or respect who we are. Hard working Americans hardly have time to be racist (although of course we have those in all races) and for the most part I think we are none looking for trouble.

      I think you solved your own dilemma admitting how you were brought up but to try to add all whites to this is just not right. Yes, police can be as prejudiced as anyone but that does not make all police prejudiced.

      I agree so much with MizB. that some would love to brainwash the American people into believing what is not true.

      What I do not understand is why they cannot see the trouble they are causing so many, including themselves. Makes no sense whatsoever! Like a bad spirit moving across us and some cannot choose the good over the bad for some unknown reason.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 7 weeks ago

      Kari, this is an interesting viewpoint from someone of privilege. Not all of us white folks grew up privileged. I came from a rural area, where only those of the elite merchant class were considered privileged. The rest of us struggled to get our educations and jobs, and many of us had to move to larger cities or to other states to pursue our careers. I considered that to be caused by supply and demand.

      I've had two careers, one in the media (20 yrs) and the other in state government (33 yrs.), and I'm happy to say that people of all races were judged by their qualifications and talents, not the color of their skins. I've worked alongside white people, African Americans, Africans from Africa, and Jamaicans who were all treated equally by our employer.

      I have experienced gender discrimination, and during the days of a powerful EEOC, I did lose job opportunities because a black person was given priority in hiring. I'm afraid I see all this "white privilege" as just another attempt at brainwashing the American public because I have not had any special privileges as a white person. I do appreciate your viewpoint though.

    • k@ri profile image
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      Kari Poulsen 7 weeks ago from Ohio

      Jackie, I never thought it was sad to be raised like I was. I consider myself extremely lucky in my upbringing. I was also raised not to think myself better than anyone else. God is love and the most important commandments are love God with all your being, and love each other as yourself. I strongly believe love is what life is all about.

      I'm trying to understand privilege. Were you scared of the police? Or did you just feel they were a deterrent.

      You say you never thought you were better than anyone else; did you ever feel that some other was better than you?

      One of the issues I'm investigating in my mind is whether it is purely socioeconomic. I feel as if it is not.

      I don't get out much these days, so I do not have many people to ask. The ones I ask do not believe in white privilege. These are good friends and family. I really hate being controversial, but I felt a need to write this article.

      I do not feel as if I should be punished. I was born into this system. I did not mean this hub to be about blame, just about understanding.

      There are things I take for granted that others do not. I just want to understand. I detest hurting others and I want to keep from doing it unconsciously.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 7 weeks ago from The Beautiful South

      It is so sad you were raised the way you were. Surely all upper middle classed were not, but never being there I can only hope.

      I really hate hearing about or anyone even considering me of privilege simply because I am white. I am one of seven children and life has been a real struggle at times and I do not recall any advantage I had because of my race and it would be so unfair to be considered so.

      My parents brought us all up to never think we were better than anyone else and I am sure we never did.

      In all races I am sure there is a bad rap of many because of a few. I certainly always feared the police to make me obey law but there too I guess it is just where you are coming from. I was really never tempted to break it.

      It does seem things have gotten worse just when it looked like America was pulling together. I hope all races will rethink life and what is important to move forward. Looking back is never the answer in my opinion. I cannot help what you or any other upper class were taught and how you treated others and it would be so unfair to be included in your count.

      Now that you have seen the err of all that sent you in the wrong direction, surely even you do not feel you should be punished for being mislead if you indeed have a change of heart?