Confronting Racism

 Glenn Bigonet, M.A.

Social Activist for Racial Equity

Facilitating Discussions about Racism

 

617-462-6642

gbigonet@icloud.com

           

 

Privilege

 

"I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness,

not in invisible system conferring dominance on my group."

Peggy McIntosh

 

It is impossible to talk about racism without understanding and discussing privilege, or in the case of race white privilege. Privilege is a relatively simple concept: "Privilege, in the social justice context, is an advantage or set of advantages that you have that others do not." (Oluo, p. 59) Resmaa Menakem points out that "simply because you have a white body, you automatically benefit from white-body supremacy, whether you want to or not. Even if you're the most fair minded person on Earth, at times certain privileges will be conferred upon you because of the color of your skin. Your whiteness is considered the norm, and the standard against which all skin colors - and all other human beings - are compared. That alone provides you with a big advantage." (p.205)

 

The systemic racism in our society gives us white people an incredible amount of privilege over people of color:

  • We have a greater sense of belonging as the normative view of people is protrayed as white and this creates a greater level of security.
  • Our educational system is designed for our benefit and for our way of being making it easier for us to get a good education. 
  • We feel safe in our neighborhoods and feel the police are there to serve us.
  • It is easier for us to obtain employment
  • Our justice system gives us more of a benefit of a doubt and greater leniency around sentencing
  • It is easier for us to obtain a better quality of health care
  • Our government leaders are mostly like us, so they will attend to our needs more than the needs of marginalized groups
  • We have a greater level of freedom to move about from place to place.
  • It is easier for us to get loans of any type making it easier for us to advance in life
  • We are able to move into any neighborhood that we can afford without the fear that we will be in danger because of the color of our skin: note this is not totally true, a white person moving into a predominantly black neighborhood may be putting theselves in danger but generally white people do not strive to move into neighborhoods of color unless it's through gentrification in which the people of color quickly get pushed out of the neighforhood. (I have to acknowledge that my racist biases may be coming out on this one)
  •  We do not need to explain to our children how to behave when approached by the police for fear they will get killed by the police.

All of this privilege simply because of the color of our skin and most white people don't even acknowledge that whie privilege exists. A big piece of this is our white fragility but it is also a protective messure. If we acknowledge that we have unfair privilege over people of color then we're going to have to give up the advantages that the privilege provides us. Very few people easily want ot give up things they have or make things harder for themselves so we just deny our privilege and make a lot of excuses as to why we have more than others do that clearly aren't our fault.

 

The truth is having privilege of any type is rarely any individuals fault. They don't ask for it. It's just there for them because they are white, or male, or wealthy, or educated, or able, or straight, or of the dominant religion, etc. It's not their fault; they didn't ask for it but ignoring it and acting like it doesn't exist is their fault. It's up to all of us to recognize and address the privilege that we have. This doesn't necessarily mean having to lose much; it means helping others to get the same advantages that we have so that we can all operate on a level playing field. To see an excellent illustration of privilege click here.  

 

The only way we can truly address racism is to acknowledge how we are privileged and how our intersectionality effects how we relate to ourselves and around racially charged issues. We can then look for ways to utilize our privilege to help equalize the playing field for everyone.   

 

My Reflections on Privilege

 

I have had awareness of my privilege since graduate school. I am essentially the epitomy of privilege. The only thing about me that reduces my privilege is my age and that in of itself is minimal. I have great awaareness of the advantages I have had because of my privilege. This privilege does not mean I haven't struggled at times in my life, it doesn't mean that I haven't had to work hard, it doesn't mean I haven't felt prejudiced against or marginalized in some way. What it does mean is that things have been easier for me than others because of my race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

 

At times I have felt a great amount of guilt around my privilege. At other times I have been more apathetic around it because I knew I never asked for it, I never consciously took advantage of it, and I felt powerless to change it. Today I do as much as I can to use my privilege to address the imbalance of privilege in our society. I except that I will lose some things because of this but I also believe that if we all focus on pulling each other up and creating more social and economic equality in our society that we will together create a greater abundance of resources to share. I truly believe that the more effort we put into holding portions of our population down the more we are all losing out on in the long run.

Copyright © 2020   Glenn Bigonet, M.A.