racial privilege

Talking about racial privilege

Every so often one meme or another circulates attempting to define white privilege using simple and palatable concepts. One in particular reads that white privilege ‘doesn’t mean your life isn’t hard, it means your skin colour isn’t one of the things that makes it hard’, and I don’t disagree.

But that’s only the very start of a discussion about what racial privilege means. White privilege is a product of white supremacy, and it both fuels racism and is upheld by it. Racial privilege means not only mean that the colour of your skin doesn’t bring you disadvantage in life, it means that the colour of your skin, your racial privilege, brings you advantages. Privilege exists because of intentional discrimination and structured systems of oppression against others in place to uphold a social hierarchy. It’s a deliberate social reality. When we frame it in a palatable and passive message, we remove responsibility and centre those with power. (See my post about always centring those with less power here)

White privilege doesn’t mean that your life isn’t hard, it means your skin colour isn’t one of the things making it hard. Where is the good in talking about white privilege if we are only pandering to those with it? White peoples’ difficult circumstances in spite of their privilege should not be our focus. We should focus on those whose lives are hard because of racial privilege and the resulting injustices. We should focus on the mechanisms that allow white privilege, not the hardships faced in spite of them.

Instead of providing reactive and comfortable messages, we need to create a proactive discussion. These are the discussions with meaning. When we talk about privilege we should centre the experiences of those without it, not the experiences of those with it. This prevents us from shifting the focus to the difficult circumstances of white people and away from their racial privilege. We should talk about the deliberate structures that uphold it (including passive perpetuation) and the reasons for them. Only then can we start to discuss ways to dismantle it.

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