There is no doubt you’ve seen what’s going on in America right now. After countless acts of police brutality and racism in the US, including the death of George Floyd, people are rightfully angry and have had enough. There are protests and riots and many people are speaking out about why this movement is so important.
If you’re white, you automatically benefit from something called white privilege, and you need to use this privilege to understand your place in the movement, while supporting those whose voices need to be heard.
What is White Privilege?
White Privilege means that as a white person you have benefited in society over non-white people. It means that you have not been discriminated against, offended, hurt or bullied or judged because of your skin colour.
A strong example of this, is that of George Floyd. The man was reportedly arrested because he used a counterfeit $20 note to pay for something. Police arrived, then pinned him down. He begged to be released from under the police officer’s knee because he couldn’t breathe. Then he died.
This is in stark and shocking contrast to what has happened to some white people in similar situations.
George Floyd and I were both arrested for allegedly spending a counterfeit $20 bill. For George Floyd, a man my age, with two kids, it was a death sentence. For me, it is a story I sometimes tell at parties. That, my friends, is White privilege.
— Mark D. McCoy (@m_d_mccoy) June 1, 2020
Just found out that George Floyd was originally stopped by the police because he handed over a counterfeit note in a shop. I did that once! They handed me back the note as a souvenir, and later I told the story on stage in a comedy routine. That’s some privilege right there.
— Dara Ó Briain (@daraobriain) June 3, 2020
White privilege means that when two people are faced with the same situation, a person of colour is far more likely to suffer or have a negative outcome.
This video from Stephen Boss, and his wife Allison Holker, tragically shows this.
— Viola Davis (@violadavis) June 3, 2020
Another hard-hitting example is a list of all the things black people have lost their lives over in America and how we, as white people, can do these things without fear, or risking our lives. This has been documented in tweets, Instagram illustrations and protest signs.
This includes things like breathing, jogging and listening to music. If you’ve never questioned your right to do these things, you benefit from white privilege.
Influencer and podcast host Amanda Ade shared an IG TV in which she spoke about racism in Ireland and how we can all do better.
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“It’s not even just an American thing, it’s not just there. The extent to which people are acting on their racism is a whole different ballgame, but the intent and the motivation behind the racism is something that black people face every day,” she said.
“I’m not saying all white people are racist but a lot of white people don’t realise or are not conscious of the fact that they do have a privilege, which we as black people don’t. It’s here in Ireland as well, there are certain things we face here in Ireland, that’s why it’s so relatable when you see other black people struggling.
Amanda went on to explain that oftentimes white people don’t realise they are being racist, and it is up to us white people to be more aware of that.
She talks about being conscious of how she acts in a room because of how she is automatically representing all black people. This is not something white people have to think about.
Amanda reminds us that it is a human problem, and that we all have a part to play in changing this.
She adds an important note on not invalidating or doubting someone else’s experience just because you haven’t been racist or seen racism in front of you.
“But I’ve Still Had A Hard Life?”
Many people who still don’t understand white privilege might point out that they have had a hard life too. That they may have suffered from things like bullying, or personal struggles. If you hear someone use this example, remember this, white privilege does not mean that your life has been easy, or that you have not been faced with issues, it just means that those issues were never down to the colour of your skin.
You may have seen a powerful Instagram illustration doing the rounds which highlights the points better than I can.
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The second slide on the post explains that: “White privilege doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been hard, it means your skin tone isn’t one of the things making it harder.”
You can have your own struggles and hardships without pretending that racism doesn’t exist.
“I Think All Lives Matter And We Are All Equal”
Some people used the hashtag All Lives Matter instead of Black Lives Matter. For some people, the intention behind this is good, they may mean to say that all lives are equal and that everyone matters the same. But the reason the Black Lives Matter movement came about is because of this. It’s because black lives have not been treated like they matter the same as white lives. It’s because white people have benefited from white privilege while black people have suffered because of it.
Saying All Lives Matter is ignoring the fact that these struggles exist and that black people need more support, equality and justice before we can truly say that all lives are treated like they matter.
You may have seen the burning house analogy, which says that if one house is on fire, you don’t hose down the one that’s not on fire. The treatment of black people is like the fire, it’s dangerous, damaging and is hurting a lot of people. We need to put that fire out before we claim that both houses are fine.
“How Can I Use My White Privilege To Help?”
We all need to be part of the change. The best way to do this is to educate yourself. This means reading, watching and listening to information about black people, their struggles and their lives. Whether this is through books, Netflix docs, podcasts or Instagram pages, it’s so easy to gain the knowledge. It’s important to see out this knowledge yourself though, and not to expect any black friends or family members to educate you on the matter, because that is not their job.
You can also stand up for your friends and family members when you see or hear racism. Point out something is wrong when you know it is, report racist pages or comments on social media, vow to never be part of jokes or conversations that are racist and offensive.
Sometimes it can feel like as individuals, we don’t have a voice. But we are all influencers, whether it’s educating our friends, family members, siblings, or even ourselves, it’s all part of a greater and necessary change.