What white privilege means in our times

By Rob White & Stephanie Iasiello, Guest essayists

When thinking about the implications of white privilege, blogger Ampersand from Amptoons.com asks us to "Imagine two roads: one smooth, well-paved, well-maintained; the other lumpy and full of cracks and pits." On which road would you prefer to travel, and do you really have a choice?

Last week, a small group of students met in Putnam Residence Hall to discuss an often-overlooked aspect of everyday life: white privilege. White privilege can be defined as "a way of conceptualizing racial inequalities that focuses as much on the advantages that whites accrue as on the disadvantages that people of color experience." Hosted by English professor Beth McCoy and Assistant Resident Director Raymond FeDora and Resident Assistant Lanh Nguyen, both seniors, the event acted as a forum for students and faculty to openly discuss their thoughts and reactions to white privilege.

As conspicuous as white privilege is in our society, it is rarely discussed. Benefitting from that which you have not earned is truly riding the "smooth, paved and well-maintained" road that most white people, on some level or another, can and do ride on. Now, that is not to say white people do not work hard, but they inherently face less institutional obstacles. White people simultaneously gain from many of the daily privileges that activist Peggy McIntosh developed and writes about, along with others that may not be as overt as selection of bandage color and representation in a group.

Several points in the 50 item list included in McIntosh's article "Invisible Knapsack" spoke volumes to us, specifically:

1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

20. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.

21. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.

46. I can choose blemish cover or bandages in "flesh" color and have them more or less match my skin.

Talking about this list with friends sparked quite the debate, and No. 46, surprisingly, seemed to provoke the most adverse reaction. One of our friends stated, "But it's just a f---ing Band-Aid." Well, that's easy to say if the Band-Aid happens to be the color of your skin. Without recognizing his array of established privileges, our friend exemplified his advantage of being white in this very discussion. By questioning the relevance of blending skin tones in personal care products, our friend inadvertently underscored the pervasiveness of the white-as-normative ideology.

In writing this article, it has appeared to us that our acknowledgement of white privilege is one that must be carefully considered. We both benefit from the privilege of being white ourselves, and questioned whether writing this article is merely an extension of such privilege. Being cognizant of the underlying systemic forms of oppression enables us to start a conversation in order to address how white privilege pervades every aspect of society. It is essential to understand that this is not an abstract concept.

White privilege cannot be left for someone else to worry about - it is something that, whether we like it or not, is a substantial part of our everyday interactions with people. We hope that this article will act as the catalyst to prompt further discussion.

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