Hello, White people,
It is I, your Friendly Neighborhood Chicana (that is, a woman of Mexican descent). At this point, it is impossible not to have heard of what is happening in America. Honestly, no one, White or otherwise, has any excuse for not knowing. (Even the Amish showed up!) But for who that need a reminder, on May 25, George Floyd, age 46, died after being arrested in Minnesota. Well, let me correct that statement. Floyd was killed by Derek Chauvin, a White police officer. This has happened before. And frankly, I think it will probably happen again. But the thing is, it shouldn't.
"That's cool and all," I bet you're thinking. "But what does that have to do with me?"
Well, I'm so glad you asked. Short answer, nothing, but also a lot. Long answer, let's get into that.
I am privileged. Yep. I, a Mexican American daughter of immigrants, am privileged. I have two parents who live happily together, I live in a safe town in the suburbs, we do not struggle financially, and I am able to attend a four-year university.
For these reasons, I am privileged. But throughout my 20 years, I've still seen and experienced racism and bias firsthand.
I've seen store clerks follow my mom and brother around a store to make sure they wouldn't steal anything. I've seen middle-aged White women buying my sister's toys after my mother said no because they assume we can't afford it. I've had White women hear me speak in Spanish to my sisters in public and tell me how lovely my daughters are, and how I look so young to be a mother. I've had teachers look at me in classrooms to explain racism and immigration. I could go on, but let's just take a breather here.
I'm willing to bet that most of what I described, you've never experienced, right? Or at least not to the same extent. And that, my friends, is because of White privilege.
Now, don't leave yet! I know that phrase is a little scary and sounds almost accusatory, but it really isn't. White privilege, at its most basic definition, is unseen and unconscious advantages one has because of the color of their skin. This definition was created in Peggy McIntosh's 1988 essay: White Privilege: Unpacking The Invisible Knapsack. The essay is pretty fiery and I definitely recommend giving it a read.
McIntosh explains that recognizing one's White privilege makes one accountable for their actions. White privilege is a collection of advantages people have, whether they've worked for them or not. This is where people get confused, and understandably so. So let's make it clear: White privilege has nothing to do with how hard someone has worked or how much someone has suffered. One can have White privilege and still be mistreated, poor, or struggling. The word privilege doesn't do much to dissuade that type of thinking, which is why the phrase makes people uncomfortable.
So what does White privilege look like? Let's put it this way: have you ever walked into a room and felt uncomfortable because you were the only white person? I'm guessing no. Or when you go to the store to buy foundation, do you almost always find your skin tone? Or what about when you turn on the TV, does your favorite show only have one White person, or is it almost the whole cast?
That, dear friends, is White privilege. It might not look like much, especially to someone who's never had to notice it their whole life, but it's there. And as uncomfortable it can be to hear, our society caters to a certain skin tone. There is a privilege in always being able to see your likeliness on TV, or in beauty products, or in almost any room. There is a great privilege in living your whole life and almost never made to feel uncomfortable about your skin color. That's why talking about this now freaks people out.
A few more intense examples? When kids teased you in grade school, did they call you names that had something to do with your race? Do people assume you're a nanny instead of the mother of your kids? When cops pull you over, do you fear for your life? Probably not.
But let me make this clear: No one is blaming you for your privilege.
Your White privilege is not your fault. And movements like the Black Lives Matter movement aren't blaming you for your White privilege either. These movements are simply asking you to acknowledge it.
Acknowledge that you have problems and struggles, but that none of those struggles are because of the color of your skin. But non-White Americans? We struggle and some of our struggles (a lot, for some of us) are because of our skin color. It's not fair, which is why movements like Black Lives Matter ask you to acknowledge that. Because when people start to notice inequalities, that's when something can be done about them.
So, White people: Your privilege is OK. I'm honestly a bit jealous, and I'm pretty light-skinned myself. But recognize that you have it, understand it's not your fault, but it is your privilege. And do something with it; stand up for others who don't have the same privilege, help create a space for unheard voices. Or at the very least, recognize your privilege and learn from it.
Anna La Chicana