EDITORIAL: What I Said When My White Friend Asked for My Black Opinion on White Privilege

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson, GBN Editor-in-Chief
by Lori Lakin Hutcherson, GBN Editor-in-Chief

Yesterday I was tagged in a post by an old high school friend, asking me and a few others a very public, direct question about white privilege and racism.  I feel compelled not only to publish his query but also my response to it, as it may be a helpful discourse for more than just a handful of folks on Facebook.

Here’s his post:

“To all of my Black or mixed race FB friends, I must profess a blissful ignorance of this “White Privilege” of which I’m apparently guilty of possessing. By not being able to fully put myself in the shoes of someone from a background/race/religion/gender/ nationality/body type that differs from my own makes me part of the problem, according to what I’m now hearing. Despite my treating everyone with respect and humor my entire life (as far as I know), I’m somehow complicit in the misfortune of others. I’m not saying I’m colorblind, but whatever racism/sexism/other -ism my life experience has instilled in me stays within me, and is not manifested in the way I treat others (which is not the case with far too many, I know).

So that I may be enlightened, can you please share with me some examples of institutional racism that have made an indelible mark upon you? If I am to understand this, I need people I know personally to show me how I’m missing what’s going on. Personal examples only. I’m not trying to be insensitive, I only want to understand (but not from the media). I apologize if this comes off as crass or offends anyone.”

Here’s my response:

Hi, Jason.  First off, I hope you don’t mind that I’ve quoted your post and made it part of mine.  I think the heart of what you’ve asked of your friends of color is extremely important and I think my response needs much more space than as a reply on your feed.  I truly thank you for wanting to understand what you are having a hard time understanding.  Coincidentally, over the last few days I have been thinking about sharing some of the incidents of prejudice/racism I’ve experienced in my lifetime – in fact I just spoke with my sister Lesa about how to best do this yesterday – because I realized many of my friends – especially the white ones – have no idea what I’ve experienced/dealt with unless they were present (and aware) when it happened.  There are two reasons for this : 1) because not only as a human being do I suppress the painful and uncomfortable in an effort to make it go away, I was also taught within my community (I was raised in the ‘70s & ‘80s – it’s shifted somewhat now) and by society at large NOT to make a fuss, speak out, or rock the boat. To just “deal with it,” lest more trouble follow (which sadly, it often does).  2) Fear of being questioned or dismissed with “Are you sure that’s what you heard?” or “Are you sure that’s what they meant?” and being angered and upset all over again by well-meaning-but-hurtful and essentially unsupportive responses.

So, again, I’m glad you asked, because I really want to answer. But as I do, please know a few things first: 1) This is not even close to the whole list. I’m cherrypicking because none of us have all day.  2) I’ve been really lucky. Most of what I share below is mild compared to what others in my family and community have endured. 3) I’m going to go in chronological order so you might begin to glimpse the tonnage and why what many white folks might feel is a “Where did all of this come from?” moment in society has been festering individually and collectively for the LIFETIME of pretty much every black or brown person living in America today regardless of wealth or opportunity. 4)Some of what I share covers sexism, too – intersectionality is another term I’m sure you’ve heard and want to put quotes around, but it’s a real thing, too, just like white privilege.  But you’ve requested a focus on personal experiences with racism, so here it goes:

1. When I was 3, my family moved into an upper-middle class, all-white neighborhood. We had a big backyard, so my parents built a pool. Not the only pool on the block, but the only one neighborhood boys started throwing rocks into. White boys. One day my mom ID’d one as the boy from across the street, went to his house, told his mother and fortunately, his mother believed mine.  My mom not only got an apology, but also had that boy jump in our pool and retrieve every single rock. No more rocks after that. Then Mom even invited him to come over to swim sometime if he asked permission. Everyone became friends. This one has a happy ending because my mom was and is badass about matters like these, but I hope you can see that the white privilege in this situation is being able to move into a “nice” neighborhood and be accepted not harassed, made to feel unwelcome, or prone to acts of vandalism and hostility.

2. When my older sister was 5, a white boy named Mark called her a “nigger” after she beat him in a race at school. She didn’t know what it meant but in her gut, she knew it was bad. This was the first time I’d seen my father the kind of angry that has nowhere to go.  I somehow understood it was because not only had some boy verbally assaulted his daughter and had gotten away with it, it had way too early introduced her (and me) to that term and the reality of what it meant – that some white people would be cruel and careless with black people’s feelings just because of our skin color. Or our achievement.  If it’s unclear in any way, the point here is if you’ve NEVER had a defining moment in your childhood or your life, where you realize your skin color alone makes other people hate you, you have white privilege.

3. Sophomore year of high school. I had Mr. Melrose for Algebra 2. Some time within the first few weeks of class, he points out that I’m “the only spook” in the class.  This was meant to be funny.  It wasn’t.  So, I doubt it will surprise you I was relieved when he took medical leave after suffering a heart attack and was replaced by a sub for the rest of the semester.  The point here is if you’ve never been ‘the only one’ of your race in a class, at a party, on a job, etc. and/or it’s been pointed out in a “playful” fashion by the authority figure in said situation – you have white privilege.

4. When we started getting our college acceptances senior year, I remember some white male classmates pissed that another black classmate had gotten into UCLA while they didn’t. They said that affirmative action had given him “their spot” and it wasn’t fair.  An actual friend of theirs. Who’d worked his ass off.  The point here is if you’ve never been on the receiving end of the assumption that when you’ve achieved something it’s only because it was taken away from a white person who “deserved it”that is white privilege.

5. When I got accepted to Harvard (as a fellow AP student you were witness to what an academic beast I was in high school, yes?), three separate times I encountered white strangers as I prepped for my maiden trip to Cambridge that rankle to this day. The first was the white doctor giving me a physical at Kaiser: Me: “I need to send an immunization report to my college so I can matriculate.” Doctor: “Where are you going?” Me: “Harvard.” Doctor: “You mean the one in Massachusetts?”  The second was in a store, looking for supplies I needed from Harvard’s suggested “what to bring with you” list.  Store employee: “Where are you going?” Me: “Harvard.”  Store employee: “You mean the one in Massachusetts?”  The third was at UPS, shipping off boxes of said “what to bring” to Harvard.  I was in line behind a white boy mailing boxes to Princeton, and in front of a white woman sending her child’s boxes to wherever. Woman, to the boy: “What college are you going to?”  Boy: “Princeton.”  Woman: “Congratulations!”  Woman, to me: “Where are you sending your boxes?” Me: “Harvard.”  Woman: “You mean the one in Massachusetts?” I think: “No bitch, the one downtown next to the liquor store.”  But I say, gesturing to my LABELED boxes: “Yes, the one in Massachusetts.”  Then she says congratulations but it’s too fucking late.  The point here is if no one has ever questioned your intellectual capabilities or attendance at an elite institution based solely on your skin color, that is white privilege.

6. In my freshman college tutorial, our small group of 4-5 was assigned to read Thoreau, Emerson, Malcolm X, Joseph Conrad, Dreiser, etc. When it was the week to discuss “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” one white boy boldly claimed he couldn’t even get through it because he couldn’t relate and didn’t think he should be forced to read it. I don’t remember the words I said, but I still remember the feeling – I think it’s what doctors refer to as chandelier pain – as soon as a sensitive area on a patient is touched, they shoot through the roof – that’s what I felt.  I know I said something like my whole life I’ve had to read “things that don’t have anything to do with me or that I relate to” but I find a way anyway because that’s what learning is about – trying to understand other people’s perspectives.  The point here is – the canon of literature studied in the United States, as well as the majority of television and movies – have focused primarily on the works or achievements of white men.  So if you have never experienced or considered how damaging it is/was/could be to grow up without myriad role models and images in school that reflect you in your required reading material or in the mainstream media – that is white privilege. 

7. All seniors at Harvard are invited to a fancy, seated group lunch with our respective dorm Masters. (Yes, they were called “Masters” up until this February when they changed it to “Faculty Deans,” but that’s just a tasty little side dish to the main course of this remembrance). While we were being served by the Dunster House cafeteria staff – the black ladies from Haiti and Boston that ran the line daily; I still remember Jackie’s kindness and warmth to this day – Master Sally mused out loud how proud they must be to be serving the nation’s best and brightest.  I don’t know if they heard her, but I did and it made me uncomfortable and sick.  The point here is, if you’ve never been blindsided when you are just trying to enjoy a meal by a well-paid faculty member’s patronizing and racist assumptions about how grateful black people must feel to be in their presence – you have white privilege.

8. While writing on a television show in my 30s, my new white male boss – who had only known me for a few days – had unbeknownst to me told another writer on staff he thought I was conceited, didn’t know as much I thought I did, and didn’t have the talent I thought I had.  And what exactly had happened in those few days?  I disagreed with a pitch where he suggested our lead female character carelessly leave a pot holder on the stove and burn down her apartment.  This character being a professional caterer.  When what he said about me was revealed months later (by then he’d come to respect and rely on me), he apologized for  prejudging me because I was a black woman.  I told him he was ignorant and clearly had a lot to learn.  It was a good talk because he was remorseful and open. But the point here is, if you’ve never been on the receiving end of a boss’s prejudiced, uninformed “how dare she question my ideas” badmouthing based on solely on his ego and your race, you have white privilege.

9.  On my very first date with my now husband, I climbed into his car and saw baby wipes on the passenger side floor.  He said he didn’t have kids, they were just there to clean up messes in the car.  I twisted to secure my seatbelt and saw a stuffed animal in the rear window. I gave him a look. He said “I promise, I don’t have kids.  That’s only there so I don’t get stopped by the police.”  He then told me that when he drove home from work late at night, he was getting stopped by cops constantly because he was a black man in a luxury car and they assumed it was either stolen or he was a drug dealer.  When he told a cop friend about this, he told Warren to put a stuffed animal in the rear window because it would change “his profile” to that of a family man and he was much less likely to be stopped.  The point here is, if you’ve never had to mask the fruits of your success with a floppy-eared, stuffed bunny rabbit so you won’t get harassed by the cops on the way home from your gainful employment (or never had a first date start this way), you have white privilege.

10. Six years ago, I started a Facebook page that has grown into a website called Good Black News because I was shocked to find there were no sites dedicated solely to publishing the positive things black people do. (And let me explain here how biased the coverage of mainstream media is in case you don’t already have a clue – as I curate, I can’t tell you how often I have to swap out a story’s photo to make it as positive as the content. Photos published of black folks in mainstream media are very often sullen or angry-looking.  Even when it’s a positive story!  I also have to constantly alter headlines to 1) include a person’s name and not have it just be “Black Man Wins Settlement” or “Carnegie Hall Gets 1st Black Board Member” or 2) rephrase it from a subtle subjugator like “ABC taps Viola Davis as Series Lead” to “Viola Davis Lands Lead on ABC Show” as is done for say, Jennifer Aniston or Steven Spielberg.)  I also receive a fair amount of highly offensive racist trolling.  I don’t even respond. I block and delete ASAP.  The point here is – not having to rewrite stories, headlines or swap photos while being trolled by racists when all you’re trying to do on a daily basis is promote positivity and share stories of hope and achievement and justice – that is white privilege.

Okay, Jason, there’s more but I’m exhausted.  And my kids need dinner.  Remembering and reliving many of these moments has been a strain and a drain (and again, this ain’t even the half or the worst of it).  But I hope my experiences shed some light for you on how institutional and personal racism have affected the entire life of a friend of yours to whom you’ve only been respectful and kind. I hope what I’ve shared makes you realize it’s not just strangers but people you know and care for who have suffered and are suffering because we are excluded from the privilege you have to not be judged, questioned or assaulted in any way because of your race.

As to you “being part of the problem,” trust me, nobody is mad at you for being white. Nobody. Just like nobody should be mad at me for being black. Or female. Or whatever. But what IS being asked of you is to acknowledge that white privilege DOES exist and to not only to treat people of races that differ from yours “with respect and humor,” but also to stand up for fair treatment and justice, to not let “jokes” or “off-color” comments by friends, co-workers or family slide by without challenge, and to continually make an effort to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, so we may all cherish and respect our unique and special contributions to society as much as we do our common ground.

With much love and respect,

Lori

“Got Privilege?” image provided by Maeve Richardson

811 thoughts on “EDITORIAL: What I Said When My White Friend Asked for My Black Opinion on White Privilege”

  1. It is a given that in any society, some people have more opportunities and more benefits than others have in that society. Some people have the benefit of wealth and don’t have to work as hard as others. Some people have the benefit of not having wealth which enables them to learn how to work harder than others. Some people are athletically inclined in a society that values athletes. Some people are academically inclined in a society that values intellect. In some societies, people are given special notoriety because of their long necks, while in other societies, people with great height are seen as special. I could go on and on, but my point is this: every society gives “privilege” to different people for different reasons.

    As for the suggestion by the writer that racial prejudice or “white privilege” were at play in the incidents which she relates, I would suggest that the writer felt a sensitivity, for whatever reason, that made her see those events through the prism of “white privilege.”

    1. When I was a young lad, I wrote my initials in my Finnish neighbor’s new cement and threw snowballs at my Italian neighbor’s front door–I was a silly kid whose behavior did not reflect any privilege.

    2. As a college basketball player on a mostly black team, Though I am white,I was often called “nigger” by my black teammates. I knew what the word meant, but I did not take it as an insult. I was also often told that I did not play the game like a “white boy.” I did not see that as “black privilege.”

    3. In college, I would go to dances hosted by a black fraternity or group, and I would be the only white person there. People would comment on my “honky-style” dancing. “Black privilege”? I did not think so. I was also the best man in a black person’s wedding where I felt daggers being cast in my direction by some of the attendees. “Black privilege”? I did not see it as such.

    4. When my daughter received an acceptance letter to a prestigious private university whose entrance requirements she really did not meet, was it because of “white privilege”? No. It was because the college was looking for a student body that was diverse in its talents and skills, and she had demonstrated that she was a superior dancer and that she was a wonderful friend to those who needed an interested ear.

    5. When I was a coach, I was told by one of my basketball players that he was going to Cornell. I asked, “You mean the one in New York?” He answered, “NO, Cornell College in Iowa” Was I showing “reverse white privilege” by thinking that he was an Ivy League-quality student?

    6. As a literature teacher, I had students tell me that they could not get through “The Red Badge of Courage” because they could not relate to war or to events that occurred so long ago. Is that “war privilege” or “chronology privilege”? By the way, there were no complaints about A Raisin in the Sun.”

    7. As a high school coach, I often took my players to universities to compete in summer games. When introducing the guys to college coaches of all backgrounds, I often used the exact words used by that “patronizing” “Master” at your school: These are our best and brightest. I was not demonstrating “white privilege.” I was just remarking how proud I was of those kids.

    8. As a teacher-coach, I disagreed with the perspectives and leadership qualities of the superintendent of the school district. I also, through our infrequent conversations, had demonstrated to him that I leaned toward a moderate-conservative end of the political system, while he was highly liberal. He was arrogant and a bully. He did not like my approach to my job and dismissed my efforts as “old school.” He and I were of the same racial group. He had “employer privilege,” not white privilege.

    9. I was looking at sports cars in a dealership one day. The car salesman mentioned to me that people were shying away from buying red sports cars because they tended to draw the attention of law enforcement much more. Re sports car drivers were “profiled” as being inclined to drive fast. That does not appear to be a “white privilege” issue. More of an anti-red-car-driver issue.

    10. As for what people write or the political signs that people place on their lawns, or the bumper stickers that they put on their cars, or the opinions that people express–I think that it is safe to say that the “white privilege” narrative has silenced many a fair-minded person from saying anything at all that can be viewed through the lens of “white privilege” proponents as being further proof of the stereotype. The stereotype of “white privilege” has become an albatross around the necks of fair-minded people who just want to get along with others.

    We are ALL born with gifts, with advantages, with privileges; what matters is how we use them. i was born a white Irish-Austrian Catholic male with big ears, a long neck, a big nose, scoliosis, and loose joints. I was always the shortest in my class, the fourth of five kids with parents who only has high school degrees. I worked my BUTT off to be successful in a world where I was not the most attractive, not the smartest, not the most gifted. I find myself resisting the notion that I succeeded because of “white privilege.”

    1. This would be *precisely* the type of excuse and denial I mentioned in my comment when I talked about “the only thing worse”

      1. Soren, it might be possible, just might be possible, that it is your denial that is making things worse. I am not sure what makes you the judge and jury who decide that people who disagree with you are in denial. Maybe it is your blind intransigence that perpetuates this divisive perspective.

      2. I am neither interested nor in a position to help you with your inability to understand (if you can’t get it from all that is written here, you simply don’t have the faculties to do so). I will quote you, though, when illustrating examples of “the problem.” So thank you for making that job easier.

        This is not my blog, nor my thread, and I do not wish to hijack it, so my part of this conversation is done.

      3. Soren, I welcome your sharing my anecdotes and my analysis with others. Those who are not already blinded by an agenda will see that my examples show that there is privilege in all sectors of life. Your failure to address the truth of the various privileges to which I have alluded shows that you have closed your mind to a narrative that does not fit your prism–a very unfortunate and sad position for you to occupy. I, too, will share with others that I communicated online with a person whose inability and/
        or unwillingness to articulate a response to my real-life examples of pervasive privilege was obvious. It will be food for thought for clear-thinking people and show how much of a “problem” a false narrative creates for those of us who wish to unify rather than divide our nation.

      4. Everyone has experienced ” – – – – – – Privilege” somehow. I am a white woman. I have had a weight problem since I was born and all the diets, excercise programs, weightwatchers classes, diet pills etc have not changed this. Some people just are heavy people. You can take this editorial and change the words from Black to overweight, and Nigger to Fat Ass and it is the same story, but I got it from EVERY RACE. There is a thing called “Thin Privilege” too, and that includes the black community.. The best clothes, the best seats, the good jobs, admiration, not the brunt of all the jokes etc, etc. I am not minimizing the issue here at all, I KNOW the pain of discrimination. BUT, the next time you laugh at a fat joke, or see the chubby guy/girl on TV being made fun of, or look at someone who is carrying extra pounds with your nose turned up, realize that you are acting Just the same as those who persecuted YOU! So maybe think to yourself ” This is DISCRIMINATION and I am a bigot.”.

      5. Dear “Clearthinker:”

        My surmise, having read your response to the notion of “white privilege” offered here, is that you, as an individual, are intellectually “glued” to your personal sense of fairness. And for this, I would offer my most sincere brand of kudos. But your open willingness to personalize your experience actually represents a glaring “dovetailling” of your personal experience into an arena of collective dynamics, where to truly understand the dynamics occurring here, it cannot belong. I could offer that my sashay from my undergraduate work at “Illinois” to entry into the doctoral program at Northwestern University, was due to my hearty efforts. But that would not explain my later having learned that my fellow classmates had been warned of the “Black radical”, soon due to march the streets of Evanston. It did not matter that I’d worked fifty-two hours per week, carried a double load and completed two years in one with all “A’s”. Neither did it matter that at my second doctoral program, I got assigned the department drunk, who as it turned out, was ushered upstairs from our department classrooms, to graduate student housing when he was drunk and would “sleep it off.”. I for my troubles, walked in Cambridge from undergraduate housing (where for the first two weeks of my tenure, I was required to live in and move from daily, guest housing) to class in the snow, all the while being tutored by a professor whose guiding academic presence was not “Machiavelli”, but “Jim Beam”. It may not be instructive to you that my white playmate at the age of five, once implored me to come outside with her and play because, “there’s nobody out here to play with but the Niggers.” Whew…lucky I escaped that one. We might have married.

        What you fail to see is that what for you can be chalked up to personal dynamics, changes form, (like light altering from its being waveular to its being particulate,) because of an unseen and unappreciated dynamic. African-Americans do not reside in America within a construct where they may willfully and capriciously impact the livelihoods, the life paths and patterns of whites. The obverse is not true. We need to look no further in history than the “Scottsborough Boys” to cement this understanding.

        This imbalance is at the core of racism…this ability to have someone else’s cultural influence to impact you differentially than yours impacts them. It is subtle, while at the same time being monumental. And for your response to have been chronicled as so much the same, but viewed so differently by you, is at the heart of the matter.

        Your comments would be that of a six foot six tennis player suggesting that your five foot three inch female opponent is (excuse the mixed metaphor) on the same “playing field”. You both have racquets. You’re using the same balls. So what’s the difference?

        Though unintended, I am sure, your comments can be easily interpreted by others to suggest that the differences dilineared here are, if not “fluff,” then either miniscule or misguided. Nothing could be further from the truth.

        Renee Descartes said it well when offering that, “I 5hink therefore I am.” Indeed, our new appreciation of “String Theory”, and the probability of a computer projected universe only has that sense of “consciousness” as the chewing gum…the epoxy holding that notion together, as we ferret out what we can. I would thus share with you, that when a person of color or a woman “senses” the apartheid state that is white or male privilege, it is because it does glaringly exist.

        And the sooner you come to appreciate that nuance of difference will be when we begin to bridge that gap that, down the line, leads from “what’s the difference”, to the unfathomable that surfaces as the violence of this nation, bathed in racism.

    2. I am sorry that I posted before my entire comment was finalized. So…here it is:

      It is a given that in any society, some people have more opportunities and more benefits than others have in that society. Some people have the benefit of wealth and don’t have to work as hard as others. Some people have the benefit of not having wealth which enables them to learn how to work harder than others. Some have the benefit of not having a dad, so the young male can learn how to be a leader and a strong person at an early age. Some people are athletically inclined in a society that values athletes. Some people are academically inclined in a society that values intellect. In some societies, people are given special notoriety because of their long necks, while in other societies, people with great height are seen as special. I could go on and on, but my point is this: every society gives “privilege” to different people for different reasons.

      As for the suggestion by the writer that racial prejudice or “white privilege” was at play in the incidents which she relates, I would suggest that the writer felt a sensitivity, for whatever reason, that made her see those events through the prism of “white privilege”; that prism skewed her judgment and her perspective.

      Let me relate ten anecdotes in my life similar to those recounted by the writer:

      1. As related to the writer’s pool incident—When I was a young lad, I wrote my initials in my Finnish neighbor’s new cement (the only Finn in the neighborhood)and threw snowballs at my Italian neighbor’s front door (the only Italian in the nieghborhood—Those were the actions of a silly kid; those were not the actions of someone who felt or demonstrated “white privilege” against those of different ethnicities from mine.

      2. As a college basketball player on a mostly black team, though I am white, I was often called “nigger” by my black teammates. I knew what the word meant, but I did not take it as an insult. I was also often told that I did not play the game like a “white boy.” I did not see that as “black privilege.”

      3. In college, I would go to dances hosted by a black fraternity or group, and I would be the only white person there. People would comment on my “honky-style” dancing. “Black privilege”? I did not think so. I was also the best man in a black person’s wedding where I felt daggers being cast in my direction by some of the attendees. “Black privilege”? I did not see it as such.

      4. When my daughter received an acceptance letter to a prestigious private university whose entrance requirements she really did not meet, was it because of “white privilege”? No. It was because the college was looking for a student body that was diverse in its talents and skills, and she had demonstrated that she was a superior dancer and that she was a wonderful friend to those who needed an interested ear. She could make the university a better place.

      5. When I was a coach, I was told by one of my basketball players that he was matriculating to Cornell for his university studies. I asked, “You mean the one in New York?” He answered, “No, Cornell College in Iowa” Was I showing “reverse white privilege” by thinking that he was an Ivy League-quality student? Whereas i did not know that there were two Cornells, perhaps the people in the writer’s story thought that there were two or more Harvards? Or, perhaps they just wanted to show their worldliness by suggesting that they knew where Harvard was.

      6. As a literature teacher, I had students tell me that they could not get through The Red Badge of Courage because they could not relate to war or to events that occurred so long ago. Is that “war privilege” or “chronology privilege”? By the way, there were no complaints about A Raisin in the Sun.

      7. As a high school coach, I often took my players to universities to compete in summer games. When introducing the guys to college coaches of all backgrounds, I often used the exact words used by that “patronizing” “Master” at the writer’s school: “These are our best and brightest,” I said. I was not demonstrating “white privilege.” I was just remarking how proud I was of those kids.

      8. As a teacher-coach, I disagreed with the perspectives and leadership qualities of the superintendent of the school district. I also, through our infrequent conversations, had demonstrated to him that I leaned toward a moderate-conservative end of the political system, while he was ultra liberal. He was arrogant and a bully. He did not like my approach to my job and dismissed my efforts as “old school.” He and I were of the same racial group. He had “employer privilege,” not white privilege, when he fired me.

      9. I was looking at sports cars in a dealership one day. The car salesman mentioned to me that people were shying away from buying red sports cars because they tended to draw the attention of law enforcement much more. Red sports car drivers were “profiled” as being inclined to drive fast. That does not appear to be a “white privilege” issue. More of an anti-red-car-driver issue.

      10. As for what people write or the political signs that people place on their lawns, or the bumper stickers that they put on their cars, or the opinions that people express–I think that it is safe to say that the “white privilege” narrative has silenced many a fair-minded person from saying anything at all that can be viewed through the lens of “white privilege” proponents as being further proof of the stereotype. The stereotype of “white privilege” has become an albatross around the necks of fair-minded people who just want to get along with others. And it has become anathema to a free society that values the free exchange of ideas.

      A few other items: Was it “black privilege” when a black person with whom I was working on a project told me that he does not ride horses because “that is what white folks do”? Was it “black privilege” when coaching friends of mine mentioned how much anxiety they feel when they have to go recruit in black areas? Was it “black privilege” when my best friend, a black man, was hired as a CPA at one of the major accounting firms in the country and later at IBM? Or was it because he was qualified? Was it “black privilege” when that same friend, as the supervisor of finance for one of the country’s major public school districts, was told that he could not hire an ultra-accomplished Jewish accountant for the district because he was not black? Was it “black privilege” when Obama appointed two black attorneys-general when there were certainly many qualified non-black lawyers and judges whom he could have appointed? If I and others were to be looking through the lens, the prism, of “black privilege,” all day could be spent giving examples of the phenomenon. I prefer to see people, and maybe even judge people, by how much excellence they demonstrate in their performance in the tasks which they undertake, and by how much goodness they show toward their fellow man.

      We are ALL born with gifts, with advantages, with privileges; what matters is how we use them. i was born a white Irish-Austrian Catholic male with big ears, a long neck, a big nose, scoliosis, and loose joints. I was always the shortest in my class, the fourth of five kids with parents who only had high school degrees. I worked my BUTT off to be successful in a world where I was not the most attractive, not the smartest, not the most gifted. I find myself resisting the notion that I succeeded because of “white privilege.” I suggest that this writer do the same, relinquish the cloak of victimhood, keep the nose to the grindstone, and do good things for people. That is a recipe that will bring both personal satisfaction and success—not necessarily immediately or easily, but eventually—and that is a recipe that will make of this writer a role model for others to achieve success as well.

    3. It’s weird. I want to reply to the original post itself, but I couldn’t find an option to do so. I could only find an option to reply to a reply.

      That said, thank you for having this blog in the first place. I think it’s important to point out the good news. The bad is covered quite well.

      It sickens me that you’ve had to deal with these types of experiences. It is hard for me to understand what life is like from your perspective. I have had the experience of being hated and judged only because of my skin color, but the rest of it, I can only imagine what that must have felt like.

      My cousin called her mother from college crying the other day. She says she feels so guilty for her white privilege. That she doesn’t even know how she has a right to be alive. That sickens me too.

      I can only teach my own children as best as I can to love their neighbor, & to never judge anyone on shallow, superficial reasons, or lump large groups of people together as the same based on some arbitrary thing they have in common, & hope and pray that enough other parents are doing the same. The only effective weapon against hate is love.

      1. Go to the first page of the oldest comments and then scroll down to the end of the article where is says leave comment.

    4. I believe you saw ALL THE errors in your post, hence your edit of some points. I may not be as intellectually verse as you sir, but I can see without effort, that you sir, have entirely missed the points that the writer attempted to clairfy. Your rationalizing of “perhaps the people back then we’re trying to show their worldliness” is just weak, futile & downright sad. Perhaps the reason you were given an easy time throughout your life was because your awkward appearance was already enough torture to live with (now tell me how that makes you feel) Trying to make a comparison between being judged as as race car driver and being judged as a thief or a drug dealer is in my opinion, the kind of prejudice that makes even the dead cringe. Race car drivers are some of the most esteemed, revered professionals so while being pulled over and possibly slapped with a speeding ticket may be a bother, it pales in comparison to being profiled and treated like a darn criminal.
      Instead of attempting to discount the writers experiences which clearly show that she & her family were indeed treated and profiled unfairly because of their race, just try to see that trying to elevate yourself while being Black not only causes a “sensitivity” is no way, shape or form, easy feat. This may be an arduous task for you but… just… try.

    5. “clearthinker” indeed. You’re attempting to sound well thought out, articulate, and well mannered but the hostility and lack of education in this matter is astoundingly obvious. You’re not resisting the notion that you succeeded because of white privilege. You’re resisting the notion that black people succeed IN SPITE OF white privilege. You sir should think about the fact that with each of your attempted counterpoints you were actually attempting to silence the writer with the arrogance of your assumed white authority.

      I can appreciate the fact that even though I’m a white woman who has disabilities, three daughters (omg, no sons how dare I), one of my daughters being disabled; in spite of being lesser and other because of gender and disability, I’m afforded more privileges than my black neighbors.

      Due to that fact, I think it’s time I bow out of the comments and stay out because my voice ought not drown out the voices of Black Americans. It’s time to listen and acknowledge, and then when that happens, we can know better. If we know better, we do better.

      I’m sorry I hijacked your comments.

    6. Oh my gosh, as a white person, with black friends, this was so well written that I feel like an idiot now. I never realized what white privilege was actually about. I like folks because of their personalities, and honestly raised my children to encompass all races and religions without bias. I lived in Tallahassee, Florida and New Orleans, Louisiana, where some of the restroom’s still had segregated bathrooms marked for blacks and whites. I was really uncomfortable with that, but it hit me that this was a for “real issue.” I was raised going to 12 yeas of Catholic schools, where there was only one black gal, in my entire grade. She went on to become an RN, and I ran into her, while she was working at UCLA! She was distant and rather cold, with good reason in retrospect. I didn’t hang out with her, at school, but then again, I didn’t hang out with anyone at the school because clicks had already been formed. I have only attended one of my class reunions, and I left early. No one talked to me, I don’t think they even knew who I was. I don’t think she attended any of them either. I simply haven’t been able to wrap my mind around this issue. I am guilty of having taken my “white privilege” for granted! I’m now 70 years old and have learned a valuable lesson. Thank you for enlightening me.

    7. I agree.
      It made me think of some of the “zingers” I/my family unknowingly or unintentionally got for being Jewish over the years.

      Yes, blacks are easier to target because of their skin color, but when you’re in white minority you blend in plain sight.

      I don’t think it’s “white privilege” as much as it is blinding ignorance.

      Has anyone ever leaned over to you and said, “If you Jew them down, you’ll get a better deal.”? If you’re not Jewish you might even miss it. But it you are, it’s like somebody used a bull horn in your face.

      At the University of Alabama I had black students look at me and say, “You don’t look Jewish.”

      As a young student teacher in KISD I had to show the school substitute coordinator where on the calendar it showed the dates for Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur, and explain to her that it was an excused absence.

      As a teenager, people in high school didn’t tease me because I had a car, they said I had a car because my rich, Jewish daddy bought it for me. Notice I used the word “tease”. They didn’t harass me, they just made me feel like I had to defend myself. “Hello! We live in the same neighborhood and you have a car too.”

    8. Thank you for sharing your experience. As a white middle-class woman I experience daily the privilege of simply being born the preferred color. In addition to the blatant racism endured by all people of color, the institutionalized racism in our schools, work places, judicial system, and organizations meant as safety nets for our most vulnerable goes unchecked and grows like a virus. Intitutionalized bias is white privilege. In one study of social workers, cases were tracked for a year and casewokers were interviewed weekly. Consistently white women who showed up late for appointments were forgiven and squeezed in to the busy schesule. Theie children were often present in their sessions, their problems were noted to be circumstantial. The black women who relied on the same unreliable bus system to get to their appointments, had the same problems finding child care, who suffered the same situational difficulties as their white sisters were told that it was their responsibility to get there on time and turned away when late, told to plan better for child care and to take more personal responsibility for their circumstances. It goes on… black children being suspended from school for the same infractions that get their white peers after-school detention … black adicts being imprisoned while their white peers receive compassion and treatment . Institutionalized bias is white privilege. We are all guilty of judging the poor black woman buying a pack of cigarettes — never stopping to realize that they are her only respite. She has no weekend to look forward to, no anticipation of a family holiday to lighten her load, no outlets for her fear, anger and sadness. Yet we say she is irresponsible for spending a few dollars on the one thing that soothes her and helps her feel, for a moment, just a little of the relief from her burden that the rest of us get in so many unseen ways every day. I’m just sad and disappointed that we aren’t more awake and aware and that so many who enjoy the privilege I do are loathe to even look at it.

    9. Let me introduce myself, I am a 57 year old white male with English ancestry and a shaved head. My formal education stopped around 19 credits in a Community College. A teacher in 8th grade asked what do you picture in your mind when i say the Name of a student in the school. The first thing that came to my mind was football player. Of course many of my fellow classmates pointed out that he was black to which the teacher said something to the effect of this… the fact that you differentiate this student by color is the essence of racism. That lesson has never left me.

      Another fact is that I am left handed. Now I know many of you will say that is nothing in comparison to the suppression of the black race. Of course if you are left handed you might have a different opinion or maybe not. But the fact remains i grew up learning to use scissors with my right hand because the ones they gave you in school did not work. I learned to play golf on right handed clubs and to this day cannot hit a golf ball with a left handed club. I learned to arrive at my college classroom 15 minutes early so i could move the left handed desk to the front of the room my preferred seating. While what I experienced was not hateful, I still would have friends joke with me, why do you write with the wrong hand? I live in a right handed world where the buttons on my cell phone are the cause of aggravation every time my thumb pushes them inadvertently. The list goes on.

      The fact is that we live in a world that contains certain realities. I was born left handed, I cannot change that. Others are born of a different race and they cannot change that. People will hate and people will love and some just don’t care and no one can change that.

      So we have a choice. We can accept what we cannot change. We can accept our differences and live our lives accepting people for who they are. The golden rule comes to mind and when you really apply it – really apply it- life will take on a whole new perspective. While the woman in line makes the comment “you mean the one in Boston” put yourself in her shoes. Perhaps right after she said it she regretted it – maybe not – but if that was you and you made that mistake wouldn’t you want the other person to be gracious toward you in spite of your blunder? A simple response could have been something to this effect: yes the one in Boston and I am not sure why you asked that question but if it is because it seems unlikely, because I am black, than I would ask that you consider your comment and try not to make someone else feel like you are singling them out.

      I recognize, Lori Lakin Hutcherson, is an educated woman and has well written a very detailed account of her perspective on white privilege, in spite of her use of foul language. When i first read it, I thought well that is a good explanation. After considerable thought, it occurred to me that she is harboring hatred due to what in some cases may have been hatred directed toward her – because of her race – and understandably so. I digress, we are born into this world as we are and we cannot change that. What we can change is how we take our set of circumstances and NOT make it someone else’s fault. The underlying message in Ms. Hutcherson’s essay is well written hate, like it or not, it perpetuates the excuse to separate one race from another and stereotype a group. It is of itself racism as she is identifying a white person as being white, rather than being a person. My 8th grade teachers lesson has not been well learned.

      1. No, Malcolm, you don’t get it. I am white with natural red hair. As a child I was bullied mercilessly for my hair color, which I had no control over, as well as for being chubby, left handed, and autistic. My family wasn’t kicked out of the neighborhood because of my hair color, the way Black families were. It didn’t affect my ability to go to university or get a job. The prejudice against gingers is not systemic. It isn’t ingrained in our socio-economic system. There haven’t been laws against us since the burning times. (Yes, another prejudice based on Medieval Christian superstition.)

        I see no hate in this wonderful essay. White people who are genuinely against racism work to support people of color. We examine our unconscious biases, which are not our fault but still need to be eradicated. If I say or do something racist, I want my friends to tell me about it so I can correct it. It shouldn’t be the job of Black people to educate white people. It’s our problem. We have to end it.

      2. Color blindness is so 90s. Why do white men defending privilege take up so much space here? I think we White people need to create our own spaces to discuss racism and how to eradicate it.

      3. As a right-handed Black woman, I think your comparison of being left-handed to being Black is the closest experience any non-Black person can get. I remember as a child, left-handed students were demonized and forced by teachers to use their right hands. I am privileged as a right-hander. The world is built for people like me. We don’t face the challenges left-handed people do. For them, something as mundane as using a pair of scissors is a challenge.

    10. I had to think about this article for awhile, being white and having had thefirst hand opportunity of observing several of these same events by my black son-in-law. First, I have seen the racial profiling type discrimination discussed in this article and it angers me each time I see or hear about similar events. However the misuse or rebranding of words here appear to be designed to mislead and cast blame in an apparent way to make others believe they are the cause for the victims discussed. The word “privilege” is from a Latin root word to mean a Law for One, as in privileged information or special rights granted to a group. It never was intended to identify some advantage that could only be known or recognized with hindsight or reflection on what others have done. I find the term “white privilege” offensive. Clearly bigotry and racism still exist, but people should not be condemned as the cause for events they are not even aware of, unless once known, they continue to ignore the injustice being shown to others. I think educated black leaders using the term “white privilege” need to rethink what the term means and that it likely is seen as demeaning and derogatory and not a way to engage others in a positive solution to the bigotry and racism being shown by others, especially through the use of guilt and shame as the motivator.

      1. “White privilege” is now accepted terminology and used by people of all races. The phrase has been around for decades. It’s good to know Latin roots, but we are using contemporary English. “Trivia” refers to sacred crossroads with three streets, from the Latin tri meaning three, and via meaning road. Is that the accepted meaning of trivia today? This minor linguistic quibble is trivial next to the oppression and violence Black Americans are forced to live with.

    11. You failed to take on the lens of the Other in your reading, but instead placed your own lens on top of it and discounted theirs altogether. That’s unfortunate. Is it an example of white privilege? Perhaps so perhaps not. Is it close minded and extremely unfortunate? Absolutely. If her point of view had been purely from being female and being discriminated against would you also have felt compelled to refute every point that was made?

  2. **Small note at the bottom if you do not want to read all of this**

    “The point here is If you’ve NEVER had a defining moment in your childhood or your life, where you realize your skin color alone makes other people hate you, you have white privilege.”

    – So there are no people of color who hate white people because of their color? A good example is when I was told to go home and watch black and white TV with my Ma and Pa in the trailer park by a hispanic superior (and no i have never lived in a trailer park, he was just trying make fun of white trash).

    “The point here is if you’ve never been ‘the only one’ of your race in a class, at a party, on a job, etc. and/or it’s been pointed out in a “playful” fashion by the authority figure in said situation – you have white privilege.”

    – Just only that one time I worked in a company as the only white male in construction. Pinche Whetto (with laughter) was a common nickname for myself.

    “The point here is if no one has ever questioned your intellectual capabilities or attendance at an elite institution based solely on your skin color, that is white privilege.”

    – I work in a field where my work experience placed me into a position working with Doctorates, Masters, and Bachelors degrees. I was recently told by a woman of color who holds higher education than I that my opinion did not matter because even though I hold 10+ years of experience anyone with a degree and in their first year of work knew more than I could ever.

    “So if you have never experienced or considered how damaging it is/was/could be to grow up without myriad role models and images in school that reflect you in your required reading material or in the mainstream media – that is white privilege. ”

    – A role model is a person whose behavior, example, or success is or can be emulated by others, especially by younger people. This is not defined by anyone but the person that chooses them to be one.
    – If everyone is supposed to be unique how is everyone supposed to be supported by a role model?
    Role models are usually famous athletes or actors (Both of which host a myriad of races and genders).

    “The point here is, if you’ve never been blindsided when you are just trying to enjoy a meal by a well-paid faculty member’s patronizing and racist assumptions about how grateful black people must feel to be in their presence – you have white privilege.”

    – I have never been invited to a party or dinner like this. I guess it is only held by persons who can afford go to elite schools and be accepted due to their higher level of intelligence.

    In the end this is a list of situations by a black female who was able to attend a very prestigious school and after held well paying jobs in the entertainment industry. How is this supposed to relate to anyone who is not in the same privileged position as herself? I would say that most poor persons have not experienced any of these situations because they have never even been into a nice neighborhood, attended fancy elite parties, or even worked in a job where input from workers is even heard by a manager.

    1. clearthinker & Meier:

      You’ve both just spent pages & pages proving her point… You just don’t get it.

    2. I can understand. I also understand what the author has to say. I’ve been the only White person in certain situations especially as an adult and have experienced many of the same remarks from Blacks as she did by Whites. Neither are okay. I say this to point out that we are all capable of the same ugly behaviors and attitudes.

  3. Wow. The one that really got me was the one about Harvard. “You mean the one in Massachusetts?” Just, wow! I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around the idea that anybody could actually say that.

    Getting stopped: My last full-time job I had a black co-worker. He used to work for our largest customer, who had an office in Brea (Orange County). Now he worked in LA and things were better, but his job still required him to visit that customer from time to time. And any time he did, he could count on being stopped at least once. DWB. And I was thinking, “How can this be happening in 2008?”

    During the 1992 South Central riots we had a friend, also black, with a nice middle-class job (operator for a computer “mainframe”). We had a get-together (daytime, to avoid the curfew). Everybody else drove themselves to our house. I had to go pick him up in my car: if he’d tried driving himself, he’d almost certainly have been stopped.

    I’m going to mention something you didn’t. I was at a conference, talking to somebody (also white) who I’ve known for many years. The subject of “white privilege” came up, and he mentioned that he’d recently indulged in some white privilege: he’d been applying some sort of insulating/sunblock film to his windows, and the instructions include warming it up with a blowdryer to make it stick to the window glass. And there he was, using this (vaguely gun shaped) blowdryer in his condo, where the cops would occasionally drive through the development.

    He guessed that if he were black, he would have been nervous about doing that, lest a cop see him and assume he was holding a gun. And I suspect he was right.

    *Sigh*

  4. I hope somehow that this piece lands in the hands of our President and First Lady, as I am sure your words would resonate with them! It never fails to amaze me how disrespectful some people are toward the first couple at a level that would never be tolerated against a white first family. But I digress, as you did not write this a political piece.
    I identify as a liberal and try to do my best to be respectful to others, but reading your piece and the online responses brings up times in my memory when I have said or done something inadvertently (which I realized in retrospect) was not respectful. Habits take time and effort to change. Thank you for sharing your experiences and your pain. When we know better, we do better. You are an excellent teacher and writer.

  5. Lori, thank you so much for taking the time for your friend, for helping him understand, and for intentionally reliving these hurtful, hateful experiences. I could tell as you related them how painful they still are for you.

    Thank you, as well, for taking the initiative to start the webpage goodblacknews.org. We _need_ good news, especially in this day, time and location. I appreciate you and your kindness so much. @chaplaineliza

  6. Dear Lori,
    First of all, cool name and most excellent spelling.
    Second, thank you for your patient and generous spirit in helping your friend (and others) understand what white privilege really means. I believe that your friend, like many white people, feel it means that they need to take (personal) responsibility for all of the oppression and discrimination against those who are POC, but instead, they need to realize that they benefit from a system that they are unaware of that automatically gifts them with a life that others do not have. This is what I am trying to do in my classes at a (nearly) all white public high school. These students are loathe to concede to their privilege because of the feelings of guilt they might have (they are teenagers, after all; everything and nothing is their fault). I will be using your response to your friend as part of my teaching to help them understand that so much of what we as European Americans take for granted is not what those who are advocating for the recognition and respect of all people have on a daily basis.
    Thank you for your erudite and helpful words.
    Sincerely,
    another Lori

  7. Please tell me how “white privilige” protected me from a decade of constant bullying and harassment when my family moved into the same sort of neighborhood as yours did. I need a good laugh.

    Being different is a capital crime in some circles. It doesn’t matter what that difference is. “Looking Jewish”, even if you aren’t a Jew, is just as unacceptable to some people as being black. Have a disability? You might as well be a leper. Being smarter than your peers is grounds for ostracizsm if you aren’t socially astute enough to hide it.

    You are so completely convinced that race is the cause of your difficulties that you completely ignore alternative explanations for the discrimination you face.

    1. Gosh, I don’t believe the point was that it is the only kind of privilege – anyone who’s grown up female (or gay, or disabled, or Jewish…) knows that.

  8. This was an incredible read. So much of it I have experienced (not the Harvard stuff, though). It’s almost impossible to explain to people who have no idea what it feels like to be the “other” in a situation. This does the best job yet.

  9. I would add to this list “If you ever felt entitled to ask POC friends to explain and justify the existence of white privilege to you, YOU HAVE WHITE PRIVILEDGE.” You handled this with grace and dignity, but “Jason” could have learned all this himself with a simple Google search. White people – we need to take responsibility to educate ourselves and not put the burden on POC to relive all the racism and oppression they face every day due to yet another micro aggression of us asking them to “explain” something to us. There is the internet now, Google your shit.

  10. Thank you for helping to provide more data on a topic that is often only alluded to without specifics.

    Your descriptions seem to fall into two (potentially overlapping) categories of questions or remarks or acts:
    – insensitive, but perhaps intended to be friendly
    – mean and intentional

    As an example of the first, those who are not white and live in white communities can experience frequent questions of “Where are you from?” (despite having lived their entire life in the community). While the questioner has often made one or more wrong assumptions, they are sometimes also simultaneously asking about ethnicity. Answering “here” will sometimes result in an embarrassed attempt to clarify the question, digging the questioner into a deeper hole as they ask a more personal/invasive question. I have caught myself tempted to ask the same question at times, as asking a tourist the question is a friendly conversation-starter, while asking a local can be awkward or offensive.

    As an example of the second, I grew up abroad returning to this country in middle school. I was hazed over several years by a few bullies at a private school because of my clothing, gaps in my vocabulary, etc. While I got along fine with peers in foreign countries, being different in any way in the USA led to aggressive hazing that teachers and friends never witnessed. It was not a pleasant time. It must have been far worse for classmates that were not white.

    There is another factor at work as well, but I am unsure of how to label it. I too went to Harvard, and quickly learned that it was easier to avoid telling people where I was going to college. Some would ask “is that in New York”, others would call me an “East Coast College Kid” implying I thought I was better than everyone else, and I generally found it hard to persuade people that I could indeed tie my own shoes, brush my own teeth, etc. There is a strong under-current of anti-elitism in this country, sometimes for valid reasons.

    The only solution I perceive to the first problem above is education – for all ages. We all constantly make assumptions based on our experiences by location. My own experiences growing up abroad have not always prevented me from asking insensitive questions in the community where I now live – because my experiences here have differed considerably from my experiences abroad. We need newspaper, television, and blog stories highlighting both the history of our communities and what is new in our communities. We need events that bring newer and longer-standing members of the community together to build a new set of shared experiences, out of which a new, more informed, and more understanding community can grow.

    I don’t know if there is “a solution” for the second problem. The temptation to bully or haze seems an immutable element of the human mind. That said, if we do not tolerate bullies and:
    – somehow educate everyone better about “differences”: each of us is different from all others. If we want our own differences to be accepted, we have to accept others’ differences too.
    – call out the words or actions of bullies when we witness them
    – defend and support victims promptly
    maybe we can begin to reduce the number of hurtful (or worse) incidents that occur daily.

    But there is another elephant in the room. Miscommunication can and does occur frequently among people. A witness to words or a deed can misconstrue them (either positively or negatively). While a bully may claim miscommunication to defend/deflect, people are also falsely accused at times. Their accusers may seek leverage or to cause harm. Distinguishing between false accusations (which are probably a small percentage of cases) and valid ones can be difficult, but is also important. How do we avoid assuming that all accusations are true without hurting a victim further? I don’t have any answers to that one.

  11. Every injustice suffered by a black person is not necessarily because of the color of their skin. Sometimes it’s just because you are a human being. Everybody gets picked on in life. Everyone gets put down in life. Everyone has their accomplishments belittled by others at some point in their life. It does not make it a racial issue just because the victim of the injustice happens to be black and the perpetrator, white. It trivializes the true racial prejudices out there when you blame every insult that’s ever been cast your way on the fact that you are black.

  12. This piece is a tour de force. Well done Ms. Murray for putting yourself out there with an aplomb that only underscores the insidiousness of racism and its corollary white privilege. To paraphrase another black woman, Serena Williams, who along with her sister Venus have both endured untold bile and vitriol because they dared to excel in a field that had hitherto been dominated by white women, your piece has “risen” above the often-times smarminess and condescension, frankly patronizing and dismissive tone of those who have not walked in y/our shoes. Again, well done and God bless:-)

  13. Reblogged this on Mavadelo's mindscape and commented:
    Very well written, learn about white privilige and how it is perceived from within the non white community. Learn from it and act accordingly. Ban racism, eradicate white privilidge, work towards one human race living together as brothers and sisters

  14. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. “We” white people often just don’t realise and/or see how our, in our mind harmless, words and actions come across. How “normal” we think they are and how we take things for granted that are not so normal for our brothers and sisters that happen to have another skin color then we have.

    As I said before and will keep repeating to everyone, we can only change if we are willing to acknowledge the flaws within ourselves. If we have the courage to see our own racist moments and thoughts, when we are brave enough to detect our moments of white privilige. Only then we will be able to change and work together to eradicate it from all our lives.

    Harvard… that is something to be proud of regardles who you are and with posts like this you are a shining star among your fellow Harvardians (probably not the correct word but then.. I did not go to any universaty, let alone such a significant one)

    I will never be “black” but I will fight to the dead for equality and respect for all my brothers and sisters regardless of how they might look, where they come from or whom they love.

    I translated my thoughts from Dutch, I often are fairly accurate with that but when it comes to matters of heart and sould I also can be a bit unsure if I translated them correctly so if I said anything stupid or if anything might have come over as “ignorant” I apologize .

    p.s Can I ask you a question as well. I have been “attacked” as ignorant several times because I used things like “colored” when talking about non white people, however the same happend when I used ‘negro” for just black people… in fact using black people yielded the same results. What is the proper way to denote those of another skintone (besides of course humans) especially when it is about more than just those with African heritage. It is kinda hard to be supportive of (for example) the BLM movement if those same people you want to support are pushing you away because of not knowing what the proper way to talk about things is if you know what I mean 🙂

    Will be rebloging this as well

  15. Lori, thank you for sharing your experiences with us. They were painful to read and repeatedly gave me chills for you and for the black community. I can only imagine how hard it was to walk back through each experience. I hope that your friend reads these and comes to a new understanding of his white privilege. I will share it on my facebook feed and hopefully you will help touch and teach them and their friends and their friends and so on. I hope that knowing you are helping to educate us will bring you some small comfort. I also hope that you remain undaunted by the trolls and their ignorant responses to this post. I think many of us whites, especially white men, can’t admit that we have unearned power. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for your blog GBN. I wish you all the best.

  16. This really hits home for me. I like to remind people… I was born a white man, in the 20th century, in America. You can’t get much luckier than that. I’m a high school dropout and a total screw up, and my life is still more comfortable than any King who lived 200 years ago.

    From childhood, dad made sure I was very aware and grateful of my white privilege – over blacks and hispanics – but also over other whites.

    I’ll never forget how our family migrated daily between our seperate worlds – knowing we lived in a different America from the poor working class who washed at dad’s laundramats.

    Yes, white privilege runs that deep over all poor working class people. You don’t hear much about the 30% white privilege over the 70% of other poor whites who desperately live in the gap between white and brown… and make up the largest percentage of welfare recipients.

    Dad came from extreme poverty, was a minister before I was born, and a Canadian who could not accept Southern Racism… so growing up in 1960’s Houston, we all drank from the colored water fountain… and treated every man as worthy based on his character.

    But we lived in a different America from those poor people who we made our living providing service for… and we were constantly reminded of the need to protect ourselves and never let them see just how much wealth we really have.

    My dad grew up desperately poor, in a house made of sod, on the Alberta prairie – came to Texas after WWII, where he put himself through college by building a laundramat across from campus.

    He built five laundramats in Houston in the ’60s – three in the very poor black Ward districts and two in very poor white areas. We lived in the newest middle class neighborhood far from them… in our segregated world, safe from the predators and the evil that men do.

    The differences between wealth and success versus struggling poor working class are too many to list here… but I remember DOZENS of times I realized I had an advantage they would never have, that offers me opportunities they will never get to exploit.

  17. The white people who deny or disbelieve that White Privilege exists are simply proving that it does. The whole thing about white privilege is that it is invisible to white people (unless they make an effort to discover it) because part of the privilege is not having to see it or deal with it. As a white woman I have worked to become aware of my privilege in America, and it is a constant work in progress. Whiteness isn’t something that white people have to think about, feel, or wear around the same as Blackness or being any person of color, because whiteness is the standard for power and social belonging in America. I consider simple parts of my life such as being able to shop in a store without being followed by a suspicious clerk, or being able to drive home from work at night without fear of being pulled over and possibly beaten or shot, as basic examples of my white privilege (although as a woman of course I have to consider my safety, but as the author noted that is another part of the story).

  18. In the past few years I have learned a bit about white privilege. My church includes a few black and hispanic teenage girls, and walking with them in downtown Santa Cruz and other places showed me how differently girls of color experience public space. As a woman, I am always aware that I am vulnerable to harassment or even physical danger in public, and I must be careful of where I go and my body language. But walking with these girls of color, I experienced how they were treated by the world in general. They got less personal space from strangers than I ever had – even as a teenager – more stares, more intrusive looks, more shouted comments from a stranger across the street. One of the teens had asked me to walk with her because she had recently been followed by an unknown man, and she was worried. I thought the idea of me as a protector was theoretical at best – I’m riddled with chronic pain. But I discovered on that walk that I was protecting her. I could literally feel the cone of personal space I was given as a middle aged middle class white lady that this minority teen would not receive if she were alone.
    That is white privilege. I was never aware of it before.

  19. I grew up in a rural, small state with a very small African American population. I learned all about the 1960’s and the fight for equal rights with Dr. King in school. I was happy that African Americans were afforded equal rights, or so I thought. Then came the era of talk shows, and I listened in horror when Oprah or Sally Jessy Raphael or other such talk show hosts would have people on explaining their day-to-day experiences with racism. I saw Dateline exposes about how African American people would be followed around stores because of their skin color or being quoted a higher price on a car when just an hour ago the price was lower for a white person. I have belonged to boards where online friends would recount their experiences, one being a female who wanted to see an apartment for rent, had a wonderful conversation on the phone with the renter and set up an appointment to see it. When she arrived to the showing, the woman saw she was African American and her attitude completely changed and told her that the apartment had been rented shortly before. I haven’t doubted any of these things, I haven’t tried to excuse the white person’s reasoning, thinking maybe they were this or that. I know in my heart that these things happen, and it’s despicable. Because of where I live, I don’t have a lot of opportunity to attend protests or happenings where I can denounce racism, but I did make it my vow that I would speak up whenever I heard others speak in a racist way, tell “black” jokes, use the N-word, etc, and I have done that. Hopefully I have made at least some think differently, others I know I haven’t changed their thinking at all. I’ve raised my children from a very early age explaining racism and how we should speak out against it whenever we see it or hear it – they’ve both done speeches and debates on race issues in school. White privilege was a new term to me until recently and it makes so much sense. I don’t understand how any white person can deny its existence. I thank you for relating your experiences, and I hope your friend “gets it.”

  20. A wonderful perspective piece. I have a small insight about Harvard in Massachusetts, however. I have met two physicians from Howard University over my career; one black and one white. They both had a peculiar pronunciation of the name of their alma mater. I had to clarify, “Are you saying Harvard or Howard?” Your experience may have been due a racist expectation. It may have been due to what seems to be a peculiar pronunciation of “Howard” by its graduates.

  21. Thank you for your open comments! But I am a prime example that the treatment is not exclusive to blacks. In my early 20’s I was arrested without charges (I am white female) My hands and feet were tied and cuffed and I was beaten by 6 cops. Why?? Because I was gay female!! I was called ugly names that I cannot repeat here. Ultimately, I was charged with resisting arrest and battery on 5 cops. Now… one woman…. 5 cops who are fully armed…. really?????? So, I have a record for the rest of my life because some pompous ass of a cop had to get his jollys off on a saturday night!! I HATE cops! I will not speak to them. I do not find comfort in the killings I hear about. But I do not mourn either. The hate festers inside thru the years. I TOTALLY understand where the black community is coming from. I do pray for healing though. But that is a long, long road to cover!! The nonsense HAS to end first! Then and ONLY then can the healing begin.

  22. Yes, it’s real. Here are another two examples.

    1) I walk into a doctor’s office and expect to be treated as if I were making informed choices. I do, of course, factor in the doctor’s opinions, but I don’t always agree. And I expect that my final choice is the one that will happen. This is almost always how it plays out, but I don’t often hear about that with POC. Either they’re treated as if they’re ignorant and making choices for foolish reasons or they’re bullied into making choices that they didn’t want.

    2) I’ve spent a good bit of time in the Dept of Social Services in the past few years. I almost always am treated as if I am there due to a series of unfortunate events, rather than because I am playing the system. I don’t see that happening to most of the other people around me.

    The thing is, in both of these examples, people could justify their behavior by pointing to poor behavior on the part of the clients. But which came first? I’m inclined to believe that facing figures of authority who expect poor behavior and are rude and disrespectful to clients & patients is partly responsible for their attitudes… and in return, rude behavior on the part of the clients causes the staff to become defensive and rude… so it just cycles over and over and making things worse. So what’s the solution? Obviously we all (patients, clients, staff, doctors, caseworkers) need to stand up for ourselves and demand respect, but it’s also critical that allies stand up and speak, too.

    I don’t know if that’s enough, but it’s what I can do for the time being. I may have a reputation of being a troublemaker, but my conscience won’t permit anything less.

  23. I think I’ve been waiting for this article since I was 19 years old (over 30 years ago). At that time my boyfriend and I were given double birds by two well dressed (in three piece suits no less) professional white men in a public restaurateur. At first I didn’t understand that they were focusing on us, and when I did understand that, I could not figure out why. Then it hit me. My boyfriend’s skin was dark. That’s all. We were polite customers at that restaurant and were already finished and outside going to his car and the businessmen flipping us off publicly were still inside the restaurant. When it hit me, I spun on my heels and cussing a blue streak stalked toward them. My b/f plead for me not to make things worse. When I could not understand how it could make it worse – and didn’t for YEARS -, THAT was white privilege. As a white, even though female, I have a certain nearly inalienable right to disagree and criticize another white person publicly. I may or may not get an angry reaction but I never doubted the right I have to do so, especially in the face of such obvious injustice and cruelty. But having a beautiful black boyfriend suddenly made it a thousand times more complex. Nothing would have been done to me, I now understand. But they would have hunted him down, or hired someone to hunt him down and do God knows what to him as payback. Or just because they think they have the right all due to a difference in skin color pigment. And that is so mild, most people either boo-hoo it (ignorant whites) or tell me I have NEVER understood (seriously and truly wounded blacks). But the point at which we can understand, really “get” this, that is our flashpoint to a higher way of thinking and the better chance of getting this out in the open, facing it, and hopefully righting it. As it is now, every black person in America including our esteemed President Obama pretty much has done enough “on the cross” time in their lives to be guaranteed a place in heaven.

  24. This was a very well-written account of a lifetime of situations that unfortunately (or fortunately, whatever your perspective may be) many of us with White Privilege would never have experienced, and may not even believe people do experience this systemic racism. What bothers me are the replies to the other readers who are attempting to relay situations where they too may have experienced similar treatment due to their race/ethnicity/gender. They are NOT saying that their suffering is the same, or as deeply ingrained in our society, or is as life-changing. I believe they are trying to commiserate with the author and say, “yes, I have experienced this in specific situations, and it hurts. I can’t imagine what it must be like having to put up with this your entire life, and knowing that both your ancestors as well as generations of offspring will also be impacted”. Instead, they are blamed as promoting “All Lives Matter”.

    In order to get a glimpse of what the author is relaying, those of use who have not experienced a lifetime of such racism only have our limited personal experiences to draw from. To say that those hurtful experiences are just a sampling of what non-whites go through frequently is true. To say that they don’t count at all is false. How else can I begin to understand what you are saying if I don’t try to relate it to my own experiences? Just reading about it does no justice; living it is the only way to understand, and eventually, create change. The danger is in me (or the other posters) thinking that the few isolated incidents that I have experienced equate to the lifetime of experiences that the author has encountered. However, I do not believe that the other posters are saying this. I’m surely not!

    Each one of the author’s examples have happened to all us from time to time, and not just because of race, skin color, ethnicity or gender, but because mean people just exist. However, I doubt that most of us who are white have experienced a complete lifetime of such treatment and have constantly been exposed to insult, hurt and hatred. But in order for me to even begin to understand what the author is trying to explain, I have to find those situations in my own life where I too felt marginalized, tormented, unfairly treated, etc. Only then can I begin to comprehend the severity and institutionalization of the problem.

    I also think it’s in bad taste to marginalize the racial discrimination of other impacted groups as well. I am specifically thinking of our Jewish friends who have experienced many many years of hatred. However, to be fair, I also believe that it is worse the way that black people have been treated as it is so easy to immediately discriminate on skin color and outward appearance. Not to diminish the plight of the Jewish people, but to also recognize that systemic racism against black people is a whole lot worse in the US.

  25. You know what? I understand what this is like. Having lived in Japan for 11 years, the exact same thing applies when you’ve become the minority. It’s not white privilege in Japan, it’s Japanese privilege. Not Asian privilege, but Japanese privilege, because all non-Japanese go through the same things to varying degrees. I’ve felt uncomfortable in various places, I’ve had to watch myself while walking past police, I’ve had to endure the stares, and I’ve had to deal with hostility simply because I’m white. Live in a country where you’re the minority, and understanding becomes very clear.

  26. Excellent article and an important discussion to have and for people who are white to understand. Here’s my hopefully “value add” to this. Personally, I get this. Even though I grew up poor, in the same neighborhood with poor black, Latino and other poor whites, the poor whites still didn’t have to start from a place where our black and Latino brothers and sisters had to start from. We may have been looked down on as poor, but being poor and black or poor and Latino was even worse. I get it.

    However, that being said, I think we need to find a better or at least different word than “privilege” or “privileged” – when you think about it, it’s actually “neutrality” or being viewed “neutrally” as a starting point as opposed to being viewed negatively, suspiciously, in or with a bigoted slant, for persons of color – it’s wrong by any stretch, every time, any time – and again, the issue to many of us is crystal clear, but the minute you tell people, many of whom have been economically disadvantaged regardless of race, that they are “privileged” (which is more of a “rich person’s” word) you are going to get pushback and therefore the obvious and clear and important message gets completely lost in the battle over semantics.

    I think if you start out with an explanation of white “societal neutrality” (I don’t know what word to use really) and explain how much easier that is to live with regardless of economic position comparatively, you can possibly get more understanding – a “well, yeah, I get that” reaction rather than “I don’t feel “privileged” in many respects” — where then you have to go through that whole part of the conversation which devolves to disagreement (“I’m not privileged”).

    Words and context are important. By using something more neutral but AS and EQUALLY illustrative without losing the import of the issue, you maintain the required context but eliminate the emotionally reactive objection to the word “privileged”…

    Just my 2 white but as-tarnished cents (haha). I love you (which I think in the end is the best thing we can all start telling and showing each other as humans on this planet).

    Thank you for your insight, intelligence and wisdom.

    James
    California

    1. Maybe “advantaged” is a better word than “privileged”. But I’m not sure it’s really possible to get across the idea of relative “better-off-ness” with completely neutral language. The root issue is that certain groups get a head start in life simply by dint of skin color, gender, etc. And white male is assumed to be “standard” (neutral), so it’s hard for “standard” people to see that they actually have advantages and that their idea of neutral is actually pretty strongly skewed.

      I’m a middle-aged white male. I’ve always thought of my ethnicity as “none”. Which is really weird when I think about it, but I still think of myself as plain vanilla. For that matter, it’s weird to think of vanilla as a blank flavor. It tastes like vanilla! But all the other flavors are seen in contrast to vanilla. I think race in the US is like that. It’s very difficult for me to think of myself as part of a racial “group”. Why should it be easy to think of other people that way? But I do.

      And I think that’s the point of discussing privilege. It’s an attempt to get people to see something that’s been invisible to them, but that others can see. And it’s something that has real and lasting effects on people’s lives.

    2. Here’s how I heard it expressed: White privilege is not defined by the gains I receive, but by the lack of injustice I have to endure.

  27. I married a Middle Eastern man and have two children, one with white skin, the other with very brown skin. I have to say their experiences in life are different. My white child was accepted into the gifted and talented program at the urging of his teacher. I had to fight to get my brown child into the program, even though her IQ is just as high as his. When she walked into the GATE classroom, the other children asked her if she was in the right room. No one ever questioned his right to be there. She has had to put up with racist taunts (and she got the whole spectrum, since kids couldn’t quite decide what race she was). He didn’t. He never had a new manager zero in on him and pick on him because his manager didn’t want “one of those” on his crew, and had decided to make life so miserable he’d want to quit. That happened to my daughter. I don’t fear my son will be assaulted because someone might think he’s a Muslim. I am afraid for my daughter, because she looks so Middle Eastern…and she’s an atheist American. I think about white privilege a lot. I didn’t use to think I had it, because I grew up so poor we didn’t even have beds in the house, and Americans in general hate the poor, and really hate the very poor. But my hurdles in life had to do with lack of property, and I was able to overcome them. I am not immediately judged when I walk into a room based on the color of my skin .

    1. Jesus said “the poor will always be with you….” I do not read that to pertain only to an economic condition.I also suspect that a line might have been lost in translation or simply left out; “as will the bigoted.” No matter what halting progress we make, there will always be those who just can’t – or won’t – get it.

      Thank you for sharing, Lori. Your editorial was both moving and instructive.

      1. I believe it meant the spiritually poor, not those who don’t have enough. The rich are often the poorest among us, they have lost their moral compass in the pursuit of wealth. Jesus didn’t care about material wealth, he was concerned about souls.

  28. This is enlightening. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences.

    I have experienced a more direct effect of my white privilege, and it hit me like a slap in the face. When my husband and I first moved to State College, PA, we went to Best Buy to shop for an appliance for our new house. As I walked in, I had my head turned talking to My husband, and I accidentally brushed up against the side of a teenage boy that was walking by with what I assume was his sister. Realizing I had bumped into him because I was not being careful, I smiled and said, “Oh! Excuse me! I’m so sorry.”…My normal statement when I accidentally bump into someone. The older girl backhands her brother on the shoulder and whispers fiercely, “Watch what you are doing! That’s a white woman!”

    At the time I viewed this selfishishly thinking “well that’s not fair…they don’t even know me. What difference does it make that I am white?? And it was my fault anyway.” In hindsight, I now think the reaction may have really been more of a warning to her brother to be much more careful about who he bumped into because of the danger of bumping into the wrong person (more of a watch-out-for-moving-cars kind of a warning)…which makes me very very sad.

  29. This is really wonderful to help people understand the issue. But I have to say, to some of these points, similar things happened to me for being the “poor kid “and I’m as white as can be.

    1. And that’s where intersectionality comes in, Heidi, which is just a fancy way of saying that there are different kinds of privilege. Because you weren’t affluent, you lacked regular ol’ privilege privilege. But you still had the advantage of being white. You certainly faced obstacles due to poverty, but nobody thought you were in the “wrong” neighborhood or suspected you of being a criminal just because of your skin color.

      1. Actually they did think I was in the wrong “place” and said so to my face. That was a disgrace to the neighborhood. And some of those people (not all) who treated me like crap were black.

      2. Heidi, I don’t doubt you at all. I know there are neighborhoods where I would not be welcome because of the whiteness of my skin. But that’s much, much less common for me than it is for black people, and I can pretty much avoid it entirely if I want too, whereas black people usually can’t. And it’s certainly true that poor people are seen as suspicious in affluent neighborhoods. That’s what I mean about different kinds of privilege. And whatever kind of privilege you have doesn’t mean you always get treated like royalty. But it does mean you have a leg up in certain situations. White privilege and male privilege get you a leg up in more situations than any other kind of privilege except money. Money is the ultimate privilege. And that doesn’t mean you didn’t earn it or don’t deserve it. It just means you have it and others don’t, and that gives you an advantage that should be recognized with some humility.

    2. It seems you’re stuck on the privilege, and assuming that only means having wealth and prestige. It doesn’t, as very eloquently demonstrated in this editorial.

  30. What is the benefit of isolating and labeling whites as “privilaged?” (which is by no means is an endearing term). How does minimizing one race elevate another? How does it solve the problem of micro aggressions towards blacks and other races, alike? It’s a drivisive term. Similar to calling a child a spoiled little brat — it creates little dialogue. What is the benefit of calling out white people, majority of whom possess no damning racial bias, as privileged? While your entent may be to shed light on, and solve the problem of societal micro aggressions, instead you are using decisive language that doesn’t get to the heart of the issue. If the intent is to solve the problem, labeling whites as privileged is hardly a viable solution.

    1. It’s one thing to point out the disadvantages that some people face just because of their race, gender, income, etc. It’s another thing to recognize that not having those disadvantages is a kind of advantage. All the things that don’t hold you back allow you to get ahead faster (or at all). But lacking a disadvantage doesn’t feel like an advantage, because it’s not something you have; it’s something you don’t have to deal with.

      For example, rich people are always telling poor people to save more for a rainy day. Well, that’s easy for rich people to say because that’s easy for rich people to do. They actually have income that isn’t already committed to current living expenses. They may recognize that poor people have obstacles because they’re poor, but they don’t really understand what those obstacles mean, because they don’t face them in their own lives. They’ve never lived paycheck to paycheck. People with privilege have a hard time empathizing with people who lack privilege. It’s not because they’re bad (necessarily); it’s because they have a blind spot (or spots). It’s not an insult to point out blind spots. Privilege isn’t bad per se, it’s just something you should be aware of before you criticize others, or give them well-meaning but impractical advice.

      1. Wouldn’t it be more benfitial to shed light on the disadvantaged party, rather than the advantaged party? If you are trying to uplift a community or a minority population, labeling the advantaged population does little to educate and promote the upward mobility of the historically oppressed.

        The vast majority of whites live paycheck to paycheck.

        I agree, privilege isn’t a meant to be a demeaning term; however, expecting white to come to terms with their own societal advantages while labeling them as “privileged”, isn’t the most logical way to educate and influence.

      2. Josh, if you think “privilege” is too loaded of a term, then I’m open to suggestions for a better one. But the point of making people aware of their privilege is to get them to see the tailwind that’s helping them out, even if they’ve never noticed it. It’s to get them to understand what people without their privilege face. A lot of white people think that driving while black isn’t even a thing. Pointing out that they’ve never been stopped for that while most black people have on multiple occasions isn’t meant to make them feel guilty. It’s meant to help them see the problem.

        Privilege isn’t about guilt. How can you be guilty for something you had no say in? Privilege is something you are born into. Examining privilege isn’t about eliminating privilege. It’s about extending privilege to everybody else. Nobody should get stopped by the police just because of their skin color. If it’s never happened to you, it’s hard to believe it happens routinely to others. And if it’s hard to believe it’s happening, it’s hard to stop it.

      3. Hi,
        Very cogent, and easy to understand your view. However, please consider that cops have the duty to investigate suspicion. I wish it were not so that black people have a reputation for illicit behavior, but they do. That is a fact. I don’t have any statistics, but so many out of so many seemingly unwarranted stops must result in uncovering illegality such as dope, unregistered weapons, unlicensed driver and such. When that happens both black and white gain equally. We all have to bear the burden of misdeeds perpetrated by our fellow man. For some it’s not unwarranted stops. For instance, we all have to bear the burden of financing the courts and the jails, and for some the burden of being killed or robbed, but for many the fear of being killed or robbed. When an innocent black man is stopped he is carrying the burden brought down upon him by others. May the stigma vanish in time. Until then let’s let the police do their job for all of our good.

      4. However, please consider that cops have the duty to investigate suspicion. I wish it were not so that black people have a reputation for illicit behavior, but they do. That is a fact. I don’t have any statistics, but so many out of so many seemingly unwarranted stops must result in uncovering illegality such as dope, unregistered weapons, unlicensed driver and such. When that happens both black and white gain equally. We all have to bear the burden of misdeeds perpetrated by our fellow man. For some it’s not unwarranted stops. For instance, we all have to bear the burden of financing the courts and the jails, and for some the burden of being killed or robbed, but for many the fear of being killed or robbed. When an innocent black man is stopped he is carrying the burden brought down upon him by others. May the stigma vanish in time. Until then let’s let the police do their job for all of our good.

        Dr. Thomas Ofner, cops have the duty to investigate suspicion *impartially*, not with flagrant racial and/or class bias. A huge part of the reason that black people “have a reputation for illicit behavior” (which pretty much shows your bias) is that cops literally target black neighborhoods for extra patrols and black persons for extra scrutiny like stopping, frisking, searching their cars, etc. With all that extra unwarranted attention, is it any wonder that cops turn up more infractions, crime, and contraband in the places they are looking the most? And of course, the court system doesn’t help with its bias of convicting blacks at a higher rate than whites and sentencing them to harsher punishment than whites *for exactly the same offenses*. I would love for the police to “do their job for all of our good”. In fact, that’s precisely what I’m asking and what Black Lives Matter is demanding. If only they didn’t have such an obvious tilt to whose good they do their job for. You can rationalize it all you want, but your complacent (complicit) attitude means it will never change, and you’re OK with that.

      5. You are a very good voice for the common complaint. I fully understand. I now ask you to carefully read my other letter one more time. Therein you may find a different attitude than the one you reflect back to me about me. I feel confident, based on general knowledge, that this day and age, well past Jim Crow times, when laws align with the need for equality, and severe punishments exist for noncompliance, that few cops black or white, stop people for absolutely no reason other than skin color. Yes, there are terrible people among people of all colors. Yes there are many, in numbers but not percentage, who want to push others down, want to belittle others in order to look big themselves. I would like this not to be so, just as I voiced in the other letter saying that I would like black folks not to have the reputation for lawbreaking and violence. I personally never promote such attitude and reproach those I hear to generalize thus. But I’m not in charge of manufacturing common attitudes. They are what they are, organic growths.and we have to live with them, and make sure that we as individuals don’t verify such attitudes with our behavior. As long as we feel as victims, as long as we don’t respond to a traffic stop that seems unwarranted with respect toward the police, we will only hurt our selves with endless finger pointing toward endless enemies of the other color. You may have read Sen.Tim Scott’s story of seven stops in one year in D.C. “Was I speeding sometimes, sure,” he says. He calls the others stops trivial. But why would he bring up seven stops when his story is about unfair stops? My hypothesis is that seven is more than, say, five, and greater the number the easier to justify the victim attitude. Don’t you think that he should have subtracted the speeding stops even if not the “trivial” ones?Just think of it. Some black folks have entirely escaped the victim mentality and they live and thrive in our country while some are deep in the mire, and some, this being the greatest tragedy, encourage their own brethren to stay in the mire and remain manipulable by telling them that the way out of the mire is to bash and bash and bash. I hope you as an individual see through the audacity and spend your time making best use of your talents, and let the slights perpetrated by the haters of the world be. They get theirs.

      6. Dr. Thomas Ofner: So…blame the victim, then? Got it. Your complacency is noted.

        “…severe punishment…for noncompliance” with civil rights laws? What planet are you living on? Cops and others are almost never held accountable to these laws, not least because it’s so hard to prove there wasn’t some legitimate reason for singling out the victim. And cops are plenty familiar with the multitude of ways they can dodge responsibility for their actions. Even in the rare cases when cops are pinned down for their misdeeds, the severest penalty is generally dismissal from their job, and not even banishment from their career. Fortunately, with the advent of widespread video, this ice jam is finally starting to thaw. Starting. Still, so many years after Rodney King’s beating.

        The thing you seem to refuse to grasp is that black folks’ “reputation for lawbreaking and violence” is caused and perpetuated by cops focusing more of their attention on the black (and brown) community in the first place. This has been going on for literally centuries in a vicious cycle–cops find more issues where they’re looking the most, so those communities have a reputation for trouble, so the cops focus more of their attention there, and people with police records have so few economic opportunities that the cycle of poverty and criminality continues. This is far from an “organic growth” of common attitudes. It is purposely, if often unconsciously, sustained on a widespread basis.

        If you’re incapable of seeing that this is a problem that will not fix itself, then you are very much a part of the problem. You say you “personally never promote such attitude and reproach those I hear to generalize thus.” Yet your every post here has promoted exactly that attitude with precisely the generalization that “black folks…have [a] reputation for lawbreaking and violence.” In the very preceding sentence, no less! Did you really not notice this juxtaposition? Do you think lawbreaking and violence happen in a vacuum?

        Your compliments and high-minded speechifying do not obscure this fundamentally racist stance. You seem oblivious to the fact that today’s race problems have deep roots in the Jim Crow era and much further back. If you think we’re somehow blissfully beyond that, you’re deeply out of touch with what’s going on. And it’s not like I live on the mean streets. All you have to do is read first-hand accounts and look at the studies and statistics.

        Our criminal justice system is deeply and pervasively racist, at every step in the process (assuming the process isn’t short-circuited with extra-judicial punishment). For the same type and severity of crime, whites are less likely to be suspected, less likely to be arrested, less likely to be jailed before trial, more likely to face a jury that looks like them, less likely to be convicted, less likely to receive lengthy sentences. This is not OK. And it’s not inevitable. We can fix it, but only if enough people understand there’s a problem that can be fixed. You clearly don’t understand this or don’t want to. I suspect your blasé attitude would change in a hurry if you were to be held to the same high level of scrutiny and punishment as blacks.

      7. I’ve spent my lifetime upholding the need for equality and love for my fellow man. Yet, I’m often misunderstood to the extent of being seen as the problem. I do not expect folks who hold that attitude toward me to change. It is I who has to learn, change, and I learned a lot from what you had to say. Thank you. After a lot of growth on both of our parts we can hope that we can find common ground. Among other things I learned that spin is everything. It almost seems that it’s not my letter you responded to. Yet I know that in the center of it all is pain. Pain, when great enough, brings out its own interpretation, and I get it. Yet I repeat, I am not in charge of developing popular attitudes. They are just there, and when they are fallacious it’s up the individuals about whom the attitudes had formed to conspicuously act in such way as to change the attitudes. There are millions of black folks who live exemplary lives. What do they know that others don’t?

      8. I’m sorry, Dr. Thomas Ofner, but if your comments here are any indication, you’ve spent your lifetime defending the status quo, bemoaning its unpleasantness, and putting the entire onus for improvement on those with the least capacity to effect change. The least capacity to effect change as the result of generations of oppression, continuing to this day. Worse, you’re actually demanding that the oppressed hold themselves to an inhumanly high standard in order to achieve that change. A much, much higher standard than the relatively unoppressed must maintain. Much worse, you’re condemning groups and supporting their persecution in retaliation for the behavior of individuals. That’s pretty much the definition of racism.

        You say, “I am not in charge of developing popular attitudes. They are just there, and when they are fallacious it’s up the individuals about whom the attitudes had formed to conspicuously act in such way as to change the attitudes. There are millions of black folks who live exemplary lives. What do they know that others don’t?” Well first, popular attitudes are the accumulation of individual attitudes, so yes, in fact, you are responsible for developing popular attitudes. Or do you think yours doesn’t count?

        Second, popular attitudes are *not* “just there”. They are swayed by a multitude of influences, not least of which is how much attention the system focuses on them. When the criminal justice system treats various groups with differing levels of preference, that is a huge, unjust influence, and one that we can directly address. It is also emphatically not something that the oppressed groups can do without help.

        And as for those in oppressed groups leading exemplary lives, well, just as white privilege is no guarantee of a happy life, pervasive oppression is no guarantee of a sad one. Without discounting anybody’s hard work and personal responsibility, the luck of the draw is important. You can still win a poker game if you’re the only one at the table paying an ante. Doesn’t make it a fair game. And it doesn’t mean the ante is your fault or that it’s your responsibility to just play a better game. The right thing to do is remove the ante or make everybody pay the same ante. And you know it. If you think the one person paying the ante has enough clout to make this change, you’re ignoring history. No oppressed group has ever overcome oppression without support from outside or from the oppressor class itself.

        You keep saying you get it, you understand. But if you think you’re not responsible for being part of the solution, then you really don’t. For that matter, you don’t even seem to think there is a problem outside the black community. That’s just nuts. This is not “their” problem. This is *our* problem. Your tax dollars and mine are being spent to oppress people in *our* name. That is not OK. But you seem pretty OK with it.

  31. I’m not saying we as a nation are getting off track. All of these issues are real. But there is a lot of misdirection.

    Always remember the germ of this “new” movement is not new. Anytime a life is taken, in anger, retribution, self defense or accident it is a heavy hesyavy thing. For both sides.

    But when a black person is responsible for the death of another black person there is a straight line from incident to prosecution. Yet in many many many circumstances when either individual is white there are speed bumps that benefit the white person. Not everytime. But enough that over decades of life and retelling of stories, black people have to ask “why doesn’t a black life warrant the same due process?”. That is the essence of the privilege issue. This is the essence of BLM.

    The fact that we focus on police is because of their authority. But it’s all human nature.

    But we argue about human nature. As opposed to legal oversight. One can be changed. The other can not. The”bad apples in BLM are no different than those in law enforcement.

    Of course there is privilege. Of course there are people milking the system. But let’s not lose sight of the ultimate privilege. A fair and even treatment from our justice system AFTER a death has happened. Because both sides know that consequences should not be based on color or class.

  32. As a mix raced gay man. I understand what it feels to belong to a minority and being discriminated. I understand that prejudice and stereotypes are real. However, some things that you experienced happens to everyone and are more related with social class or genre discrimination (like the case of the catering ladies, or the boss thinking you are not prepared). I believe that a bigger issue is inequality and the structural violence on the USA.

    So, I disagree with the way be tend to relate all the problems to white privilege or racism towards the black population. That is not doing any favor, just creating and perpetuating the non sense of racism. A lot of black people are racist too, so the problem is not only about whites. We should tackle all demonstrations of violence and have an open discussion about the black population being poorer that the white, the police being violent with everyone especially blacks and the higher rates of violent crime between black young males. How can we help to dismantle cultural violence in our societies? Those are questions that needs to be answer by all of us, not just blaming whites for everything.

    Not only blacks are oppressed, you being a woman should know that women as a group are even more oppressed around the world that black people. They are victims of so much abuse by some men. That is the “Male Privilege”. Once the worst ones since we are talking of 3.5 billion people.

    That is just an example of why I am on favor of All Live Matters rather than just one group. I don’t want a MixRacedGayLivesMatter group, I just want respect from everyone and tolerance because we are all valuable. And again, I agree that racism exist and blacks are maybe the most attacked group, however, I think it is important to mention all the time that bigotry exist in every group. Not only the whites, so it is annoying the portrait of all them like the bad ones and being guilty for something that just a part of the white population do. And the black and the rest of us just as poor victims.

    I am sorry if you have been victim of racism. I have been too (by white and black people), but we need to stop feeling victims. If they behave wrong, it is their problem. I will not be affected by bigotry. I am with you in that something must be done to achieve a more equalitarian society. But I will not blame a full group when someone discriminates me.

  33. This was a terrific piece, thank you for sharing your experiences. As a middle aged white woman who believes she treats all people with respect, kindness, humor, etc. (well, maybe not all drivers in Boston at all times) I found myself wondering about my non-white friends and their experiences, especially in their younger, formative years. I grew up in a small NJ town in the 60s and 70s and I cherish my experiences and look back on my youth with very fond memories. As I read your post, I wondered about my non-white friends and their experiences about their youth and I got a lump in my throat. Did they experience this discrimination right before my eyes and I didn’t know and they didn’t share? I am so sure they did. I hope I can be brave enough to ask of them, as your friend asked of you, to share their experiences so I can continue to raise my awareness, but perhaps more importantly, to let them know they have me and my voice (which they will remember as no small voice) by their side speaking up about injustices arising from skin color, gender or any other difference that makes people unique – something to be celebrated – and targets for discrimination – something to be eliminated.

  34. I really admire this writing. Thank you for making the effort to chronicle a set of concrete examples throughout your life. Thank you for undertaking the emotional labor of kindly trying to afford your friend a glimpse of your perspective. Fielding that sort of request on social media is obnoxious, and it would have been understandable if you didn’t want to disclose painful aspects of your life in response to his casual inquiry. But you did and this narrative is effective. Thank you for sharing with the rest of us.

    Your mom sounds badass, and so do you.

  35. Ignorance is a powerful drug to give up. Although the author made it quite clear that she came from an upper middle class background and was raised by two parents, commenters insist on dismissing white privilege while promoting black stereotypes as the “true” problem. It’s difficult to come up with a more glaring example of white privilege than that. “Those experiences were not racially motivated and, even if they were, it’s your community’s fault for [insert list of stereotypes about black people, family structure, and culture that you have clearly shown do not apply to you], so get it together.” So, even when someone says they grew up upper middle class, went to Harvard, and are married to another professional, they are actually a fatherless “thug” from the hood who deserve to have their talents dismissed at the very least, because reasons? The circular logic is absurd and denial deep.

  36. 1. First of all, let me say that this is an excellent piece that should be widely read.

    2. It would be even better if it acknowledged that a person who is labelled by others as “white” (as in, “white” or “non-black”) can sometimes be on the wrong end of some of these sorts of privilege, or other sorts that are very much like them. It is not a matter of “me too” or “him too”, but of showing that the picture is more nuanced than a label suggests.

    3. We don’t usually label the enjoyment of a right “privilege”, at least not most of the time. Even, say, “the privilege of having a roof on our heads” (a correct phrase in a system in which that is not considered a right) is something you would hear only at Thanksgiving, say. Granted, “privilege” has the good side of putting the onus of action on those who are more likely to enjoy what is on paper a universal right; still, it has silver-spoon connotations that are jarring when applied to a population that isn’t uniformly, er, privileged.

  37. Thank you for writing. And I love what you’re doing with your Good Black News blog. It always makes me angry when news stories start with “Black Man…” Just use their name! Like anyone else! I’m convinced the media perpetuates racism more than anything. I’m sorry for all the injustices you’ve been through. I’m just one person, but I’m looking for ways to make things better. This needs to change!

  38. Great post, Ms Hutcherson, thank you. I’m a 54-year-old white guy. I think a simple way to get across the concept of privilege (white, male, whatever) is that it’s all the crap you *don’t* have to put up with because you’re not in the group that does. As just one example, I know for sure that I have never been, and will never be, pulled over by a cop for “driving while black”. It literally can’t happen to me, though it clearly happens with alarming regularity to people of color. So there’s a little unpleasantness that can never befall me. But it happens quite a bit to Ron Sims, the former Executive of King County, Washington, maybe the fourth or fifth most powerful elected position in the state. Just because he’s black. http://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/ron-sims-gives-his-take-on-driving-while-black-in-seattle/

    Naturally, most people with this kind of privilege are blissfully unaware of it because it’s kinda hard to notice things that keep not happening to you. And when informed that they do have this kind of privilege, they are genuinely mystified, or even angry. “What do you mean I’m privileged? I’ve worked in menial jobs all my life. I’ve never been successful. Lots of people in supposedly disadvantaged groups have it way better than me.” Well, white privilege doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be successful. It’s not the keys to the executive washroom. It’s just a bunch of obstacles (or humiliations) that aren’t in your way, even though plenty of others might be.

  39. Thank you. Old white woman here. I’m learning, and am very grateful to you for being willing to teach me. I believe you, I recognize my privilege when it’s pointed out and am working to recognize it on my own, and am especially trying to root out of my language and responses and behavior the kinds of things you point out. I’m so very sorry it is necessary. Thank you.

  40. Wonderful article! One thing I am confused by, however, is the story about your boss. I can only gather from the conclusion that you felt his feelings about your ideas, etc. were “based on solely on his ego and your race.” Perhaps there is more that you are not sharing, but I’m having a hard time understanding how “white privilege” was the basis of him thinking you were conceited, didn’t know as much you thought you did, and didn’t have the talent you thought you had. I highlight this because, among the very compelling scenarios you mention here, and what I have heard from others, the inclusion of items that appear to be more like bruises to the ego or grievances about difficult people, etc. can add to confusion for readers trying to understand the core issue. Telling someone that they are “ignorant and clearly [have] a lot to learn” is very stark language for ANY employee to hurl at the person who hired them. So, while his ego may have been out of control, the scenario you’ve conveyed here says something about yours as well. When two strong minded people of differing races clash, sometimes it’s just that…. and not about race or privilege.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful question, Ms. Murray and I understand how my convenance of that particular situation could lead you to it. You are right when you suppose that there was more that I did not share, but what I can say is that when my boss apologized, he apologized specifically for his prejudgment of me as a black female writer. As to the tone of how I said what I said to him – which I think you may be supposing was forceful – it wasn’t. It was said without sting and in a conciliatory manner, with a headshake and a smile. True remorse goes a long way with me, so I actually forgave him and for the most part we had a cordial professional relationship because he did try to learn from it.

    2. The incident with the boss made me think of a very typical sexist response to a smart woman. As I think the author noted, intersectionality is likely to be part of what was going on: sexism and racism.

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