The very first article I wrote for this publication, months before it would have a print version, dealt in part with the shame I felt working full-time in construction and still qualifying for a portion of welfare.
Bad luck (and some bad decisions, if I’m really honest about it) had made for some bad times.
But even on the worst of those horrible days, say when I needed to access a food bank to feed my family or when it was only social agencies making Christmas possible, I was enjoying male white privilege.
I’ll be honest; I didn’t feel privileged when a welfare worker would treat me like a worthless criminal. I didn’t enjoy crying myself to sleep because I couldn’t feed my family.
But here’s the deal: white privilege doesn’t mean that every white person is rich. It doesn’t mean that I don’t work hard for my money. White privilege simply means that because of hundreds of years of colonialism and systemic racism I have greater access to resources and power than a person of colour or an Indigenous person does.
But many white people aren’t good at noticing or talking about it. As the writer Frances E. Kendall explains, “it is sort of like asking fish to notice water or birds to discuss air.” We just aren’t good at questioning what is ”normal.”
And this is what we have allowed to become normal: I’m less likely to be questioned by police because of my skin tone. I am less likely to be denied employment, a place to live or a job because I am white.
If I am ever sentenced for a criminal offence, I am likely to get a more lenient sentence than a person of colour or Indigenous person. Being able-bodied, heterosexual and male grant me, statistically, even more opportunity.
This has given me a built-in advantage not offered to others. And this is a fact, whether I was able to use that advantage or not. It has given me the benefit of the doubt that other people wouldn’t get.
I know some of my friends are going to be irritated or upset by this. The (white) sociologist Robin DiAngelo calls this “white fragility”: the tendency for white people to get really defensive when challenged about ideas of racism.
Her 2018 book White Privilege is a must-read, especially for white progressives, who she spends a considerable amount of time challenging.
Acknowledging white privilege isn’t a call to guilt or self-loathing. It is simply acknowledging that there are systemic barriers that white people will likely never experience.
Saying “I’m not racist” is not enough. Living in a system that gives structural advantage to one group of people at the expense of other groups — and not taking action to stop it — is to be part of the problem.
Taking that action, and being part of the solution, can be as simple as listening and learning from others.