Whiteness has, until recently, been an issue which has laid dormant in my mind for almost my entire life. And when one considers all the times I didn’t have to think about it, for example when I was not arrested for public intoxication, having a party at my house, or driving with loud music, this fact makes more sense. I, like the majority of Caucasian people in society, do not have to live with eyes in the back of our heads like so many of our ethnic counterparts must do. When I walk through a public space and there is an attack, I know I will be one of the last to be pulled over for questioning, provided I am questioned at all. I also know that If I were to ever commit a crime worthy of making the night’s news, it would be me and me alone who would be judged, and there would likely be no reference to the race I form a part of. These experiences, which from observation seem to only apply to myself and members of my skin colour, all stem from the phenomenon known as white privilege. The idea that, because and only because of the colour of my skin, I am seen as less of a threat, a worry, or a concern, than others. Whilst there are countless examples of white privilege to choose from, one example shines brighter than the rest. Earlier this year, a white extremist terrorist named Brenton Tarrant approached and opened fire on two separate mosques situated in New Zealand. By the end, 51 people of Islamic faith had lost their lives, and 49 were gravely injured. The media was naturally quick to cover the event, but the headlines that came out were horrendous. Headers reading “Angelic boy who grew into an evil far-right supremacist” and background sentences describing him as an “angelic boy who former associates revealed was a likeable and dedicated personal trainer running free athletic programmes for kids”. To put this into perspective, the same news outlet described the Muslim man responsible for the mass shooting in Orlando’s ‘Pulse’ Nightclub, who was responsible for the death of 49, as an “ISIS Maniac”. This example brings to attention a number of things; firstly, it clearly shows white privilege in possibly one of its most extreme levels. But on a deeper analysis of the events, their media portrayal, and other events such as these, some common actions start to emerge. It becomes increasingly apparent that whenever the terrorist is of an ethnicity different to Caucasian, the terrorist label is immediately applied without a second thought, and is received well by the public. However when the accused happens to be Caucasian, the writers are quick to think of other ways around the use of the word, and in some cases not even use it at all, as was evident in the example used earlier.
It is not until one looks further into the issue of supremacy, that one can start to really understand what possessing white privilege means. A conversation had between myself and Isaac Silbert, an old school friend of Jewish decent, comes to mind. Being Caucasian as well, he was sometimes told to “check his privilege” by members of different races during day to day interactions. He told me that this re-occurring comment angered him immensely, as although he was not fully responsible for his family’s success, nor was he forced to make the sacrifices or losses made by his earlier relatives, some of which lived in the times of Nazi Germany, he still hated people making the comment, as he believed it was prefaced under the assumption that his and his families lives had always been easy, and that they never came from far more humble beginnings. At the time I agreed; Isaac used fair reasoning to justify his desire to be addressed as an individual, rather than as a member of the racial group he formed part of within society. Similarly, a study conducted by (Milkman, K, L. Akinola, M. Chugh, D. 2015) concluded that university professors were less likely to respond to an email requesting help sent by an ethnic student or female, then they were to respond to a Caucasian one. This particular study gained more attention after Richard Barton, one of the professors who received the hoax email, fired back at the trio of researchers, providing several reasons why he specifically did not reply to his email. Throughout his response, he drew on reasons such as having a busier work load due to the time of the year, he received the email, as well as a list of other factors. Barton’s main conclusion was that his decision was finalised purely from academia related reasoning, and that there was no possible way his decisions could be attributed to any personal beliefs he may have carried. Both Isaac and Barton wished for nothing more than to be seen as their own entities, as opposed to automatically being classed under a group or title. Isaac made the point that his privilege in no way defined his story, whilst Barton stated there were many reasons why he didn’t reply, with some of which having no relation to prejudice or favoritism. Yet the desire both Silbert and Barton share to be seen as an individual, is one which mirrors desires members of indigenous, ethnic, and most minority groups have been rallying for since the start of discrimination. It would seem from this, that even I, a ‘privileged’ individual, am subject to being put into a box just like everybody else, right? Wrong. In writing this paper, I have realised that not only does having white privilege bless one with what Peggy McIntosh would describe as the ‘invisible knapsack’ of perks and gains exclusively available to Caucasians, but also with the power to decide how other people are seen and addressed.
If nothing else, this proves that being white is inherently an easier task in today’s world then it is to be any other colour.
And although I fully acknowledge just how intrinsically wrong this fact is, and how unfair and unjust the world can be to someone based off the colour of their skin, if I had divine power, I cannot say with perfect honesty that I as a member of the Caucasian race, would make the changes to the world that have been so necessary and overdue for the time they have been.
- Milkman, K, L. Akinola, M. Chugh, D. (2015) What Happens Before? A Field Experiment Exploring How Pay and Representation Differentially Shape Bias on the Pathway into Organizations. Journal of Applied Psychology, Forthcoming. Retrieved from https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2063742 . Pages 1-6.