By Crystal Defatte
Anyone who can’t see the privileges of being white is delusional and incapable of really understanding or fighting racism. White privilege comes in many forms. Statistics show that I, as a white woman, am much more likely to get hired for a job. My white sounding name means I’m much more likely to get a call back for an interview in the first place. I am viewed as more trustworthy than people of other races. I am less likely to be followed around in a store because someone assumes I’m trying to steal something. I have never been ridiculed for being on food stamps or living in income based housing. I’ve never been seen as “one of those people” who “bring down a neighborhood”. I have never feared for my life when stopped by the cops. I have never worried about my children being shot while playing or walking home. I don’t worry about men with torches and weapons coming into my neighborhood to terrorize me. I don’t worry about being harassed, assaulted, or killed because of my race. To be honest, after seeing what has happened in Charlottesville, I’ve never been so relieved to be white and to have white children.
That’s not to say I enjoy the fact that people of other races don’t get the same treatment. I absolutely hate that. But to say that being white doesn’t benefit me is dishonest. I’m grateful that my children will probably never have to experience the kinds of hardships people of color have to endure still to this day. I’m grateful that I’m treated with respect and dignity no matter where I go. I enjoy the benefits my skin tone brings me. I just wish the treatment I get would be extended to people of all races. The alt-right accuses white people who recognize white privilege of being ashamed to be white. Nothing could be further from the truth. How can I be ashamed to be white when the accomplishments of my race and European ancestors are taught all throughout my school years while the accomplishments of other races get tiny blurbs sprinkled into my textbooks? How can I be ashamed to be white when European looks are seen as the epitome of beauty? White people are conditioned to feel proud of who they are, unlike many people of color. I’m not ashamed to be white, I’m ashamed that I live in a society that props up the idea of European heritage as the be all and end all of perfection in society.
If we don’t recognize our white privilege, we can’t fully understand the problem with institutionalized racism. Sure, we may be able to recognize how a racist individual is a problem, but that does nothing to combat the economic and societal systems that are inherently racist and keep white privilege alive. It’s not enough to teach our children that people of color deserve respect, we need to be active participants in dismantling the problem, especially since racists have become very active in their efforts to protect that privilege. If we don’t organize to combat it, they will win. We have a president who is appointing racists to government positions. He himself won’t disavow white terrorist attacks, the KKK, or Neo Nazi groups. We have elected racists to Congress. Many police officers have been found to have ties to hate groups. These people have a level of power not seen since before the civil rights movement.
So what does it mean to organize against institutionalized racism? First off, it means knowing our place in the movements of people of color. That means reaching out to these communities and movements to find out what they need from us so we don’t invade their spaces and center ourselves in their movements. Some groups to join or donate to would be Minority Rights Group, Black Lives Matter, the ACLU, or the National Immigration Law Center. We need to be willing to put our bodies on the line and not just protest but put ourselves between police and people of color since we are statistically less likely to have force used upon us. It means calling on our politicians to take a stand against hate groups, to call domestic terrorism by its true name, to support reforms and de-escalation training in police departments, to support judicial reforms in sentencing, and to support reinstituting voting rights to felons since people of color are far more likely to be charged and convicted of felonies and therefore much more likely to find themselves disenfranchised. We need to stop pretending that the confederate flag means anything other than hate. We need to be willing to demand our politicians reform immigration policies and stop calling people illegal or allowing political refugees to die in their home countries instead of taking them in. The people who get so upset about immigrants not speaking the language need to be the first to push for free English as a Second Language classes to immigrant communities. We need to support businesses owned by people of color, putting our money where our mouth is. We need to speak up when we hear racist comments. We need to be willing to stand for marginalized communities at all times. It’s not enough to simply not be racist. We need action.
This list isn’t all encompassing. As a white person, I can not fully understand all the needs and hardships of people of color. Listening to them and other white allies will give you more ideas on how you can help the cause. The point is if you are not actively working to dismantle a racist society, you are allowing it to continue. Inaction and complacency equal condoning “business as usual”. You are needed on the front lines. Otherwise, you are simply basking in the white privilege you enjoy without working to extend that privilege to everyone.
Crystal is a 32 year old mom with a passion for progressive politics and activism. She currently resides in Bettendorf, IA.