I know the term white privilege is triggering for some.
A lot of people will argue with me until they are blue in the face that it doesn’t exist. I think this reaction comes from not understanding what it’s referring to. Let me illustrate by walking through the little decisions I make every day as a Black woman.
When you wake up in the morning on a normal workday, what’s the first thing on your mind? What are you worried about? Making it to work on time? What to eat for breakfast?
For me, my day starts with having to make decisions about my commute. Having to drive around the state is one of the best and also the most problematic parts of my day. Having to drive through rural Michigan is a concern. Michigan is a state with an active KKK presence. I have to question if I am driving into hostile territory, will I be safe? At a time when elected officials in rural areas near me feel comfortable enough to openly use racial slurs and flashguns, this is more of a concern.
These aren’t subtle racial undertones, they’re right out in the open. I typically make sure I have a full tank of gas so, hopefully, I don’t have to stop, or can at least minimize my stops. If I’m going to stop to go to the bathroom, it will be at a state rest area that’s lit up like a Christmas tree. I’ll need to pack a snack or stop at a drive-through because this girl isn’t getting out of the car.
Despite being concerned for my safety, the sight of police isn’t a comfort. It’s a reminder to try to blend in. I was pulled out of my car for a rolling stop because the officer didn’t think someone who looked like me should be in the area I lived. It was among the most terrifying, traumatic, and humiliating experiences of my life, and I was lucky compared to some.
Let’s say I do have to stop at a store. I try to make sure I’m dressed nice enough so that people aren’t making economic assumptions. I try to stop at national chains in busy, more urban areas. I always try to strike up a conversation with at least one employee so they know I’m not a threat and, hopefully, I can shop in peace without being followed by someone. God forbid you touch too many things, you may be asked to empty your purse before you leave the store.
The workplace presents its own unique challenges. Being a POC at work can mean striping ourselves of any overly ethnic identifiers: speech patterns, languages, clothing, hairstyles, and so on. Because that’s just opening the door for trouble. Someone will inevitably feel the need to ask all manner of condescending, inappropriate, and demoralizing questions.
It’s never just one person, by the way, it’s many. Worst case scenario, people often feel entitled to reach out and touch your skin or hair, uninvited. If you get the slightest bit annoyed at their line of questioning or violation of your personal space, you will, unfortunately, be labeled as that “angry ethnic person.” People develop different coping mechanisms. Some people are more withdrawn, some people try to blend in, some people try to laugh and joke.
No matter what it looks like on the outside, know that this is a painful reality.
If you think asking your management for help on these issues is an option, think again. In most workplaces, you’ll get to experience being gaslit. You’ll be told that you’re being oversensitive, you don’t understand how the industry works, or that you should be grateful because things are worse elsewhere. All examples of things I’ve been told. Brace for the impact of being dehumanized and your life and experiences being invalidated by someone with no perspective on the situation.
For me, the term white privilege doesn’t speak to being handed anything on a silver platter or not having to work hard. It means that you can leave your home and not have to worry about your safety, that you can participate in almost any hobby without being questioned, that you can go into a store without concern, and that you expect and feel like you should have the right to these small things.
These are just some of the decisions that I have to make every day of my life wearing around my brown skinsuit. I hope sharing my experience can help someone gain perspective. We’re all just looking for understanding, and I know my experience is one that not everyone can relate to.