So, TIME magazine (my favorite magazine when I was a teen, because I was really cool and had a lot of friends when I was 13) posted an opinion piece by a Princeton freshman titled “Why I’ll Never Apologize for My White Male Privilege.” And, unfortunately, I read it. And I just sighed a lot. Oh, you sweet summer child, you really know nothing of winter, do you? (Sorry, it’s Game of Thrones night.)
If you didn’t read the article (which was a smart decision), the summary is, “My grandparents escaped Nazis and my parents worked hard so I don’t have any privilege, QED.” There is so much wrong with this piece, I’m not sure where to begin. Let’s start with the title!
First off, one of the biggest misconceptions about privilege is that anyone wants you to apologize for it. Who has ever said that? We want you to be aware of it. No one wants to force you out of college and into a Siberian work camp. Relax.
Second, your story about how your grandparents and other relatives escaping Nazis in Poland…hmm…it sounds like your Jewish relatives had a harder time than non-Jewish people in Poland when the Nazis invaded. I mean, obviously, it was a hard time for everyone in occupied Poland, but Jewish people (and gay people, and disabled people, and Romani, etc.) had a bit of a harder time than non-Jewish people, right? Weird, it sounds like non-Jewish (and non-gay, disabled, Romani, etc.) people had…privilege. Whoa. Weird, right?
Ah, but you accounted for that already, didn’t you? “It was [my grandparents’] privilege to come to a country that grants equal protection under the law to its citizens, that cares not about religion or race, but the content of your character.”
Subtly invoking MLK, I see. Hey, white people? Please stop invoking MLK to justify your weird, shitty, racist arguments. Seriously. If you’re conservative and bring up MLK to support anything you say, you’re doing it wrong. I promise. MLK wasn’t a conservative and wouldn’t support any Republican policies.
Anyway, the real problem with your argument is that you believe we truly live in a “colorblind” society. After John Scalzi wrote “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is,” Jim Hines wrote a post called, “Facts are Cool.” You should check it out. I’ll wait.
Privilege isn’t about what happened in the past. It’s about what happens in the present. In the present, racist things still happen. Shocking, I know! It’s not as if hundreds of people of color write about white privilege and current-day racism, over and over and over and over again. (The linked articles are about various topics under the umbrella of racism and white privilege, just to show the variety of issues.)
Racial discrimination is not a thing of the past. As of 2010, black men earn 74.5 cents to every white man’s dollar, while Hispanic men earn 65.9 cents, black women earn 69.6 cents, and Hispanic women only earn 59.8 cents. And according to a study done in 2008:
Among those with no criminal record, white applicants were more than twice as likely to receive a callback relative to equally qualified black applicants. Even more troubling, whites with a felony conviction fared just as well, if not better, than a black applicant with a clean background.
Whether you acknowledge it or not, people of color have disadvantages that white people do not. This doesn’t mean white people haven’t worked hard or that their lives aren’t tough. It means we don’t have to worry about the things black people have to worry about. A friend of mine was joking recently that he can buy weed, put it in his glove box, and drive home from his dealer’s house in the middle of the night without worrying about being pulled over (or that the cops will search his car) because he’s a clean cut white dude. Whereas a black teenager can be assaulted by the police for holding a puppy.
No one’s asking you to apologize for being white or a dude. We’re asking you to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, the scales are tilted in your favor, and maybe you could stop being a dick about it for five seconds.
If you already knew all this, then please just enjoy one of my new favorite tweets: