WHAT PRIVILEGE?

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I am a male American of mixed-European descent. My skin is about as white as skin can get. If anyone should be awarded this elusive “white privilege” that I keep hearing about, surely it would be me. I have been told I already have it. I wonder if it was when I got to watch my mom spend food stamps at the grocery store when I was younger. Was that white privilege? Perhaps it was getting to use the free meal tickets at public school. Or maybe it was getting to scour Goodwill for anything with a yellow or pink tag, provided of course, that the original price was under $7. Was that white privilege?

Sometimes I worry that I might have missed out on my white privilege somehow. Then I look at my skin and realize that couldn’t possibly be—I must have had it somewhere. When I was in the third grade, an African-American woman came to the door of our house and dragged my mother out into the street and threw her down against a vehicle in the parking lot in response to a lie that her son had told her about my little brother. The police did nothing. Maybe my mom was receiving her white privilege? Or maybe it was later on, when my dad left us and I was privileged enough to be raised by a single mother on welfare, struggling to feed me and my four brothers and sisters. Maybe that was it. Or maybe it was when I was fifteen years old and I found out that my friend from church was on probation for stealing cars—I found out because I was with him when he was stopped and arrested for being out past curfew. The police were kind enough to give me a ride home in the back of their car, even if they did keep referring to me as a “scumbag” and a “rogue” and made it quite clear to me that they could take me out into the woods and beat me if they wanted, and it would just be the word of a “rogue” against two police officers. Perhaps that was a benefit of my white privilege?

I was harassed by police and other authority figures fairly consistently throughout my youth. Once, I was arrested and held overnight in jail by officers who claimed that I had assaulted the police officer who had been talking with me at the time. Luckily for me, there happened to be camera footage of the entire incident, which pretty evidently showed that the only person who had been assaulted was me. So they released me in the morning, but without so much as an apology. In the process of the arrest, I was pepper-sprayed so severely that I could hardly open my eyes for three days and my face was peeling from chemical burns for nearly two weeks afterward. Not only had I not been resisting, but I was securely handcuffed and held down by the officers before they saw fit to take out the pepper spray and hose me down. Was my experience of police brutality part of my white privilege, too?

There were a few things that were, objectively, very likely a result of my being white. I remember being punched in the face a few times by a Latino teenager with the number “13” tattooed on the back of his head so that he could look cool in front of his friends. I’m pretty sure that was a white privilege. Maybe walking through neighborhoods where no other white people lived and having groups of threatening-looking African Americans yell, “Come here, white-boy!” was a white privilege. Before I went to college, I remember looking for scholarships to help with tuition costs—there were hundreds of them available for all sorts of specific and non-specific minority groups, including women and LGBTQ persons. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a single one that was specifically available to straight-white-males, which is what I am. Is that a privilege that I am somehow missing in my ignorance? After I managed to scrape the money together to go to college, a girl in my sociology class did a project whereby she sent out a large number of job applications to various employers, two to each employer—the applications were identical, except she had used different names and put “Caucasian” on one and “Alaskan Native” on the other. She received roughly four times as many interviews for the name that was Alaskan Native. Is that some sort of white privilege?

I do remember a time when I was clean-shaven and had neat, short-cropped hair. I was fairly well-dressed, wearing nice shoes, slacks and a button-up shirt. I did notice then that I seemed to command a certain level of extra, unspoken respect in certain areas and around certain people. I remember thinking that maybe that was white privilege, but I guess it couldn’t have been, because the respect was clearly dependent on factors other than simply the color of my skin. I would have to say, that at least from my experience, the term “white privilege” is somewhat of a misnomer. While there are, no doubt, a few things I have gotten to experience because of my white skin, I would hardly consider any of the above to be a privilege. While there are, very likely, a disproportionate percentage of privileged people who happen to be white, it does not seem to be that every white person is privileged. It’s money that gives privilege, not skin color. Then again, perhaps it is true that I am nothing more than an entitled bigot who takes all my privilege for granted and has no sympathy for the plight of others.

I find the concept of “white privilege” to be somewhat offensive. It implies that white people somehow have it easier than minorities and that if a minority has managed to be successful, they have worked harder than their white counterparts. I have not experienced white privilege, nor do I see it in society. You may look at my skin color and judge me by it if you wish, though that would make you somewhat of a racist, but I say, “What privilege?”

Written by Anonymous as part of the Anonymous Issue (November-December 2017).