Day 2 folks, time to do the work. I’m jumping in with a big one. Yesterday was amazing and I loved being part of it. I saw many women who had never protested before putting themselves out there and taking their first activist steps, which was beautiful. But it’s important to remember that this is just a first step.
There’s an image that has been making the rounds on the internet.
This is a great photo that encapsulates a very important point that allowed white women to vote for a man who has espoused sexist, racist, and ignorant views. A huge part of the ability to make that choice comes from the privilege that white women have in society.
White privilege is an uncomfortable concept because it’s difficult to accept that it applies regardless of how you feel on the inside. Privilege doesn’t care if you’re not racist. Privilege doesn’t even care if you’re an activist or an ally. Privilege is based on the way you look and the way society treats you based on those looks.
I first learned of the concept of privilege when I was a freshman in college. It abhorred me. I didn’t ask to be born as a white woman. I wanted to give it away, get rid of the privilege. But you can’t do that. And really, saying that you want to is disingenuous. Privilege makes life easier. That’s the entire point.
There are a few pieces of literature I read during that time period that literally blew my mind. One is “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack,” by Peggy McIntosh. Please read it, and sit with it. If it makes you uncomfortable or defensive, sit with that too. If you don’t believe that privilege exists, here are the ways that I see and experience privilege in my own life.
I’ll start with male privilege.
- Males do not have to fear for their safety when they walk alone. They can spend time thinking about whatever they want, while I think about how I will escape a potential attack.
- Men can wake up and get out the door in 15 minutes. I cannot. I will be penalized at work, subconsciously or consciously, if I do not do my hair and wear makeup.
- Men can wear comfortable clothing to work. I need to wear heels to appear taller.
- Men are not looked at as someone who might get pregnant at any moment. Their bodies are not ogled, their beverage choices are not monitored, and their co-workers do not worry they might be unable to complete an assignment due to pregnancy.
- If a male becomes a father, he does not need to stay home to feed the baby for the first few months of its life. He is not criticized for working when the baby is young. He does not have to interrupt his career to have a baby.
- Men do not have to worry about being groped, manhandled, or cat-called in public spaces. They don’t need to watch their drinks in a bar. They don’t even have to think about these things. Men can spend that time thinking about whatever they want, while I worry about my safety.
- Men do not need to police their tone and speech in the same way women do. They can be forceful and they will never be called a bitch. They can ask for opportunities – in fact, they are more likely to be given these opportunities – and they will not be viewed as bossy or aggressive.
Any of that ring true to you? That’s what privilege is. Men didn’t ask for the privileges but they get them anyway. They cannot give them to you even if they wanted to. Now let’s talk about race.
As a white woman:
- When I need to find a band-aid, it’s easy to find one in my own skin color. In fact, they’re all in my skin color.
- When I get pulled over by the police, I get the benefit of the doubt. It is unlikely the police will harm me. I can look at police and believe that they exist to protect me, not to protect others from me.
- Signs around me are in my native language.
- I can work with people who look like me, and spend my days with people who look like me. I am comfortable at work and do not feel like I am looked at differently.
- My opinion is generally my own. I do not speak for all white people, and I do not have to live with the responsibility that my words might be taken to apply to others.
- I can walk into any hair salon and someone will know what to do with my hair.
- I will not be denied housing, shown a different property, or given different rates based on how I look. Brokers and real estate agents have no reason to distrust me.
- I can feel secure in my accomplishments because no one looks at me and thinks I am there as the product of affirmative action. No one thinks I took someone else’s place, either at school or at work.
You cannot underestimate the impact of privilege. These lists are not exhaustive, and were just things that come to mind easily.
It does not matter if you did not ask for these privileges. You cannot change the fact that they exist, just as people who are not in positions of power cannot change what they look like. Everyone has different privileges, and the different things we bring to the table lead to our intersectionality.
White women have let our black and brown sisters down time and time again. We pushed them out of the suffrage movement. We sacrificed their civil rights for our own advancement. We ask them to show up and fight for us, but we have not shown up or fought for them. They showed up. Only 4% of black women voted for Trump. A staggering 53% of white women voted for Trump. Where were we a few months ago? Complacent? Disillusioned because of leaked emails? Were we lazy?
It does not matter if you were there. Our demographic was not there. The fact that you voted for Hillary did not mean that our demographic voted for Hillary, and we did not win the election. We have an obligation to show up for our sisters who have been showing up for us for decades.
Let’s quote Spiderman. With power comes great responsibility. Privilege is power, and we have a responsibility to use that privilege. I stand with my sisters and am working on being an ally every day. If you are interested in being an ally, start doing the work. Sit with the concept of privilege and let it make you uncomfortable. Start getting active, even if it’s not the cause that affects you directly. If you want to learn more about being an ally, ask your friends who are already doing the work. Do not burden your black and brown sisters or make them explain things to you. They have enough on their plates, and it’s our responsibility to show up for them. We’re all in this together, and it’s time we start taking responsibility and acting like it. I don’t have all the answers and I’m working through it every day, but I’m happy to work through it with you.
One more thing. It’s not enough to sit back and let things happen around us anymore. We cannot be complacent. Complacency got us here, and we won’t stand for it anymore. The millions of women who took to the streets yesterday made that very clear. Be an active ally, not a passive bystander. We all lose when we let injustice happen on our watch.