Europeans came and took what did not belong to them. As someone of European descent, I continue to benefit from this today.
White privilege refers to benefits that I receive that I do not earn. I receive them by virtue of my skin color. To get a better understanding of how I benefit everyday day of my life from having the skin color I do (“white”) read Peggy McIntosh’s famous essay on white privilege: “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack“.
My advantages are not “blessings” – they are unearned benefits of belonging to a particular class and skin color. I did not pull myself up by my bootstraps. Rather our “bootstraps” are unearned benefits inherited from prior generations. For example:
- If both your parents spoke English add one inch to your bootstraps.
- If you didn’t need to worry about when you would eat next, add one inch to your bootstraps.
- If your parents were college educated add one inch to your bootstraps.
- If no one in your household had a serious medical illness add one inch to your bootstraps.
- If you didn’t move frequently in order for your parents to work add one inch to your bootstraps.
- If you had access to good nutrition and good medical care growing up, add one inch to your bootstraps.
- If your parents were of a class, religion or skin color that allowed them to buy property or own a home, add one inch to your bootstraps.
- If your family could leverage that home or property to pay for college education, low interest home equity loans or to start a business, add one inch to your bootstraps.
- If you grew up in a neighborhood without violence add one inch to your bootstraps.
Not everyone is given the same bootstraps. Our bootstraps (our abilities, skills and benefits) are the result of privileges given to some, but not to others.
Benefiting from a system that favors some over others is NOT “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.” We need to start speaking truthfully and seeing reality as it really is.
Now that you know, what will you do?
Recognizing the systemic nature of discrimination isn’t about working for rights for blacks, Hispanics or women, etc. It is about changing laws and practices so that we have the same human rights for everyone.
Listen to Michelle Alexander on YouTube or read her book The New Jim Crow to learn how our nation’s prison system has become another racial caste system in use in our country today.