I was discussing the notion of white privilege with several coworkers yesterday.
One of them, who hails from Ecuador, is convinced that she faces a tide of constant discrimination in the U.S. because she is a Latina with dark skin. I chafed at the notion that white privilege is a universal concept, when another coworker jumped in.
“Yes, white privilege does exist. Societies tend to discriminate based on the lightness of one’s skin. Other cultures and countries even do it.”
I agree with this. I do think that a preference for lightness of skin is an unfortunate flaw of the species, but it’s not indigenous to white society.
I continued the discussion with yet another coworker this morning, balking at the notion of universal white privilege.
“Ryan!” he said. “You have white privilege. Accept it.”
I countered that, when people see me, they don’t see my white skin. The first thing they see is my white cane. He seemed less than convinced.
This presumption (that I encounter on my job daily) reminds me of a conversation I had with another blind woman several years ago. She grew up in the Boston ghetto (her term, not mine.) She was a white girl of Irish ancestry who was a minority amongst blacks and Hispanics. She faced a double whammy because she was also disabled.
When she was attending college, a professor told her class to write an essay explaining how white privilege had impacted their lives. She Emailed her prof and challenged her thinking, claiming that she had not benefitted from white privilege because she’d been a double minority in her neighborhood and school.
The professor’s reply was classic condescending leftist. “Sorry, Milissa. Even though you’re disabled, you still benefit from privilege.”
This lady had no inkling of Milissa’s background, yet she presumed to categorize and dismiss her out of hand.
I’m using Milissa’s name because I don’t think she’d care, by the way.
But what of this notion of privilege. My Ecuadorian coworker is probably the wealthiest person on staff where I work. She loves to wallow in her status as a victim, but she and her family live in a damn fine home. I’ve been there. What if said coworker walked into a Wendy’s restaurant, dressed in her typical upper middle class fashion, and stood in line next to a white homeless man? Would he benefit from white privilege in his treatment by the restaurant staff then?
If you want to talk about class privilege, I’ll listen. It’s another unfortunate flaw in the human condition that exists in every society and culture. But spare me the idea that every person with white skin gets a leg up in life.