Tag Archives: racism

Checking my Privilege

This is the second time I’ve been prompted to “check my privilege” in an official way. Living in Seattle, I feel my privilege almost every day because it’s hard not to notice the gaping disparity in this cruel city. And yet I hadn’t read my privilege list in months. The list started in March 2017, inspired by an article I read about birth rights and outcomes, and how radically they differ based on your race.

That first round of inspecting and acknowledging the privileges in my life yielded about 30 things I could clearly see. Now I’m reading Ijeoma Oluo’s book “So you want to talk about race.” In it, she encourages a regular checking of one’s privilege. It’s important to maintain a realistic sense of privileges, to not let them fade into shadow, to identify and acknowledge new ones as they come into view.

“When somebody asks you to “check your privilege” they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing and may in fact be contributing to those struggles. It is a big ask, to check your privilege. It is hard and often painful, but it’s not nearly as painful as living with the pain caused by the unexamined privilege of others. You may right now be saying “but it’s not my privilege that is hurting someone, it’s their lack of privilege. Don’t blame me, blame the people telling them that what they have isn’t as good as what I have.” And in a way, that is true, but know this, a privilege has to come with somebody else’s disadvantage—otherwise, it’s not a privilege.”

And so, in that spirit, I updated my privilege list.

  1. White
  2. Cisgender (passing)
  3. Neurotypical (passing)
  4. Native English speaker
  5. Documented citizen of the country I live in
  6. Raised Protestant
  7. No physical disabilities
  8. No mental illness
  9. Grew up in relatively stable home environment
  10. Had a room of my own as a child
  11. Parents supported and were interested in my success/happiness (as much as they knew how to be)
  12. Consistent access to books and music since childhood
  13. Reliable access to medical and dental care/insurance since childhood
  14. Reliable access to food since childhood
  15. Never had to use public assistance
  16. Have lived in predominantly white, lower/middle-class neighborhoods/cities
  17. My fitness/eligibility to be a parent has never been questioned
  18. Got to choose where/how I birthed my son
  19. Had multiple people supporting and advocating for me during birth
  20. Was not forced to have a cesarean section
  21. Have access to healing modalities and communities that support my ongoing trauma recovery
  22. Stable housing
  23. Reliable transportation
  24. Tall
  25. Height-weight proportionate
  26. Conventionally attractive
  27. College educated
  28. Teachers supported and encouraged me
  29. Never suspended or expelled because of my race
  30. Employed my whole adult life
  31. Employed in tech in Seattle
  32. Never been denied a job/promotion because of my race
  33. Excellent credit score
  34. Reliable access to clean, affordable water
  35. Most people in my communities are a part of my racial group
  36. Most people in the books/movies look like me
  37. Never been threatened or harassed by police
  38. No family member has been imprisoned
  39. No family member has been lynched
  40. No family member has been killed by police
  41. I don’t have to teach my son to be afraid of the police
  42. Haven’t been forced to leave ancestral land
  43. Ancestors acquired plentiful farmland cheaply (because it was stolen), affording them wealth to pass on
  44. Have been able to choose where I want to live
  45. Majority of my family members mortgage/own their homes
  46. Qualified for down-payment assistance when I mortgaged my home
  47. When I enter an upscale store, no one questions my “right” to be there
  48. When I speak at work, no one questions my intelligence or threatens to have me fired because of my race
  49. No one has labeled my physically large, emotionally exuberant, opinionated young son as “aggressive” due to his behavior at school
  50. I can choose to ignore the realities of race-based violence, oppression, imprisonment, and genocide because it doesn’t directly impact “people like me”

I keep re-reading that last one. Cuz it’s really the crux of the issue, isn’t it? And yet it’s no longer my reality because that cat is already out of the bag. Once I started looking, everything changed. Reality changed. The lies I was told, the propaganda I was fed began to fall away.

It hurts, waking up to a reality where my “nice life” is built on centuries of dead bodies, crushed potential, conceit, and cruelty wrought by the hands of “people like me.” And I can guaranfuckingtee you my pain is small potatoes compared to how much it hurts to live as a racial minority in a white supremacist death cult bent on consuming everything and everyone it sees. So yeah, I’m going to keep checking my privilege because it feels like an important step on the only path that really matters right now.

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A Child of White Privilege

Only by coming to realize how thoroughly racialized our white lives are can we begin to see the problem as ours, and begin to take action to help solve it. By remaining oblivious to our racialization we remain oblivious to the injustice that stems from it, and we remain paralyzed when it comes to responding to it in a constructive manner.  –Tim Wise from “White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son”

Today is the day I out myself. The day I begin to acknowledge and take responsibility for all the ways in which I’ve benefited from an infrastructure based on white supremacy. This isn’t about guilt. It’s about owning the fact that I’ve been able to remain largely oblivious to the concrete realities of what occurs when people spend 350 years contributing to and blindly accepting a system of brutal oppression that elevates one group over the other based on the circumstance of their birth.

I’ve been ignorant because I could afford to be. I haven’t HAD to pay attention because I’ve been handed the Privilege of Obliviousness, which for me is one of the more distasteful perks to being a member of the dominant group: I get to be callous. My life has been spent in the company of white family and friends, entertained by white celebrities and story characters, educated in white schools, housed near white neighbors, employed by and working with white peers.

How could I truly see race when the only race I saw was my own?

Although we white Americans often think we’ve had few first-hand experiences with race, because most of us are so isolated from people of color in our day-to-day lives, the reality is that this isolation is our experience with race. –Tim Wise

Recent events in Ferguson, Missouri served as the catalyst that’s finally begun pulling down my lenses and blinders. I do feel ashamed that I didn’t wake up before now, that the literally hundreds of injustices I’ve read about over my lifetime didn’t suffice, weren’t horrific enough to goad me into action, or at least into looking. But I’m also slowly getting that this line of thinking is exactly what’s expected of me as a racialized person: I’m supposed to think it’s my fault. That it’s some personal failing of me the individual that keeps me from standing up in solidarity with my fellow humans of color and using my privilege to enact change.

Being a racist in America isn’t a character flaw. It’s the inescapable consequence of having been born into a racialized society. And yet we throw the term racist at people as an insult, as something that others them from us, distances them, casts them out; when, in reality, most of us are racists to some extent. I was bred to be a racist just like you were, and it’s time to really let that sink in. All the way down to our marrow.

In the context of Holistic Peer Counseling, this is my chance to name my Racist Pattern and call it forth from the shadows. My chance to take a long, hard critical look at my thoughts and behaviors, and see them for what they are; to stop identifying with them. To stop listening to the “truths” my family and upbringing planted in my mind about who men of color are and what they want. To stop blaming people of color for their economic circumstances when the reality of how they got there has more to do with blatantly unfair advantages handed out to my ancestors.

Those who reap the benefits of past actions—and the privileges that have come from whiteness are certainly among those—have an obligation to take responsibility for our use of those benefits. –Tim Wise

Honestly, I’m damn tired of living in this filth; this inherited cesspool of inequity and blind entitlement that I had no hand in creating. This country where white supremacy mixes with a brutal class system, patriarchy, and Christian hegemony to create a reality where the people who should be allies fighting the real criminals are instead stuck waging war against one another.

This is just the beginning of the conversation for me and I’m only 1/4 of the way through the book from which I’ve collected the powerful quotes you see here. It’s my intent to flesh out and describe the particulars of my upbringing and how they informed my racism as it exists today, and I’ll be sharing that with you here as those stories develop.

I’m a fledgling anti-racist; my feathers not yet dry, my legs wobbly. But I have to draw a line in the sand and that begins here. I will no longer be silent or hide my anger at the injustices I see. I encourage you to join me. Because we may not have built this glass house we’re living in, but I believe it is our duty to start throwing some big goddamn rocks.

It’s about responsibility; not because we are guilty, but because we are here. Guilt is how you feel because of what you’ve done; responsibility is what you take because of who you are. –paraphrased from Pathology of White Privilege

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Notes/Resources
As I gain momentum, I anticipate reading more books and perspectives on this topic, and I fully intend for those to include stories from people of color. Because I totally get the irony of beginning my anti-racist education by reading and quoting a white male exclusively. I’ll be amending this post to include more resources as I discover them. For now, I am personally recommending the work of Tim Wise.

[Added 10.13.14]
I’ve been reading more on this topic and can now recommend the following: