10 Signs You Have White Privilege — According To Someone Who Has It

The idea that "racism is dead" and that the modern world is "colorblind" doesn't hold up with a minute's perusal of the news. But there are still people who insist that their whiteness doesn't give them advantages — cultural, economic, or psychological — over people of color. For those people, it's time to be introduced to the concept of white privilege: the immunity, safety, access, and protection you attain simply by being white in modern society. Of course, the thing about having privilege is that it's institutional, assumed, and almost completely invisible. You may not even realize you have it until somebody points out just how different, and lucky, you are. 

As American anti-racist activist and academic Peggy McIntosh famously said in White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, white privilege is "like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks." White privilege, McIntosh explains, expands the definition of racism to mean more than just putting people of color at a disadvantage; it's also giving white people an advantage. What holds other people back also pushes you forward. 

If you're white and thinking, "No, this can't apply to me," here are ten signs that you're experiencing white privilege in your day-to-day life, often without being aware of it in the slightest. The main point of white privilege is that you aren't constantly aware of being white, and any requirements and restrictions that causes. You're given the privilege of simply being a person, and being defined societally by other things (womanhood, sexuality, taste, economic status). Be aware of your privilege, and check it.

For example, I recognize that there are particular ways I can't speak to white privilege because I myself am white, and that there is a particular irony to my writing this article. But what I can speak to are some of the ways that I know I've benefited from my white privilege, in an ongoing effort to check it.  

1. Nobody Suspects You Got Into College Because Of Your Skin Color

Nobody is going to look at you and wonder if you got the job, the promotion, the college scholarship, or anything else because of something to do with "affirmative action." You can be assured that whatever factors played into your selection, race wasn't one of them. And you don't have to worry about other people believing this, or doubting your ability to do whatever you've been chosen for. The thought doesn't cross your mind. 

2. You Don't Have To Have A Response Ready For "Where Are You From?"

You're from Wisconsin, or New York, or LA, or whatever, and your family may have a bit of Irish in them. That's what that question means, right? You don't need to have a full-blown conversation about how "assimilated" you are, or what "stage" of immigration you're at. Nor do you feel prepared to explain that, while your grandparents might be from Bangladesh, you yourself feel completely American. Nobody's even questioned it. 

3. Nobody Assumes You're An Authority On Something Because Of Your Race

You aren't called upon to be the arbiter of arguments about foods, music, culture, or anything else just because you "look like you should know about it"  even if you've never been to Korea and wouldn't know how to make bibimbap if it hit you in the head. Your tastes, dislikes, and cultural knowledge aren't assumed on the basis of your ethnic background, or confused with cultural heritage from other backgrounds that aren't yours to begin with. 

4. You've Never Been Called A Thug Or A Terrorist

You can be pretty sure that you can dress and act as you like without being immediately pinned to a racial stereotype about your community, particularly a really harmful one. You've likely never been anxious at airport security because of your skin color, or faced judgment for liking rap music or sagging. And you don't have to actively fight against those stereotypes whenever you move or work in public, acting as reassurance that you're "different". 

5. You Don't Surprise People When You're Articulate Or Educated

You're allowed to be as well-spoken and highly-qualified as you can be, and nobody has likely been surprised at your achievements because of your skin color. They've simply accepted them as a matter of course. Why wouldn't you look good in a suit? Doesn't everybody? 

6. People Of Your Race Weren't Excluded From Your History Classes 

You won't ever look at a textbook to find that not one person who looks like you stares back at you. You won't be told nonsense and lies about your ancestors and their role in history. The makers of history are, by and large, your own race, and they've dominated the narrative for hundreds of years. 

7. Nobody Ever Asks You To Speak As A Representative Of Your Entire Race

Not one person has ever turned to you and said, "So, as a white person, how do you feel about that white person the Harry Potter series? What do you feel it says about white people?" You're not believed by anybody else to be the token white person in the room who can speak for all white people on all white issues. You're agreed to be part of a diverse human spectrum of opinion that isn't racially centred. 

8. You Don't Worry About Excessive Attention From Security Guards Or The Police

If you get nervous in a department store or heavily-policed area, it's because you've done something stupid, and not because you're aware of their systematic tendency to pay more attention to you because of your skin color. You don't study ways to keep yourself invisible and consciously well-behaved in front of police officers to avoid provocation or potential problems. You've never needed to.

9. You Can F*ck Up Without It "Reflecting Badly" On Your Race

Fail a class? Lose a job? Get caught on the nightly news mooning the president? It makes you look bad, and maybe your family too — but nobody's going to be talking about you as a symbol of your entire race, and it's doubtful that anybody will say you're "reflecting badly" on everybody of your ethnic background. You know you're an individual, and not being held accountable for the entirety of your race. 

10. Your Culture Isn't Appropriated — It Is The Culture

Halloween costumes that offend your race just don't exist. Making fun of Donald Trump or Angelina Jolie or any other famous white person is just making fun of a member of the dominant culture, not anything that represents cultural oppression and/or systematic racial prejudice. Instagram hipster-fying of Najavo prints, Day of the Dead costumes, geisha-inspired makeup, and other "cultural fashions" target you as the consumer, not you as the person whose culture is being consumed. 

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Images: Bustle, Giphy

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