How White Privilege Affects 7 Non-Black People of Color
I made a mistake. My last article that I wrote about white privilege, “What White Privilege Means To 8 People of Color,” was flawed. When I set out to write that piece, I had my own narrative in mind. I thought back on my years of experiencing racism and prejudice and I reached out to those who I thought would echo my sentiments. In error, I reached out to people who all happened to look like me, who shared stories I could identify with. I read their responses and my heart ached in solidarity. But that isn’t the full extent of this narrative.
Race in the United States is often painted as a black-white issue, but there is so much more that needs to be unpacked! In my first article, I neglected to speak to people of color who aren’t African-American, like me. I apologize to those who I didn’t include in this first piece, and in an effort to expand this general conversation about race and about how white privilege affects people’s lives, I decided to reach out to more people to remedy my mistake.
We still have so far to go as a country, and progress starts with baby steps. These conversations we have — I like to think of them as the first baby step.
I was driving down the NJ turnpike, going approximately 15 mph over the speed limit. I was pulled over and asked for my license and registration. The officer looked at my license, and asked me, “What kind of name is that? You one of those Muslims?” I responded in a deliberately polite way that my name was of Indian descent and that I was in fact not a Muslim. It was at this point that it seemed my answer was not sufficient as I was asked to step out of the vehicle. I tried not to argue, but I did ask why that was necessary, because if I were going to be issued a speeding ticket, getting out of the car shouldn’t be required. It was at this point the officer forcefully removed me from the car, and told me to step in the front of the vehicle. He then proceeded to handcuff me, prior to even searching my vehicle.
Upon the search, they did find a minimal amount (0.5g) of marijuana in my center console, but there was no way they would have known that unless my car was searched illegally, and with force. I was taken down to the police station that night where I had to have an ex-girlfriend bail me out, and was required to pay thousands of dollars in legal fees.
As an Asian American woman, white privilege affects me in my everyday life because I look around me and experience a world that's shaped by a stereotype I both can't live up to and don't want to fit. It affects my dating life and the way that people are attracted to me. It affects how people perceive me and creates an expectation that I should be smart, quiet, and subservient. White privilege bursts through the seams when people see me by my race and not as a person. It screams at me in the media when I don't see anyone who looks like me or sounds like me who isn't specifically represented purely by race. When I watch a movie and the only people who represent my culture are tropes of overtly sexualized images — the math and science nerd, or the martial artist. I'm erased by white privilege.
I have — and still do — feel unnecessarily exposed in a workspace, night club, or social gathering where the majority of individuals are not people of color. I do not identify with "belonging." The issue of race has contributed to an internal feeling of inadequacy and separation brought about by what I perceive to be unsolicited judgement from others because of my difference ...Those among us who don't fit in culturally have to struggle for a secure place in the crowd. That being said, as we address the divide, the final goal of inclusion will arise when self-conscious people like myself rise up to respect and fully express ourselves, as those ingrained with confidence and a voice learn to remain humble and in silence.
I am light-skinned, and as such, I am privy to comments and observations that white people feel more comfortable sharing when not around someone who is obviously a different ethnicity. As a kid, I always wished I could be invisible or read minds to find out what others around me thought. I never expected that the color of my skin and ambiguous features could make people comfortable with sharing outrageous and offensive thoughts because I didn’t look like “one of them."
In my experience, white privilege is being able to be friendly or even close friends to a person of color, but still refusing to tackle the internal prejudices you have. It’s not being able to see that if you were to say something racist or prejudiced in front of your friend you would deeply hurt them. White privilege is the number of excuses a person can come up with when called out for offensive speech. White privilege is trying to make something a “joke” after it was clear you knew both the hurtful nature of what you said and how it would affect the friend who had walked out of earshot. This has made me realize that even friends who we trust to stand up for our rights as people of color may just be wolves in ally clothing.
My cousin, who grew up in Florida, can recount several instances where she was constantly made aware of her last name — how it sounded and was different from the majority. Growing up here in this city, I've felt included most of the time. I can't say I have specific experiences where I've dealt with white privilege, but I do think I've been under its scope...
I didn't realize that growing up, most of my favorite characters were white (and mostly male), simply because there were no Latinas or Latinos in the majority of television or movies I'd watch. If ever a Hispanic or Latino character was on screen, it was as a caricature: the drug dealer, the thug, the maid, the token Mexican who seems to encompass all Latino/Hispanic culture...I've been trying to get a foot in the door to the entertainment industry as a production assistant since I graduated college three years ago. In an industry where networking and making connections is key, I'm left wondering why my connections and networking haven't led to those golden opportunities I was told about. Am I not doing enough or are the people in charge of the entertainment industry not giving me a chance/making me work twice as hard because I'm Latina?
OK, so honestly, I have benefited from white privilege as a light-skinned Puerto Rican. Those moments of privilege I was never subconsciously aware of until I was older ...The privilege is so subversive in our culture that even someone who isn't white but just light skin can be unaware of the advantage.I feel it's important though that even if you do have an advantage, when it comes to white privilege, the most important thing is what you do with it. Using your white privilege to provide a voice or podium for those who don't have one is what those of us who have this privilege can do to really stand up for all that is wrong with how society treats people of color.
Honestly, to me, white privilege feels like a curse. The price I pay to pass as white (even though it is not my choice) is erasing and emotionally devastating. As a bi-racial (Hispanic/Caucasian) woman, I am always automatically assumed to be just white, despite being born and raised in Costa Rica. Spanish AND English are my first languages, and I continue to live, think, speak, and dream in both. White privilege erases my diversity and makes being Latina invisible to others, and in the past to myself as well.
For most of my life, it was preferable to let people assume, to save myself the million questions, to ignore the, “But where are you really from?” I hate not being identified as Hispanic — constantly responding in Spanish to English-spoken sentences coming out of the mouths of Latinos. I hate that the color of my skin and the texture of my hair and the way I dress somehow don’t fit in with the “idea” of what a Hispanic person has to look like. I hate that I have to constantly prove myself at every new job, including my current one, after I was specifically hired as a "bilingual social worker." (“Oh yeah? But, how well do you REALLY speak Spanish?”) I hate that my parents gave me a “white” name to match my “white” last name. I hate that my Hispanic mother denies our indigenous mestizo blood and pressured me into lightening my hair in middle school, scolding anyone who called my dark hair, “black.”
The society and world we live in continue to be disgustingly racist and I’m not so ignorant to presume that my white (passing) privilege hasn’t helped me avoid discrimination and disempowering situations. I know I should be grateful for the "protection" this has offered me, however I feel like a traitor to a clan I was never fully allowed to join.