Even after hundreds of years of violence embedded systemic racism into this country's DNA, for some, white privilege is still a thorny concept to grasp. A new trend on TikTok manages to un-complicate the subject in under a minute. It's called the "Check Your Privilege" challenge, and it uses an audio prompt to school viewers: if the way you look doesn't endanger your life, you have privilege. The original video now has over 72,000 views, and at least 4,500 videos have used the audio to participate.
"I wanted to start a discussion," challenge creator Kenya, aka @boss_bigmamma, tells Bustle. Kenya first posted a video of herself playing the "Put a finger down" game to the sound of her own narration. "Put a finger down if you've been called a racial slur," she instructs. "Put a finger down if you've been followed in a store, unnecessarily," she continues. Users on TikTok caught on to the challenge and started using the audio track to check their own privilege.
"I wanted people to see where they were in this society and if they found themselves in a better position than others, maybe they could use that position to help," Kenya says. She notes that this challenge is not specific to white privilege, and should be used interchangeably between people of different races and identities.
Kenya uploaded the original video on May 22, three days before George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, sparking protests across the country and an influx of Black Lives Matter support on social media. "I was just listening to people throw words around and deny their privilege and just thought to myself: I wonder if it would help to give people a visual?" The goal, according to Kenya, is to simply "compare our experience."
The challenge went viral when Allison Holker Boss, who is white, participated in the challenge with her husband, Stephen "tWitch" Boss, who is Black. In the video, their son, Maddox, sits quietly on his father's lap while his parents play along. Holker is left with all of her fingers up, and Boss has all of his fingers down. The display shows moving evidence that the experience of being white is different than the experience of being Black.
Other white TikTok users are making their way into the For You page with Kenya's audio, silently playing along with all of their fingers up. Matt and Abby Howard, both 21, participated in the challenge on June 2. "When we were young, we didn’t even know white privilege existed. We had an innocent view of the world and thought that all forms of racism were in the past," the two tell Bustle over email. It wasn’t until they were older that they were able to recognize that racism still exists. "Hearing each statement was hard," the Howards say. "All we did in the video was listen to the hardship that our Black friends and neighbors have experienced, and recognize the existence of privilege." After posting their video and sharing it with their families, the Howards say it gave them the opportunity to educate both themselves and their families.
Emma Gilliland, 18, who dueted Kenya's video, tells Bustle that she felt pain listening to the challenge. She had the profound realization of the "metaphorical social 'pass'" that she gets as a white woman. "As a child I was always told to go to a police officer if I was lost, or to call 911 if ever in an emergency." It shocked her that one of the statements had to do with teaching children how not to get killed by the police. "I always saw the police as a symbol of safety. Everyone should be able to feel that way." The emotional aftermath continues for Gilliland, who says she's received comments "denying white privilege and further silencing the Black community."
Kenya has been posting anti-racist material for a while. On May 8, she uploaded a video tagged "Dear White People" in which she explains that she's tired of having to teach her children how to not be perceived as a threat just because they are Black. The video makes a plea for white people to instead teach their children not to perceive Black people as a threat in the first place.
Kenya says she's humbled that the challenge has been spread so widely. "Many people have said it’s a reality check and has opened their eyes. That makes me proud," Kenya says. But others have just "pushed it aside because they don’t believe privilege exists." They are "more hung up on the definition versus the context in which the word is being used," she adds. As the template continues to be shared across TikTok, Kenya will carry on providing resources to elicit change, because "our grandchildren deserve a better place to live."