Wednesday, 18 October 2017

White Privilege and its Existance: A Point from Someone Who 'Looks White'

It has almost been a year since I last wrote a blog entry. Whether it is from dismay and dissatisfaction with the political climate in the United States to whether Indigenous peoples are truly being listened to – I have been pondering many items. On top of this I have been busy with personal and academic items that have also taken up quite a lot of my time. However, recently I have been involved with many online discussions around the topics of racism, discrimination, privilege and, more specifically, white privilege.

The discussions I have become involved with regarding to privilege, racism, and discrimination have been actual debates over whether any or all of the terms mentioned truly exist. Low and behold, the common thread has been someone of European background denying that some, or any of them, even exist.

What is White Privilege?

White privilege, as outlined by Francis E. Kendall, reflects the fact that many of European ethnic background have benefits to being ‘ethnically white’ in societies where they have dominated for centuries. Additionally, it is a concept that is difficult for many who are ethnically white to fully comprehend, as Kendall mentions, because many white people tend not to feel they have the power that is associated with privilege. Kendall states in a 2002 academic article that the lack of comprehension by many white people to the concept of white privilege is “sort of liking asking fish to notice water or birds to discuss air. For those who have privileges based on race or gender or class or physical ability or sexual orientation, or age, it just is – it’s normal.” In other words, Kendall highlights that there is an inability for many to see it because it is something they have been accustomed to since birth. Furthermore Peggy McIntosh elaborates that for many white people, “the items that are privileges tend to be assumed by them to be privileges universally available to everybody.” McIntosh also further elaborates that for many white people, “one of [their] privileges is that [they] see themselves as individuals, just people, part of the human race.” What many on the ‘white side’ of the human race forget is that this has been an item they have been able to be conditioned to view – a view that has allowed them to look forward without reflecting the past. It has allowed many to also believe that by changing laws means all will be equal under them since they would be recognized as ‘human’ or ‘citizens.’ Unfortunately, equality does not necessarily mean equity. Nor does it reflect the reality for many who are not white – or especially who aren’t cis white males.

The reality is for many whom are of Westernized European background they have been fortunate enough to continue living in a more ‘equal’ world then those who are not. Unfortunately, what is becoming more frightening as some push back against the concept of White privilege, is also those feeling they can also claim there is no such thing as racism or discrimination today… a section that many are pulling out of a Trump play book it seems.

Debates on the Existence of Racism and Discrimination:

I cant even count the number of times since November 2016 that I have had to argue with people who claim racism and discrimination aren't real.  It is unbelievable to even fathom that we’re discussing the existence of racism and discrimination. Thus I wont go into detail on this because I will treat racism and discrimination as something that exists. However, I will share definitions with both because I think it is important to remind some people.

Racism: A belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherently superiority of a particular race.’

Discrimination: The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.

How does this relate to issues of white privilege? Well, many who argue against white privilege try and use a select few examples of non-white people with privilege to show how a) it doesn’t exist and b) that in comparison to them they have privilege and are thus doing better then the white individual arguing against white privilege. What they don’t realize is that it shows not only their glossing over of true and documented racism and discrimination but also bypassing the differences between what is called white privilege and privilege in general.

How Is It That I See White Privilege Regularly?

I would assume by now you would know I believe that white privilege does exist. But you may wonder why. Well, the reality is that, and especially for those of you who don’t know me in-person, I am an Indigenous person, who is also gay, but looks stereotypically white. I witness first-hand the change in attitude and approach people have with me specifically.

In my personal experiences, the attitude and approach people have with me is traditionally different when people assume I am a white straight male. I will be treated with respect amongst many who are white at first – I tend to still be treated well these days if and when the other person finds out I am LGBT (this was not necessarily always the case 10 years ago). I am also 6.3 and over 200lbs – that also has garnered respect. I can look like an educated white straight male and am usually respected for that … until… they find out I am also Indigenous. I have seen facial expressions change; body language shift; and so on. My opinions have gone from being listened to when they assume I am one of them to being considered conspiracy theorish or bias because I am Indigenous. The key point here is that I, as someone who looks like a white straight male at times, witness a complete change from some people when they discoverer I am actually a European/Indigenous mixed gay man. To further my points, please see a list of examples – some of which I have experienced myself, others from examples in studies.

Examples of White Privilege, Racism, Discrimination, and all Three Together:
  • White privilege is not having to defend your argument or point as hard because the methodology and scientific forms dominant amongst Western societal and education structure are assumed to not be biased to western/white societies…its assumed to be unbiased because its already established by your dominant society.
  • White privilege is not having to be asked to defend and prove a point relating to the structure or history of your peoples – for instance, not being asked to prove the fact that a specific Indigenous nation was a part of a specific confederation … despite the two people being asked to defend and prove it are 1) a PhD student who does political science and Indigenous politics + 2) a person who is from one of the nations in the confederacy being spoken of.
  •  White privilege is not having to identify or defend your right to exist every single day and multiple times in a day.
  • White privilege is having a diversity of choices for toys as a kid representing whiteness while those who are non-white have select few options...
  • White privilege is not having to have someone from another ethnicity say what you and many others of a specific ethnicity have said to either be taken seriously or be listened to (for Instance, White people dont need a black person to say if they are suffering from substandard policy; a White person doesnt need an Indigenous person to discuss if the Irish have been colonized or if past policies have further created problems.. yet in both cases, the black community and Indigenous peoples consistently are only listened to when a person of important stature in the dominant society (Western society) speaks up).
  • White privilege is not having to worry, sweat, or internally freak out when a police car begins to follow you – especially when you have done nothing wrong. I think its safe to say a majority of black and Indigenous peoples do not feel this way. Why do they worry, sweat or internally freak out? Pick up a history book or a paper: shooting, excessive force, the ‘starlight tours,’ residential schools, the Sixties Scoops, Wounded Knee, Ipperwash, Caledonia, Oka, and so on).
  • White privilege is not having to worry about your resume being cast aside because your name sounds ‘non-white.’
  •  White male privilege is being able to tell others to get over Trump being elected because its democracy… and not having to fear being targeted or suffering under his presidency because you are not LGBT, female, or a person of colour.
  •  White female privilege is claiming to be able to talk for all females because you are the same gender, while ignoring the problems many women of colour or Indigenous women face from white women not only today but historically (the famous five in Canada for instance weren’t all necessarily for the equality of all women – with some preferring only equality for white Christian women and, in one case, even arguing for forced sterilization of Indigenous women.
  • White privilege is being able to have better socio economic possibilities then someone of colour who is at the same level of education. For instance, a white straight male will do far better then anyone in the work force without a high school diploma… while a white female also will, not as good as a white man, have better opportunities then a black woman, or, say a black gay male...
  • The examples and stories of Rosa Parks and Viola Desmond? Racism.
  • ResidentialSchools and Sixties Scoop? Racism.
  • Expressing or calling someone who is LGBT a ‘Faggot’ – Discrimination.
  • Saying all Gays should be killed? Discrimination…. And in many countries NOT ILLEGAL
  • Calling an Indigenous person a Dirty Indian and parasite on society? A mix of Racism and Discrimination
  • Assuming an Indigenous person doesn’t need a job because ‘they get everything for free?’ A mix of racism and discrimination.
  • Not having to worry about where you travel in the world because you are white? White Privilege.
  •  When white people from European states or around the world are compensated for the territory or property they have lost because of upheaval and wars do not have to defend their compensation like that of many Indigenous peoples, other colonized peoples, etc? White Privilege (or even more specific – settler-colonial privilege in general).

These are specific – lets not get them mixed with generic privilege. Someone who is able to travel, that is a general privilege. Someone who is able to get an education is also a general privilege for some. But lets not forget that stats show a specific group of people can traditionally access both and they don’t tend to non-white peoples in western societies.


Now, as someone who grew up of humble means on a reservation and in a single parent family I have witnessed forms of discrimination but also garnered certain privileges over time. For instance, I acknowledge that I have the privilege of having a BA, an MA, and am currently working on my PhD. I, alongside my partner, are in a comfortable income bracket. I am able to travel to many places, albeit we are cautious with where we go because we risk being attacked or charged for being gay.

And, lastly, I acknowledge that I have the privilege of looking white – which, as long as I keep my mouth shut, opens doors for me that aren’t open to some of my friends and family who many look more ‘stereotypically’ Indigenous or whom look black.

My problem is I wont hide behind looking white when people say ignorant things. My other intersectionalities do not allow for such a thing. My other problem? Some will shrug this post off and refer to me as a biased Indigenous person who doesn’t know what it is like to have to work for everything... (sarcasm intended). Or, as said to me once: “you’re just a dirty Indian faggot.”

How someone can look at that sentence and tell me there isn’t racism and discrimination is beyond me… how someone can look at examples I highlighted and don’t see white privilege also astounds me… but then again, as highlighted those who shrug this off help to show the extent that white privilege does go… as shown by the quotes from Kendall and McIntosh


(The most important article for those who are white and not of wealthy-elite status)

1 comment:

  1. I just stumbled on this post, and it's very insightful! The subject of white privilege is interesting because it is one of those subjects that we are rarely encouraged to think about when discussing the implications of racism and prejudice. Growing up, I remember myself and my peers being taught that racism is hurtful towards others, yet I know that many of my friends never really learned about privilege and how they have a social advantage over people who are not privileged. Even now, I can try to have casual conversations with some of the online buddies I have lined up over the years and most of them also fail to understand it whenever it comes up in conversation.

    I sometimes try to explain it to some of my friends, only to be countered with protests of "how does it matter". The subtext is usually "how is it relevant to me", and it can be hard to encourage them to think of these matters differently if they happen to "benefit" from white privilege themselves; as you said, many people think that their normative experiences and expectations reflect the realities of everyone living in Canada because it is perfectly normal to them.

    Thanks for the post!