About half a year ago, I was talking to my best friend when she called me out for being privileged. I won’t lie; I was upset. It hurt to hear someone so close to me say that. After some thought, however, I realized something:
She was right. Obviously.
I’ve spent my entire life being privileged, both in terms of money and in terms of just being white, as have a fair portion of us at SMU. I grew up with mostly white neighbors in a mostly white city. Why is it that it took 21 and a half years to realize that all of this makes me privileged? It was almost like walking around for an entire day with a huge spinach leaf on your front teeth: you just feel stupid when you finally see it, like you definitely should have noticed it earlier in the day.
I think white people have become colorblind. Not in the sense that “we don’t see color; everyone is equal,” because that couldn’t be further from the truth for a lot of us. Rather, things have become black and white, them and us, with only shades of grey in between. The lighter the shade of grey, the more accepting we are on a subconscious level. We don’t see color because we try to turn everything either black or white. Historically, it’s what we’ve always understood best; and humans, as a species, do nothing better than resist changes to our accepted knowledge and understanding. We place people into categories we have created rather than view them as individuals with unique stories, struggles, and strengths.
We can thank our colonial ancestors for deeply engraving these sentiments into our social norms, but who can we thank for perpetuating them in the modern age? Only ourselves.
White privilege is the ability to look at the world and disregard color because your own color will never affect your livelihood. It is the ability to disregard the implications of actions, policy, and law on minorities because the color of your skin elevates your comfort over their basic human rights. It is the ability to say, “I have no problem with it; I just don’t want to see it” because you’re lucky enough to choose what you want to see in the world. It is the ability to make decisions for those whom you know nothing about without ever consulting them or learning their story.
Do I run around spouting white supremacist jargon and actively attacking minorities? No, thankfully. But do I do anything to stop the internalized values in the back of my mind that affect my decisions and my views of others daily? Not usually, unfortunately.
Being self-aware of this is troubling. How do you fight on a larger scale what you yourself embody? How do you see color when that means potentially giving up your own comforts? And how do you accomplish this when many of your own friends and family are just as colorblind as you?
I’ve struggled with these thoughts for months now. How can I embrace my own identity while simultaneously raising up those whose identities are threatened or smothered, and is my own identity even valid anymore? At this point in my life, my best answer is to listen.
It’s only a start, but listen to those around you. Listen to those who feel their voices are being stifled. Listen to those who have been screaming to be heard for decades now. Listen and stop deciding who does and who does not get a voice in this country. Stop deciding that you can understand a life you’ve never experienced yourself. Listen to those who you would normally tune out. Let people be heard. It’s the least we can do, right? Be an ally without assuming anything and serve others without feeling the need to fix them.
I don’t know how to remedy all the issues in this country. I don’t think anybody does. What I do know is that we have spent over two centuries in this country being too concerned with our own careers, families, and comforts to give a damn about those who have been fighting to enjoy life like we do. This isn’t about opening or closing the borders or welfare or minimum wage; it’s about basic human decency and respect. That’s what we owe to minorities in the United States: some basic respect.
I hope that one day I will no longer feel like my identity is encroaching upon the validity of others and their own identities. Until then, I’ll listen, listen, and listen. I’d encourage other white people to do the same.
This article was written by Camille Aucoin. Click here to see more of Camille’s work.