More than 400 years ago in 1619, white Europeans thought they were a superior people group, so they raided a country and literally shackled thousands of Africans toa new identity, a foreign land and a ghastly lifestyle of slavery. According to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn., the transatlantic-slave trade lasted 366 years and moved at least 12.5 million Africans.
Today, we are still reconciling the repercussions of our ancestors’ atrocities. White privilege is an accurate description of what most of us on this campus live in. It’s like a fog that settles into a valley—it envelops every part of our lives and limits our understanding of a true reality. It’s not until we step out of the fog of white privilege that we can clearly see the world. Then—and only then—we can see what is really happening in our society, and how equality has never been a part of our nation’s history.
Peggy McIntosh wrote “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” in 1988, describing signs that white privilege exists in America, and many of her words still apply today. In this essay, she wrote that you experience white privilege if “When I am told about our national heritage or about ‘civilization,’ I am shown that people of my color made it what it is … I can swear, or dress in second-hand clothes or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race … I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race.”
The brutal truthabout privilege is that it seeps into the fabric of society without the people who benefit from it noticing. Every day I cannot comprehend the depths of the systematic benefits I receive. What am I going to do about it? I’m going to stop living a white-washed life. I’ll pick up “The Souls of Black Folk” by W.E. Du Bois. I’ll listen to the podcast “Code Switch” and watch shows that star people of color, not just put them in the show to have diversity. The least white people can do is start to learn the stories, history and truth about our fellow Americans. Listen to their stories of injustice. Travel to different parts of the country to see the actual disparities. Stop being so skeptical when someone says they have received racist comments. Just believe them.
If you think your life demonstrates equality, I urge you to stop and consider something. We all have blind spots in our lives. Maybe you’re thinking “I’ve heard MLK Jr.’s speech, I have a person of color as a friend. I am not racist.” Remember, we are all human, and none of us have perfection. If you think this article is not for you, then you are probably the one who needs to read it most.
We should be serious about changing the systemic racism in our society; however, we need to remember what Du Bois said, “The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression.” We all we have to pay a price to change our society, but it is cheap compared to the price minorities in the U.S. have had to pay ever since this land was discovered.