What is White Privilege?

Poppy Jennings

White privilege is sending out your CV when applying for jobs and not having to worry about whether your name sounds foreign. It’s not being sent home on your first day of school because your dreadlocks, cornrows, braids, or afro are disrupting other kids’ learning. It’s being able to drive down the street in a nice car without people suspecting you stole it. White privilege is being able to go through the day or the week without at least one person asking you what you think of racism. It’s not being that person that is apologised to after every racist joke. It’s being able to use shampoo at hotels or B&Bs without considering how it could possibly be an issue.

A lot of people seem to struggle with the acceptance that they benefit from a massive privilege in this country. People still try to preach that racism isn’t a thing anymore, that we’re not still affected by it because we don’t have slaves or separate toilets. People don’t deny it because they don’t believe it’s there; people deny it because they feel guilty. They feel guilty about liking the beneficial place they’re in. They like that they don’t have to worry about how their whiteness might affect their job chances, their career aspirations, their safety.

Brexit (don’t worry, it’s just to open story time) hit a while ago now, and something that really struck me was how quick people jumped on the chance to become aggressors and turn their internalised racism into physical and verbally abusive outlets. My brother was sat at a bus stop one night after work and he was approached by someone who told him to go back to his own country. My brother is English. This happened in England. My brother is mixed-raced, and for some reason the colour of his skin screams foreigner. White privilege is being able to walk down the street and never be threatened or told to leave the invisible borders of a country where you were born.

There’s a blindness to reality that is perpetuated by the media and the fashion industry that we are force-fed every day. Magazines, television, books, radio talk shows. The majority of people we see are white. There’s an overwhelming whiteness to our beauty campaigns and our movies. There’s an absence of ethnic diversity that is so overwhelming that it takes a film particularly recreating the massive achievements or stories of black people to make people stop and think, ‘actually, there must have been black people in the 50’s, why aren’t there any black actors in this movie set in New York with thousands of extras walking up and down the street?’ White privilege is being able to look through fashion magazines with your daughter or little sister without silently hoping they aren’t internally damaged by the white beauty standards that are impossible to attain. It’s being able to buy Barbies or action men without a second thought to how lacking in ethnicities the dolls are

Nappily Ever After, an incredibly gripping, heart-breaking, and touching story about one woman’s relationship with her hair dropped on Netflix a few weeks ago. It wasn’t advertised much. If you weren’t keyed into the right conversations on Twitter, you’ve probably still gone on without knowing what it is. I cried like a little bitch watching this film. So many people will struggle to grasp the heart-wrenching truths of this movie, and that’s a privilege in itself. I don’t have my sister’s afro, but I’ve spent hours sat there brushing it, I’ve had countless emotional conversations with her about how much she hates her hair and wishes it was straight like everyone else’s. I’ve seen her cut all her hair off in frustration. I know how much she spends on it to keep it anything but natural. White privilege is dismissing white aestheticism and cultural appropriation. It’s saying that there’s nothing wrong with Kim Kardashian claiming cornrows as her latest fashion item and refusing to acknowledge what they really are.

White privilege is being able to read a book without having the ethnicity of the main character described to you in the first few pages. If there are any black, Asian, or other ethnic minorities in the book you’re reading at all, you can guarantee they’re described by their skin colour. White people aren’t. Do you know why? Because whiteness is the norm. If a character isn’t described by colour, they’re most probably white. And it’s for the same reason that your friend is telling you a funny story and they describe every non-white person by their ethnicity or their (assumed) nationality: that Chinese guy did that, this black girl did this, that Asian girl was doing that…

White privilege is not recognising white privilege.