White privilege is real and it’s up to those who possess it to acknowledge and utilize it to advocate for positive changes.
Earlier this month, Theresa Kenerly, a Georgia mayor made national news after allegedly withholding an African-American man’s resume stating that her predominantly white jurisdiction wasn’t ready for a black leader.
Following the incident, Jim Cleveland, a councilman from this same county made the following comment, “I’m a Christian and my Christian beliefs are you don’t do interracial marriage. That’s the way I was brought up and that’s the way I believe,” he said. “I have black friends, I hired black people. But when it comes to all this stuff you see on TV, when you see blacks and whites together, it makes my blood boil because that’s just not the way a Christian is supposed to live.”
According to this article from The Atlanta Journal Constitution there were many calls for both the mayor and councilman to resign from their positions. Residents even planned a vigil in light of the events to stand in solidarity against the racist actions.
According to the City of Hoschton Website both Mayor Theresa Kenerly and Councilman Jim Cleveland remain in office.
And while many people were appalled by these comments and allegations, others were not the least bit surprised. In initial article from The AJC the job candidate, Keith Henry, stated, “it comes with the territory. If you live in America as a minority you can’t be naïve that it is the reality that you face.”
Twice as Hard
The easy thing to for many to do was to write this situation off as something that only happens once in a while in small, mostly white southern towns and move on. It’s easy to ignore the harsh realities that don’t directly impact you. It’s a privilege.
There’s a very common mantra in the African-American community that states you have to work twice as hard to get half as much as your white counterparts.
The ideology behind the sentiment is that underqualified well-off white people get more opportunities than overqualified black people.
A report from Georgetown University titled Separate and Unequal stated that the “analysis confirms two obvious facts about the American educational pipeline. First, the odds against students from less affluent families and schools, either in applying or being selected for entrance into selective colleges, are higher than for students from better off families and schools. Second, numerous students have the proven ability to beat those odds.”
That being said, there are many ways in which white privilege works. In my past despite working twice as hard and beating the aforementioned odds, my credibility was still questioned.
When college admissions decisions came out, I was accepted into my first choice school. A wealthy white classmate had also applied to the same school as his first choice but was denied admission. Despite the fact that I had a higher GPA and test scores, was heavily involved in extracurriculars, and had taken more rigorous classes than him he insisted that the reason I had gotten accepted was that the university needed to meet affirmative action requirements.
We had compared almost every aspect the admissions department used to accept or deny candidates, and in each category I had outperformed him. Still, he concluded that my skin color was the reason I had gotten accepted and he hadn’t.
It never occurred to him that he was mediocre or that I had been working twice as hard. It never crossed his mind that I was simply the better candidate.
For me, this experience highlighted the fact that some people are aware of their privilege and the opportunities being white affords them, because they’re shocked on the rare occasions when that privilege isn’t enough.
Understanding White Privilege
A basic analysis from Racial Equity Tools defines privilege as “a right, advantage, favor, or immunity specially granted to one, especially a right held by a certain individual, group or class, and withheld from certain others or all others.”
White privilege doesn’t mean that white people don’t and haven’t worked hard for the things that they have accomplished. They may not even purposely mean to use their privilege. Despite their intentions and in addition to working hard, they also have historically had a significant headstart that placed them much closer to the finish line.
“Throughout American history white power-holders, acting on behalf of our entire race, have made decisions that have affected white people as a group very differently than groups of color,” Francis Kendall explains in Understanding White Privilege. “History is filled with examples of the purposeful construction of a systemic structure that grants privileges to white people and withholds them from others.”
This isn’t a new trend or something that happened over the last decade. It’s been brewing for centuries. It’s the combination of bias, systemic racism, prejudice, disparity, and discrimination that African Americans have endured since they were forced here on slave ships.
Check Your Privilege
One doesn’t ask for the privilege they’re born with. It isn’t something that you can give away or refuse, and you shouldn’t victimize yourself if you do have that privilege.
Many of us have been awarded certain privileges since birth. My light skin and socio-economic standing are not a product of anything I’ve done, but still, my life has been easier because of these factors in comparison to those who are without them.
It’s incredibly important to acknowledge and be aware of our privileges.
Though food insecurity may not affect you directly it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t advocate for the poor.
If you are a male income inequality across gender may not cause your paycheck to be any less, but that doesn’t forbid you from using your privilege and authority to take a stand against it.
If a mayor is withholding the resumes of qualified candidates because they aren’t white, white people can still demand justice and equality, long after the press moves to the next breaking story.