by Michael Badzik
In the year 2020 a term everyone is extremely familiar with is, “White Privilege.” But what is “White Privilege?” Is it something every white person has? Is it something they should be ashamed of or feel guilty about? Can you have white privilege even if you grow up poor? For a phrase that has so much debate and importance, it’s tough to grasp what the phrase entails. Wikipedia defines White Privilege as “referring to the societal privilege that benefits white people over non-white people in some societies, particularly if they are otherwise under the same social, political, or economic circumstances.” Okay…. So white people have an advantage in circumstances where the same economic conditions exist. On the surface, as a white person, its tough to feel that advantage without looking at the circumstances around you. This is something that took me years to figure out. Growing up, my parents had a combined income of less than $40,000 and four kids. We certainly were not privileged economically. We weren’t poor, and my parents were able to provide in a way that it never felt apparent that we were living in a less than ideal economic equation. In 2018 the median household income for black families was $41,511, a number that is rising every year for that demographic. So, comparing my upbringing with that of a black family is comparable economically. Which makes the question applicable, did white privilege exist in and affect my life?
For a long time, I might have answered that question, “No, probably not.” But when I stop and really think about it, of course it did. Let’s just think of all the things that were affected that didn’t have to do with economics. In my history classes at school, I learned about the history and accomplishments of my race, mostly ignoring the egregious transgressions that the white race has caused throughout history. I had the privilege of being read children books, playing with toys, and watching TV shows that largely and disproportionately showed my race. Every super hero movie I watched as kid was a white super hero. You may not think that these have an impact on long-term psychology of children, but studies show that it does. Not only does that impact the long-term mental attitudes of kids, so does the never-ending media avalanche of showing black people in handcuffs on the news. I cannot imagine the mindset I would have had growing up if the main place I saw white people on TV was getting arrested. The failed war on drugs that has ruined so many lives seems to be treated as a health crisis when the victims of drug addiction are white, yet for how many years did the media show black person after black person being arrested and treated as a threat to society for the same addictions? My parents live in a rather poor neighborhood, however, it’s about 99% white. With that, in my 18 years of living in their house, I saw a cop in my town once. I cannot imagine if that number was to be replaced with the over-policing that takes place in communities of color. There is a very good chance, especially given my behaviors as a teen, that I could have been at least stopped by police and possibly arrested and put in juvenile facilities as a teenager. Which brings up the other glaring privilege I had a white person. I’ve been stopped the police in my life six times, twice for speeding, once for swerving, twice to break up a party, and once when I asked one for a ride home after a drunken evening at the bar. Every single encounter I’ve had with the police has been pleasant. They spoke to me like another human being. Like I was capable of conversation, without hitting me or treating me like I’m less than them. Because of these pleasant interactions, I have no fear of getting in my car and being pulled over. I know every black person doesn't have that luxury.
Without a doubt, I have benefited in my life from white privilege, as has every white person in America. Should we feel guilty about that? I don’t think so. But it’s important that we are conscious of it. At the end of the day I don’t believe the fight we have in front of us is to strip white people of those privileges. The fight is to find a new system that trains our law enforcement to better recognize their biases and not act on them. Where police officers have the same pleasant interactions with white people and people of color. Where everyone is treated as a logically thinking human being. A system that teaches the true history of this country, not the white-washed version we’ve heard so many times and know to be false. One day this fight will be over, and we will have a more perfect union. One day we will be able to truly say that there is no more White Privilege, only American Privilege. Where all citizens are treated equally and benefit in the same ways for being an American Citizen, not a white American Citizen. Until that day, we will keep fighting the change that black people have been deserving of since 1619.