2020 was the year that saw the term “white privilege” truly arrive in our society. It describes the fact that white people enjoy social and economic advantages rooted in colonialism, imperialism, and the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In other words, my way through life as a white person is automatically made easier for me than it is for BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of colour). This isn’t to say that everything’s fallen into my lap or that I haven’t earned any of it myself; it simply means that I enjoy opportunities to which BIPOC have zero access to begin with.
“White privilege” also entails being unaffected by racism and often having an accordingly hard time understanding the magnitude of this problem. We take our perspective on the world for granted, and when confronted with our privilege, we react with a lack of understanding and defensiveness. This defensive reaction frequently materialises as drama, tears, and victim-blaming, and it’s so common that there’s now a name for it: “white fragility”.
Such reactions are understandable. We’ve been taught since we were little that racism is something that only individual bad people are guilty of—rather than about how we were growing up in a racist system whose values and structures all of us have unconsciously internalised. Becoming aware of this is unpleasant, no doubt about it. But no progress will be made if we don’t begin to leave our comfort zones. We need to start decentring ourselves, listening, and using our privileged positions to create safe spaces and provide support for BIPOC. And in the process, we should refrain from invalidating the experiences of all people of African descent simply because the realities of our own lives are entirely different. The key concept here is: empathy!
All this is a process, and we won’t be waking up tomorrow in an enlightened, equitable society. We will make mistakes along the way. But none of this would be an excuse to uphold the status quo—because progress in terms of how we deal with racism is long overdue. So check your privilege.