Education helps build awareness of white privilege
As a member of the Diversity Action Team, I was compelled to respond to two recent letters in The Gazette concerning “white privilege.” I sincerely believe both letter writers gave honest appraisals of their understanding of white privilege. I also believe both are misinformed on this topic.
My first experience with the term white privilege came when I was invited to the White Privilege Conference at Central College in Pella, Iowa, about six years ago. I knew the conference founder but was a bit taken back by the term. I own S&J Consulting, a diversity, human relations and anti-racist business; am a retired educator from the Janesville School District; and did diversity work with the district staff. So I have been doing diversity, anti-racism, and human relations work since the 1970s, yet I had never run across this term.
As I learned about white privilege, I initially felt guilty, awkward and quite uncomfortable being white. I also realized the concept wasn’t designed to make me feel this way at all. After all, it’s not my fault I was born white. Why should I feel guilty?
As I did more reading, attended workshops and incorporated this concept into my own diversity training, I realized the concept came after hundreds of years of the practice. The bottom line is, as a white person I have numerous privileges or unearned advantages that my colleagues of color don’t have. Examples of these privileges include:
n Being able to travel without concern of being pulled over for a “routine” check.
n Having teachers who look like me and are my role models.
n Learning about how my race contributes to society.
White privilege also means I’m not a spokesman for my entire race, I don’t get followed in a store for no apparent reason, and I don’t worry about what neighbors will think and if the property will be devalued when I move to a new neighborhood.
The fact that white males made the rules and to this day still try to stay on top will help all of us realize the subtleness of white privilege. Even now with the knowledge I have of white privilege, I still wake up each morning as a white man not having to think about my color. That alone is a white privilege.
Historically we have touted our privileges and only recently have engaged in conversations to build bridges for sharing white privileges. I would encourage you to google Peggy McIntosh’s article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” or check out a book on white privilege by Tim Wise, Frances Kendall, or Alan Johnson. I would also encourage you to attend the Diversity Action Team’s spring workshop in Janesville. It will focus on white privilege. Details about this workshop will be coming later.
I am also delighted to inform you that this year’s White Privilege Conference will be in Seattle, Wash., and next year’s conference will be here in Madison. Go to whiteprivilegeconference.com for details.
Santo Carfora is a private diversity consultant and can be contacted at email@example.com.