As part of our class on family nursing, we have a unit on 'diversity'. As part of that unit, we had to read and respond to Frances E. Kendall's 'Understanding White Privilege'.
The responses of many of the rest of my class (composed entirely of people who already have their licenses as Registered Nurses) were as depressing as many of you can likely expect.
I haven't read all of the comments yet, but the denial, sometimes vehement, of the existence of white privilege is outnumbering even tepid acknowledgements of its existence by about 9-1 so far.
Among a class full of licensed healthcare professionals, all of whom have had at least some exposure to 'diversity training' in earlier classes.
I'm enclosing my own post below.
Yes, white privilege exists.
And yes, everyone on this board who is white benefits from it, whether or not they believe in it. It's a tough thing to swallow for most white folks, because it's not a 'happy thought'. You can say 'Oh, I'm white and I've had to fight for everything in life. Nothing has been given to me.' But, really, you're wrong on the second sentence, and the first is anecdotal.
When talking about racism and white privilege, you have to look to the statistics, not the individual. Every single person in this class could have had a totally dirt poor, sucky life. Compared to the 'average' person in the country, we could all have pretty squalid existences. But the 'average' white person in the US has it far better than the 'average' black person.
The latest recession has hit America hard, and minorities harder.
For blacks, the jobless rate rose from 7.7% to 16.5%, while the jobless rate for whites went from 3.9% to 9%...Median household income for blacks fell 7.2% from 2007 to 2009, significantly more than the 4.2% decline for whites...The average black person leaves his or her heirs just enough to pay the undertaker, with the typical black household’s net worth totaling just $2,200, according to the latest data.
Are there some white people who are poorer than some black people? Sure. But statistically, blacks are so far behind their white counterparts in this country that it's not even close to funny.
They're poorer, less healthy, arrested far more often, suspected by the police far more often... Heck, a couple of years ago, a black university professor was arrested for 'breaking into' his own house. 95% of the black people I know have 'driving while black' stories, where they were pulled over for no particular reason, then let off without a ticket. In nearly 30 years of driving, I've never been pulled over unless I was blatantly breaking the law, usually by driving around 20 miles over the posted speed limit.
What stuck with me from Kendall's paper was that she was at least nuanced enough to note that 'privilege' is not absolute - that the degree to which we are given preferential treatment depends on a host of variables, although race tends to stand out, overshadowing the others on a statistical basis.
What do I expect most white people to say after reading the essay? Pretty much what I've seen in many of the other posts. That it doesn't exist, that 'that sort of attitude' is 'why we have racial problems', etc, etc. Kendall is dead to rights - it's like talking to fish about water. Heck, I had the same hostile response myself the first time I came across the concept, reading a list of 'privileges' whites have (in large part, my opposition was that many of the so-called 'privileges' on the list were not anything I actually considered positive, or a privilege. To use a ludicrous example, if you're the only person being given a lump of earwax every day, you're hardly going to consider yourself 'privileged'...)
But start talking to minorities. Heck, start listening to them, more than talking. Read the damning statistics, listen to the petty and demeaning acts and words they face on a daily basis that you don't, simply because your skin lacks much melanin, and you finally come around to realizing it does indeed exist, whether or not you personally would want it to.
How will minorities respond to Kendall's essay? Probably they'll acknowledge that it's a decent start, but far from truly describing the pervasiveness and debilitating nature of institutional racism.
That was my response.
I'm depressed. I want to believe the country is heading towards more egalitarianism, more acceptance and understanding. But to find as much denial as I did among the rest of my fellow classmates just depresses the hell out of me. We also have to respond to other people's postings, and I tried to be polite while rebutting people talking of 'reverse racism', it's tough to see other folks' responses with things like 'I agree completely!' to people claiming white privilege doesn't even exist.