Privilege: (Merriam Webster) A right or benefit that is given to some people and not others.
(Urban Dictionary) The sweet end of the inequality stick.
Race has become a HUGE issue in this country over the last couple of years. Racism has been an issue in the country since the birth of this nation, but recently it has been at the forefront of conversation in this country because of so many negative issues pertaining to it. For example, police brutality, the 2016 election, and job opportunities have all played a part in the conversation regarding race.
This post could have easily been about race and racism, but I wanted to focus on something that has also a popular topic of discussion. Something that may not be so obvious at racism. That thing is called privilege, more specifically, white privilege. White privilege is, in my opinion, an even scarier thing than just good old fashioned racism because it does more than just scare and terrorize people. It excludes people from certain opportunities in life and continues to add more bricks to the rock pile that minorities in this country have to climb every day. White privilege is discouraging. It’s a setback, and a setup for failure for minorities. Let me explain:
This past summer I had the opportunity to participate in a prestigious internship at a well-known advertising agency. This was a huge deal because I had recently switched careers and participating in this internship would have provided me with the experience that I needed in order to start looking for jobs in my new field. There were around 5000 applicants for this internship and only about 70 people received a spot. It was a big deal.
I was really excited about the internship, but I also was nervous too. For one, I was much older than most of the other interns. I mean older by almost 10 years. I was an intern with kids who just graduated college two weeks prior to the internship starting, and I had been out of college since 2008. I also was a woman, and a woman of color. Those two things alone are almost harder to find in the industry that I’m in than trying to figure out where Carmen San Diego is. Needless to say, I felt a lot of pressure. Out of the 70 interns, only 16% were African-American. This racial makeup was nothing new to me since I had grown up in an upper middle class neighborhood and was usually the only or one of two Black kids in my honors classes at school.
The internship was ten weeks long. During that time, we were to shadow our mentors, learn the industry, and participate in a group project. (Might I add, our internship class had the worst experience with the group project on company record.) The internship itself was going great and I was really enjoying myself and making a lot of great connections. All of the concerns I had about my age and gender faded. But one day, while working on our group project, I became the victim of white privilege at the hands of a fellow team mate.
Our team was rushing to meet a deadline and everyone on our team was not up to date on our strategy. I took it amongst myself to explain our strategy to the people who had been absent and were behind. In the middle of me trying to help get my team on the same page, a young, 19-year-old, Caucasian female proceeds to put her hand in my face, almost touching my glasses and tells me to “Shut up”. It caught me so off guard, as well as everyone else in the room. I hadn’t been doing anything wrong, nor had I even been directing any of my conversation to this girl. I was so taken aback by what happened that the only thing I could immediately think to do was grab my stuff and leave. I didn’t yell at her, I didn’t curse her out, touch her or anything. I simply packed up my things and left.
I went back to my desk and immediately sent an email to our group mentor to explain the situation to her and request a private meeting. I also talked about the incident to a couple of other people who I considered mentors in order to get their perspective and suggestions on how I should handle it. My request for a meeting with our group mentor was received and I went up to her floor to speak to her. Now the mentor was also a Caucasian woman, however, she was older, I would say at the oldest in her late 30’s. Without even asking me to explain my side of the story the group mentor proceed to express to me how “aggressive” I am, though intelligent and bright. Well, how would this lady even know that I am aggressive when this was the first time I had ever spoken with her? Not only that, but I was the one who was assaulted, yet I am the aggressive one? She continued to explain to me that she had received an email from the girl who had put her hand in my face as well and suggested that we find some way to work together as a group. The meeting went nowhere. I thanked her anyway for her time and went about business, albeit feeling extremely alienated and isolated.
Thank GOD for guardian angels though. I had a department mentor who had caught wind of the situation and pulled me aside for a meeting a couple of days later. Apparently this group mentor of mine spun the situation out of control and told everyone that I was the aggressor and that she would never recommend hiring me. Well my department mentor was also Caucasian, but he was also older and gay. I believe he was in his mid to late 60’s. The first thing out of his mouth was, “Oh, so this girl who put her hand in your face must be a blonde, white, Republican.” He already knew what was going on. Being a minority himself, he had seen this type of behavior one too many times before. He went on to tell me, “You are going to have to go through this and more, because you don’t look like anyone else in the room. And they hate you for that. But just know, if you EVER have any issues, don’t hide them from me, because I will always have your back.” He knew that the girl who put her hand in my face was going to do any and everything in her power to get to the top, no matter who she stepped on to get there. And being a “Good ole’ boy” was the only way to have uninhibited shot to success in our industry.
That situation made me so mad, because I knew had my skin been a different color it would have ended completely different. I also know because of my skin color I was made out to be the villain instead of being seen as the victim. It’s 2016 and unfortunately it still seems that in order to get ahead in this country, you have to have the “complexion for the protection”, or be White. And White people know this. To me, white privilege means being able to do and then get away with behaviors that someone of color wouldn’t be able to. For example, let’s talk about the last couple of weeks. One week a little boy fell into a gorilla exhibit at a zoo and just yesterday a boy was eaten alive by an alligator at a Disney resort while wading in water that had a “no swimming” sign posted. In the case of the boy falling into the gorilla exhibit, he and his parents were black. His father wasn’t even there when the incident happened but was still investigated by the police for child endangerment. The boy lived, the gorilla was put down, and the entire country was calling for the mother to be put in jail. Now in the case of the boy getting eaten by the alligator, he and his parents were White. No investigation has been launched into the parents regarding negligence even though they allowed their 2-year-old son to wade in waters IN FLORIDA where warning signs were posted. Unfortunately, in this situation, the little boy died. Even though I’m sure they will have little to no case, the parents will probably file a lawsuit seeking damages and blaming Disney World. How do you think these situations would have turned out if each respective family’s skin color was different?