The term “white privilege”, which was coined by Peggy Mcintosh in her 1988 piece ‘White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack’ has been used in so many conversations within the last week, I decided to write on the topic for this week’s column.
The term “white privilege” has been a bone of contention for many. Some brush it off as an excuse for people who want to wallow in their “made-up misfortunes”. Whereas, many more view it as a stark reality.
White privilege has been described as “the societal privilege that benefits people whom society identifies as white in some countries, beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances”.
I appreciate the phrase “whom society identifies as white” because there are many instances in which I throw a side-eye at the people we identify as “white”. Feeding into the term of “white is right” (and perhaps a residual effect of slavery), the closer your complexion is to white, the better life seems in certain instances and among certain people.
I grew up hearing from a now deceased relative that “once de last white man dead, I going long wid he”. Sad to say, she died and there are still white people here – none of whom is mourning her death.
The term “white privilege” was brought up with one of my white friends who immediately got offended. He sought to compare our lives, suggesting that my life is more “blessed” than his. Not in the business of turning down blessings, I admitted that perhaps it is. However, there are situations in which simply because of his skin colour, he will benefit in ways I shall not. This fact cannot be summed up to be “just life”.
A few years ago comedian Chris Rock told an audience filled with mostly white persons, “None of y’all would change places with me! And I’m rich! That’s how good it is to be white!”
White privilege doesn’t mean that white people do not have problems. It doesn’t mean that white people don’t experience hardships. It also doesn’t mean that all white people are racist. White privilege means that in the hierarchy of races, white people are at the top of the totem pole. Furthermore, being at the top of that totem pole comes with benefits that others do not enjoy.
I have worked in the offshore sector. It is a wonderful sector of which we should all be thankful. The benefits to Barbados are insurmountable. That said, there are many cases in this paradise of Barbados, in which white expats come to this island and are paid top-dollar compared to more educated and experienced Barbadians “just because”. There are instances in which managers feel more comfortable giving raises to white employees than black ones who work just as hard or even harder.
Allow me to tell you a story which should further highlight how white privilege operates. I know of a black, Barbadian millionaire who lives overseas. He wanted to relocate to Barbados and set up a business. In his initial moves to do so, there were many friends, family members and peers who encouraged him to hire a white man to be the ‘front’ for the business. This white man would interact with potential clients. The white man would simply follow a script of things to say in meetings with clients and if he didn’t know something, he would reply saying “I shall check with my business partner on that”. Needless to say, my friend still resides abroad and viewed the entire plan as too much of a headache. What saddens me is the reality and view of many that his business stood a better chance of succeeding with a white man who knew nothing about the sector than with him (a black man who is one of the leading people in his field internationally) being publicly known as the true owner. That, ladies and gentlemen is an example of white privilege.
When I seek to purchase a property in Barbados and I am overcharged compared to a white Barbadian (who is just as unknown to the original property owner as I am) because the original property owner views my white counterpart’s money and presence in the neighbourhood as better than mine, that is white privilege. My competition has benefited from white privilege.
Another point of amusement arises in which many Barbadians automatically dismiss any possibility of any wrongdoing when white people are accused of an inappropriate act. Whilst there are some Barbadians who are all too happy to parade and join any bandwagon of the callous court of public opinion, many hold the view that white people do not commit certain crimes. Once again, a repetition of the concept of “white is right”.
There are still instances in which brands prefer to appeal to or use white people in their marketing because they believe that this will make for better branding. Black people can model, spend money and have good credit too. There are still workplaces in Barbados where women are not allowed to adorn natural hairstyles.
Acknowledgement of white privilege does not mean that we are walking around with an inferiority complex. What I don’t want readers to become are people who view every, single experience as a reason to pull the race card. If someone doesn’t like you, and they aren’t the same race as you, there is a chance that you may be a total nuisance and they have every right not to like you. There is also the chance that their preconceived notions of people with your skin colour and existing stereotypes may influence their mode of interaction with you.
Do I believe racism exists? Yes. Do I believe that all white people are racist? No.
In conclusion, I dislike the fact that we cannot discuss matters of race among persons of various races without it ending in bitterness, resentment and blocked Facebook profiles. This does nothing to change the national consciousness. Very few public conversations I see on race among people of different racial backgrounds (especially on social media) seek to really understand where the other person is coming from. Where hate and ignorance collide, it is a recipe for disaster. We must do better.
Toni Thorne is a founder and entrepreneur who enjoys a great debate, family time, island life and minding her mouth! Email: email@example.com