White Privilege

A post by LTAR member Manisha O’Malley

To all the people who can’t get their heads round white privilege.

First off, I think it’s important that we make one thing clear: I’m sick of hearing, “I live in a council house and I’m unemployed, how does that make me privileged?”. White working class people can be socially and economically deprived, but never because of the colour of their skin. In the last few months, I’ve often been told by people who have never experienced racism that they fully understand it, usually because they’ve studied it. I appreciate that most people who say this don’t have bad intentions and genuinely want to educate themselves. However, to all of those people, I must make one thing abundantly clear: numbers and statistics do absolutely nothing to speak to the emotional impact and trauma that racism brings. The most important thing that you could do if you have never experienced racial discrimination is to acknowledge that. Being in a position where you can educate yourself is much easier than having to experience it personally, and this in itself is an example of privilege.

As someone who is mixed race, I suffered a lot of racial abuse at school, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have my own privilege to acknowledge. I’m white passing, and I’d say about 80% of people would assume I’m caucasian when they first see me. So, it’s not difficult to recognise that the racism I have experienced pales in comparison to people whose ethnicity is more visible in their physical appearance. Acknowledging your own privilege is not synonymous with white guilt. It is exactly that, an acknowledgement. Nothing more and nothing less.

Being white passing has also placed me in many situations where I have seen the way in which people speak about us and our communities when they think we’re not listening. I remember being in the waiting room at a doctor’s surgery, when an elderly woman joked to me that because of the hot weather at the time, “the Indians are buying fans because even they can’t stand the heat”. On the surface, this is just a harmless joke, but it speaks to the way in which many white people feel comfortable making comments about us which they wouldn’t dare repeat in front of us. This in turn, touches on a deep-seated fear that no matter how convinced we may feel by the words of acceptance we hear, we will always be seen as ‘other’. The sad fact is that we will probably never be fully welcomed into British society. Many of us are all too aware of the massive contributions and sacrifices that ourselves and our families have made for Britain, but instead we are personified as infiltrating and dominating. That in itself, references the root of a lot of racism in the UK. Not just on a systemic level, but also many of the microaggressions that people of colour are all too accustomed to.

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