April 22, 2024

White privilege: an explanation

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Grant County Herald Editor

Here in rural west central Minnesota, we find it hard to relate to the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s not that we don’t care, it’s because our lives are so ingrained with white privilege, we cannot see or understand how the history of other people in this nation have been deeply affected by us, and our history.

Recently, I came upon this uncredited essay on what white privilege is, and it’s the best explanation I have ever read on the subject.

In the simplest terms, white privilege can be explained like this:

Around 400 years ago, white people brought black people over here and enslaved them, and sold them, and treated them as less than human. For 250 years,  white men built this country and created its laws, and its systems of government,   and dozens of generations of white families got to grow, and flourish, and make choices that could make their lives better.

Then 150 years ago, white people “freed” black people from slavery. But then angry white people created laws that made it impossible for black people to vote, or to own land, or to have the same rights as white people. And white people erected monuments glorifying people who actively had fought to keep black people enslaved. All  the while, another half-dozen generations of white families got to grow, accumulate wealth, gain land, get an education, and make their lives better.

Then 60 years ago, we made it “legal” for black people to vote, and to be “free” from discrimination. But angry white people still fought to keep schools segregated, and closed off neighborhoods to white people only, and made it harder for black people to get bank loans, or  quality education or health care, or to (gasp) marry a white person. All while another two to three generations of white families got to grow, pass their wealth down to their children and their children’s children, and make their lives better.

And now we have entered the Internet age and the things that were happening in private: the beatings, the stop and frisk laws, the unequal distribution of justice, the police brutality, are being made public.

And only now, after 400+ years and 20+ generations of a white head start, are we starting to truly have a dialogue about what it means to be black. Much of what I say also applies to Native Americans and how we have used white privilege to keep them subservient as well.

This is why it is important to take down statues honoring Confederate generals, or rename military bases named after them. This is why it is important to rename sports teams that now have racist names and logos. This is why we should not honor Christopher Columbus with a national holiday.

White privilege doesn’t mean white people haven’t suffered or fought or worked hard. It doesn’t mean white people are responsible for the sins of our ancestors. It doesn’t mean you can’t be proud of who you are. But it does mean that we need to acknowledge that the system our ancestors created is built by and for white people. It does mean that this has given us a huge advantage in improving our lives, and it does mean that we owe it to our neighbors– of all colors– to acknowledge that, never forget it, and work hard to make our world more equitable.

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