When I say “White Privilege” what’s your immediate response?
I’ve found that we white people often become defensive at the term, immediately noting that we haven’t always had it easy ourselves. Maybe we’ve struggled financially or emotionally or physically. (What’s so privileged about that?) Maybe our ancestors never bought and sold slaves. Maybe we’ve always lived in racially integrated communities where bigotry is unheard of and bluebirds sing and the air smells like cinnamon rolls, but this doesn’t mean our lives are privileged or anything.
Last week, I was in Philadelphia at a meeting, and on my way to join someone for breakfast, I found myself navigating my way to a bagel shop in a cute neighborhood. And it occurred to me that I could eat at any of the restaurants I was strolling by: the cute diner, the upscale cafe, the Starbucks, the other Starbucks, the fancy bread store. I had so many options.
It occurred to me that privilege is about options. I can live in any neighborhood in Chicagoland – except maybe the ones with million dollar houses. But if I had millions of dollars I could literally live anywhere. Not true for people of certain races and nationalities and religions – if they had a million dollars.
I could move to a place with good schools and/or good school choices. I can select pretty much any doctor or dentist I want. I can choose a coat from LL Bean or the thrift shop. I have quite a few clothing options in my closet.
My options include any of the four pairs of black shoes lined up in there.
I have vacation options – and not merely because I can afford a vacation financially. I can choose a Bed and Breakfast with my husband, even though that B&B might not welcome gay couples or brown couples or Arabic-speaking couples.
You get the picture. Privilege = Options.
If ever we don’t believe there’s such a thing as White Privilege or Heterosexual Privilege or American Privilege or English-speaking Privilege or Christian Privilege – we need to count our options. Chances are that we have lots of them.