The Privilege of Denial

The Privilege of Denial

all things beautiful

Alyssa Bacon-Liu

I remember doing what’s called a Privilege Walk during my freshman year of college. There was a group of us and we stood in a line and we were given instructions. You had to take steps forward or steps back depending on how you answered certain questions. Are most people in power the same gender as you? Race as you? Are you the first in your family to go to college? Do most people on TV and the covers of magazines have the same skin tone as you? Stuff like that. And I’m sure you can see where this is going.

I did this exercise several times with several different groups of people. At the end of the exercise, the white males were always in the front. Guess who was always in the back? Me. And the only other non-white person because I went to private Christian college and when you’re a minority at private Christian college you’re REALLY a minority…

…,But you know who always complained about the exercise? The white males. Because even though I was the one who was in the back because people who look like me are not represented in politics, leadership, entertainment or even the college I was attending, somehow it was even more embarrassing for these young, white men to come to terms with their own privilege.

And I get it. Being confronted with the realities of one’s privilege is a really difficult thing. I’ve had to go through the process of identifying and reconciling my own privilege. Because despite what the Privilege Walk would imply, I have privilege too. I am American. By simply being born in this country (which I had absolutely no control over) I am one of the most privileged people on the planet. Does that mean I feel guilty about being an American? No. Aware of my privilege? Yes. Aware of how that privilege affects others around the globe, whether or not I intentionally mean to affect them? Yes. Absolutely.

One of my favorite bloggers, Dianna Anderson, is currently writing a series on her site about understanding privilege.

“Privilege is an advantage I have but am not always aware of. It is something inherent to my self that has the ability to affect how easy or difficult my life is.”

Based on this understanding, although it can be a challenging journey to understand your privilege, simply having privilege is not a bad thing. It’s not something you control. You can’t help it if you were born a certain way! But it’s still an important thing to acknowledge, as Dianna points out:

“Understanding our implicit privileges and the ways they cloud our thinking is vital for a discussion in social justice to actually get anywhere.

Understanding privilege is vital for a discussion on social justice, huh? Well then imagine my surprise in discovering that a supposed leader in the multiracial advocacy movement has not yet come to terms with her own privilege. The woman [Susan Graham] (who happens to be white) heading the organization Project RACE is mad that people keep tossing around the phrase “white privilege” and yesterday she wrote an entire post about it on the organization’s official blog, which is both peculiar and unprofessional. I’d like the share the highlights of said post, but you can read the entire thing here. The opening line of her post is the following statement:

“I’m sick of hearing people infer that if you are white, you are somehow privileged. Mitt Romney is, but that’s just one guy…”

I’m perplexed by her “argument.” It’s like she’s saying, “Just because Mitt Romney is privileged doesn’t mean every white person is!” White privilege is not synonymous for “extremely wealthy.” She is already missing the point and it’s only the first sentence of her post…

She cannot claim to be the voice of racial minorities without acknowledging the ways she (as a white person) benefits from the system that makes multiracial advocacy necessary in the first place. As a biracial person, it is completely unacceptable to me that someone who claims to be an advocate for the multiracial community would openly proclaim that she not only doesn’t believe that white privilege even exists but that it is not a necessary part of the conversation in multiracial advocacy…

Read the entire essay here.

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