The Personal Is Political-Becoming Aware of White Privilege
“The personal is political” describes the means in which our personal experiences are a byproduct of systematic relations and structures. Addressing these personal experiences and how the connect to the bigger picture of certain social causes allows for an open discussion about what it means to have different personal experiences in a society that is so heavily reliant on social interaction and understanding. From sharing a few of my personal experiences of white privilege and how that has perpetuated systematic racism, we can better recognize when they happen and being able to acknowledge and understand them.
Growing up in an upper middle class white household in an area as wealthy and substantially white as South Tampa, the negative effects of privilege on other races and socioeconomic groups wasn’t evident to me. It wasn’t until my dad lost his job and my family had to move and went onto the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in order to afford groceries as well as utilize government provided health care. Since I was only about 13-14 at this time, I had no knowledge of the systematic advantage my family had, even while being in a more misfortunate situation. It wasn’t until we were out of that situation and I was a few years older, that I realized how my white privilege played into the issue.
White privilege, according to Jennifer Holladay, is the transparent preference for whiteness that saturates our society (Holladay). While this privilege isn’t something white people intentionally create or use for their own advantage, it is present in almost every part of our society. One of the main things I learned from the years my family was in financial trouble, is that while we may not have been in an ideal situation, there was no question that our skin color had nothing to do with our troubles. For people of color, their skin color can often be part of the reason they don’t receive an apt amount of opportunities and resources.
Systematic racism is composed of intersecting and overlapping racist institutions, policies, practices, ideas, and behaviors that give an unjust amount of resources, rights, and power to white people while denying them to people of color (Cole). Since the United States was founded on certain racist institutions and structures, it still translates into our laws and societal limitations today, no matter how much progression we make towards legal equalities.
In relation to my life and particularly my dad’s unemployment and our need for government assistance in the early 2010’s, systematic racism gave us an advantage that people of color in similar financial situations may not have received. Eventually, my dad was able to get a new job and regain his financial footing. While my father getting a job and being able to remove our family from the situation we were in, many people of color aren’t able to pull themselves out of these positions. Whether it be their race, ethnicity, their name, or address, so many people of color are stuck in a cycle of disadvantages due to implicit and explicit biases that run through our society.
Due to this racism, many people of color must consider factors as minimal as names when it comes to avoiding an undeserved disadvantage. I spent the summer in Washington D.C. doing an internship and one of my roommates, Tyler, was a black girl.
One day, racial inequalities and white privilege came up and as we began to discuss, she mentioned something I had never considered. Tyler’s mom chose the name Tyler purely so that her daughter could avoid being racially discriminated against when it came to applications for jobs, loans, credit cards, awards, anything that requires a paper application before a physical interview or meeting. Since the name “Tyler” on paper is a traditional white male name, she would avoid her application being thrown out within the first round just because her name was ethnic and unusual. As a white girl, while I understand the struggle for a woman on an application, a woman of color faces many more obstacles and it was a shock to me that their name was something to consider, just to ensure their resume or application was even read through.
The last example I have is one of the more eye-opening recognitions of my white privilege I’ve ever had. In this time of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the examination of police brutality, the relationship between cops and people of color is more tense than ever. This past summer, I was pulled over on the highway for my headlights being off. While that is a routine traffic stop and does not usually result in more, as I was stopped on the highway I realized I had no shoes on (illegal in the state of Florida), and did not have my driver’s license with me. I began to freak out, preparing myself for a much higher cost ticket. When the officer found out these things, all he did was take my name and asked for the name in which the car was registered under, not even my physical registration card, and he went on his computer and checked some things and sent me on my way with nothing more than a wave and a “drive safe.” As I drove away, all I could think is how differently that situation might have been if I wasn’t a young white woman.
At that moment I felt guilty for my privilege, but eventually understood that feeling guilty and resisting my privilege, I could use my experiences to showcase these problems in society and bring awareness to the systematic differences in the way white people and people of color are treated in every aspect of their lives.