As white people, we are so used to being referred to as ‘people’, we are not used to being referred to by our skin colour and being spoken to as a ‘white person’ can throw someone off. We take for granted that we are often the baseline for a lot of products. There are a lot of beautiful masks being made in the midsts of the Corona outbreak, I see lots of my white friends sporting them on their outings to the shops or for a walks, but I have also read many stories of Black people expressing the sheer terror of wearing a mask that isn’t very clearly a medical mask because police associate a Black person covering their face with committing a crime or being in gangs. There have been a few face filters going around that have been exposed, the smile rating one that marks your smile from 0-100, black people can reach the 100 relatively easily, but can’t reach a frowny 0 unless they hide their lips. Even going to the toilet in a public bathroom, the mechanism of how an automatic tap, soap dispenser or hand dryer works is often based on how much red light is reflected back and Black skin doesn’t reflect enough light for the machines to turn on. Our world is not built with Black or Brown people in mind.
I didn’t have the words or education to talk about this for a long time. George Floyd, Tony McDade, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, have all died at the hands of Police. I will not pretend to know this kind of pain as a white person living in the UK. I am sick and tired of us all sitting around, doing nothing much to change what’s going on. I do not have a lot of power, I am a small writer, with a small platform, but one thing I have heard my BIPOC friends say is that they are tired of spoon feeding strangers their experiences and how white people should do better. Someone I know on Twitter, tweeted “it would be nice if more white people talked about their white privilege. It validates the claim. If a Black person says it, all hell breaks loose.” and I thought, ‘holy shit you are right.’ Generally up until today, I tried to be a quiet white person who supported BIPOC by offering help if they wanted it. I have offered my friend’s my writing skill to help compose a letter of complaint because I’m pretty good at it. As a disabled person, I have complained many times, but really that’s all I was doing. This post is to reflect on white privilege. I notice a lot of white people in marginalised groups (LGBT+ or disabled, etc.) tend to think this erases their sins of racism and ignorance. I have gathered a selection of people with a variety of lived experiences to reflect on how their whiteness has helped them.
- Able to see writers on my curriculum reflective of my race.
- I am able to have the platform to be an outspoken activist without being subject to racial abuse.
- Able to find makeup that matches my skin easily.
- My white privilege has protected me from trolling, fear of police, feelings of inferiority because of my race.
- I am able to turn away from issues of racism and be silent if i choose, whereas [BI]POC do not have that luxury.
- Access to healthcare and medical resources without worrying my skin colour will work against me.
Ruby is a white disabled, bisexual woman, so we have a few things in common. We are very lucky to be white patients. As a white disabled person, I still struggle to be believed by doctors and so does Ruby, it comes with the territory, but we are more likely to be prescribed pain medication vs. our BIPOC disabled counterparts. I had a minor operation in november 2019 and in recovery before I left the hospital I had to be give two more doses of IV painkillers (lidocaine) because I could feel the pain. I actually have a health related reason for this, my body processes painkillers and sedatives quicker than the average person and I have to let anesthesiologists know about this before I go under as it’s something they need to be aware of. I’m more likely going to be believed and attended to because I’m white. I also feel like I am less likely to be read as threatening if I am upset about my care. Ruby has also had similar experiences, she said, “When I had my spinal fluid leak, I proposed this idea to a pain team doctor who was a male and he dismissed the headaches as hormonal migraines. I knew my symptoms weren’t consistent with this so I continued to fight and seek out a doctor who would hear me out. I was dismissed for being a woman, but I was able to be assertive, even aggressive in some cases, without worrying about if [my skin colour] would work against me. Not once did I consider my whiteness in this situation because it wasn’t a factor. The Black disabled community faces such oppression from healthcare professionals and this is a hurdle that my white privilege has allowed me to surpass. This is why it is our duty as white allies to recognise our privilege and wield it to further the BLM movement and continue to amplify BIPOC voices.”
I asked my friend, Kenna, to talk to me about their experiences with white privilege. Kenna is a queer nonbinary person from Newcastle, and their extra curriculars include getting tattooed.
“For me, tattoos have always been a positive form of expression and creativity. Aside from the cost, there are not many barriers to me being tattooed. I get the occasional comment or stare [in public], but I also have brightly coloured hair, so whilst not appreciated – it is expected. For Black people, the experience of being tattooed and showing their tattoos is often very different. I can say in my time being tattooed; I haven’t met a Black tattoo artist. And tattoo conventions aren’t exactly diverse either.” I myself have some tattoos (four) and I have never come across a Black tattoo artist either, I’ve been to a couple of tattoo conventions, one in London and one in Brighton, and I don’t remember seeing any Black artists… it mostly resembles a sea of white people. I felt nervous about getting all of my tattoos because I didn’t know much about them or what I should be looking for, and it’s probably more daunting for Black people to get any work done.
“You may have seen this video/article by Alana Yzola detailing how people with darker skin tones can often end up with a sub-par tattooing experience. I’d love to see more Black tattooists, and more diversity in every tattoo artist’s portfolio. When you walk into a tattoo studio, most – if not every – piece of flash art will be against a white background. There is little to no representation for darker skin tones in tattooing. When I go into a tattoo studio, I can pick out pretty much any design. I can choose any colour, and pretty much any (well researched) artist for my tattoo. The same cannot be said for people of colour.” We talked more on this and actually realised it is likely that a lot of Black people, or POC with darker skin tones, wouldn’t be able to find an artist that will or can tattoo dark skin in their city and would likely have to travel further to find someone who is a Black artists or has put in the work to understand how to tattoo darker skin tones. Kenna and I have the privilege of being able to go anywhere.
“I’ve often been complimented by tattoo artists for my very pale and white skin, because the colour shows up better. Instead of seeking out certain skin types, I want to see tattooists taking time to learn how to present their art on multiple skin tones. As for displaying my tattoos, again, the attention is mostly complimentary. All too often people of colour who have tattoos may be shown as intimidating or in a negative light. This isn’t acceptable.” I often joke or receive jokes that my tattoos make me quirky, no one would look at my tattoos (regardless of their design) and automatically think I am dangerous. Kenna is much more heavily tattooed than myself, but even their visible tattoos on their head and hands don’t pose as much of an issue as they would for a Black person. “Tattooed people and artists fight to remove the negativity and inequality in employment – we need to remember to include Black voices.” We are slowly seeing more white tattooed people in employment, but really not any BIPOC with tattoos unless it’s in a more alternative business. Even in places like Brighton that appear to be very liberal and alternative in style, are still rather white washed.
I met Sunny at university, we studied the same degree but have had quite different lives. Sunny is a straight woman from Norway, but has also lived abroad in America, the UK, and China, so I asked her to share some of her experiences.
“Being from Norway, I’ve had the privilege of being colourblind. I grew up in a very white neighbourhood in Oslo, where I never even witnessed racism. It wasn’t something I ever had to think about. Norway is even whiter than the UK. I was completely insulated from anything that had to do with racism. I never even saw racism occur with POC in my neighbourhood. It wasn’t something I recognised growing up.” I had quite the opposite experience growing up, until about the age of 9, I lived on the outskirts of a city with diverse people, my primary school (even though it was Church of England) had kids from all kinds of backgrounds, some of them were first generation immigrants. I’d never really noticed racism until I was around 7. I remember an incident where a partner my mum had at the time taught me a racist slur. He put it in a way that made it sound like it was just another way to say Black people. When my mother found out, she went absolutely berserk and told me it was a very bad word to say. I think this is when I started noticing white people having prejudices against people of different skin colours.
“I have of course experienced people saying racist things in front of me, thinking I wouldn’t react because I’m white, that’s happened mostly in Norway. Norway is a liberal country but it’s also a pretty white country still. Oslo is better, but outside Oslo can get very white. So I’ve heard a lot of shit. I always call people out on it. I have family members who are very ignorant and will use non-PC language, it’s hurtful to listen to and I never let them get away with it. It’s a bad habit that can be stopped. I remember mentioning to a family member that Black Panther is one of my favourite Marvel movies ever and he said “you know the only reason why it’s got good reviews…” and I asked him “why? What exactly are you trying to say here??” he was suddenly a bit coy about it but finally said “cause they’re all black and it’s all in Africa or whatever and it’s boring as hell”…” Sunny explained to me that she had asked if it was just because the actors were Black and he said yes. This was in summer 2019. “I said to him, “you are racist.” unfortunately it’s often forgotten the next day. I know some people in Norway who are liberal but the only thing they disagree with the liberal parties on is immigration…”
Sunny has spent quite a lot of time abroad over the years, and I asked her to tell me more about the differences. “I was in Ningbo, just south of Shanghai. One of the oldest cities in China. I was harassed there and they treated me differently from everyone else. They’d film me, take pictures of me without my permission and would come up in my face and yell “foreigner” in Chinese. But they also praised my face and wanted a face like mine because I was the perfect white pale colour and my face is narrow.” I asked if she felt they would react differently if they saw a Black person visit, I had read a few posts by Black people expressing similar experiences, but there was a lot more physical touch and grabbing. I asked if she had ever been grabbed, she said no, “They weren’t aggressive or really looking down at me.”
Sunny also spent time in America, “I was welcomed with open arms and the only times I really stood out is when I said something unusual to them. I was a bit more straightforward and wouldn’t beat around the bush when saying things. They’d laugh it off and say “oh she’s foreign, she has less filter,” and things like that. Other than that I was invited to lots of people’s houses, I got to travel through 17 states and see loads of America and everyone greeted me with smiles and hugs and wanted to get to know me. I also heard I had “the right look,”…” Sunny is tall, white, blonde and slim, for reference, “I was really well liked by the faculty at my school and the principal and his wife really took a liking to me and I’d go over to their house for dinner sometimes. No one else did that.” I commented that this was weird for other reasons that we will ignore for now! “I was also in a very white neighbourhood in America and rarely saw BIPOC. I was in a small town in Michigan.” I asked if she had heard anyone make casual covert racist remarks around her, “I actually never heard anything racist while I was there. Whenever we discussed Obama or other political things, no one ever mentioned race to me. So I don’t know, I was very open about being very liberal and where I come from so they might have been careful around me.”
I asked Sunny if there was anything else she wanted to share about her experience with white privilege, “As a blonde, green-eyed, white woman, I’ve always seen myself represented in every tv show, movie and book throughout my whole life, I’m a passionate and assertive person and will go to lengths to get my way in many aspects of life, but I’ve never been called aggressive or been told to calm down. I’ve had police officers approach me to make sure I’m not lost, draw me maps, and ask if I need a ride anywhere. Never experienced a scary encounter with law enforcement. I can more easily get away with things if I’ve done something I shouldn’t. I’ve been in situations where I haven’t paid for a ticket somewhere and gotten away with it by saying please and sorry. I will go through life without ever experiencing racism, because I’m Caucasian.”
I spoke with Dan, a white, gay instagrammer I met at BookBreak’s Pride Brunch in summer 2019, about ways he feels his whiteness benefits him. I asked about the very racist ‘dating preferences’ I’d heard about on Grindr as I’d never seen this on profiles on any dating apps I’d ever used. “I hate it. I see it all the time on Grindr. I would never meet someone in real life and declare “no BAME” and would never make such a statement online. Many white gay men think it’s ok to use as a preference and would never accept the racial tone that is attached to such a statement. In the past I’ve called guys out over it and received such confusion as to what they’ve done wrong.” I asked Dan if he thought it was more of a generational issue of if it seems to be across ages, he said, “I think generally guys of a certain age who seem able to detach themselves from holding themselves responsible for their attitudes. Absolutely no shame.” This is something I’ve never had to think about, because it seems to be less prevalent on multi-gender dating apps or dating apps for queer womxn. My community still thinks skin colour is a preference and the preference is white.
I asked if there was anything else in particular Dan feels he has an easier time doing because of his skin colour, “I recognise my white privilege every time I use make-up for a night out or day look. As a queer person of the community I often love using make-up. I recognise that to a lot of cis white people, a gay man in make up can be pretty fabulous.” This made me laugh, thinking about the drastic rise in straight viewers for shows like Ru Paul’s Drag Race. “But please don’t celebrate me if you’re not celebrating our black, trans, and non binary siblings.” I can’t help but agree.
Piper is a white, nonbinary transwoman, from Bournemouth and uses she/they pronouns. I asked her a little about the dating scene as well, “I receive transphobic abuse regularly, yes, but racism is very prevalent on Grindr and racial preferences [are] racist. [That’s} something I’ll never experience. I am on HER (a gender inclusive LGBT+ dating app) too! I’ve received no hate but not much luck either. Tinder is usually the culprit for transphobia, then Grindr coming in at a second. It’s usually when cishet guys match with me, they start taking it out on me. Usually it’s comments to say I look like a man or ask about my genitals – all white guys too!” I’m truly unsurprised. I tell Piper about being called a ‘frigid tr*nny’, and more recently having a weird interaction with a man who matched with me and just said he was confused but didn’t want to say what about because he didn’t want to get banned. “Do they realise that asking questions [is] okay… as long as you are respectful… there’s no need to be a dick.” Piper says and I agree, I’ve had minimal interactions with white cishet men about my queerness that were respectful. There’s an amazing article by Aurielle Marie in the Guardian about her experiences dating as a queer Black woman in California, I feel like the privilege of being a white queer person, who has multiple gender attraction (like Aurielle), is that we often only seem to be targeted with abuse from a certain demographic: white cisgendered men. Sometimes lesbians but that’s a conversation for another day. The fact these men have the audacity to match with us on a dating app, just to hurl transphobic abuse, is appalling and disgusting but at least if we changed our settings, it would stop being an issue. But for Aurielle, the colourism and anti-blackness she experiences is from all genders, sexualities and other social groups, or the total other direction of fetishisation. The examples she gives in this article give me the same thoughts, ‘why do people think this is okay?’ but our white privilege affords us less hate in these situations. I tell Piper that I am always hesitant around cishet men and asked if she felt the same, “Yes I always have been. It’s super difficult to find a date, but it’s easier for me to find one because I benefit from white privilege.”
As a fellow literature lover, I asked Piper about their experience in highschool, “Most lessons on race were ‘neutral’, and we were allowed to say the n-slur when reading To Kill A Mockingbird… that’s fucked, it was my GCSE text.” At GCSE in the UK we are 16 years old, for reference. I spoke of only remembering studying one poem at GCSE by a Black writer; Half-Caste by John Agard. I don’t remember my teachers having an honest conversation with us about the slurs used in the poem, I am pretty sure my class were entirely white. Our teacher didn’t tell us we shouldn’t use some of these words outside of talking about this poem. “Yeah that’s a bit fucked,” Piper said. “I did study Benjamin Zepheniah’s collection called Talking Turkeys at middle school! His poetry was cool and he’s a vegan. My area is super white, although there is a Muslim community in the next town, it wasn’t until upper school that I actually had POC in my class. I heard most of my racism from after school activities!” A part of the BLM movement is trying to de-centre white people in history and also in literature, our exposure to these stories has stunted our growth, they aren’t even books you can pick up in the school library for a lot of places.
I asked Piper to expand on their coming out experiences, “Coming out as a trans woman this time last year was liberating. My first experience being out in public was probably at a club in bournemouth and I was petrified because my ID didn’t match and all the other typical trans things. I struggle with having my voice heard, but I am more likely to be listened to in social circles and discussions. I’m more likely to be left alone whilst walking down the street, not harassed because. As a trans woman, coming out to my peers has been a journey that has been met with acceptance, and so much love; but I know it’s not a universal feeling for my black queer siblings.” It is easy to see in brief Google searches that Black trans women are more likely to be victims of harassment, violent hate crimes, and murders than their white counterparts. “It’s hard for me to face the world and be who I am, but things are made easier for me because I am white. My queerness does not erase my privilege as a white person.”
Charley Ann agreed to be part of this post talking about her privilege. Charley is a white, pansexual woman in California and has dealt with mental illness throughout her life and makes YouTube and Instagram content around this theme, bringing awareness but also helping to destigmatise these topics. “I think the most apparent way white privilege has affected my life is my mental health and eating disorder diagnoses. I was able to receive access to mental health services due to my family’s health insurance and no one questioned the validity of my eating disorder (at the time when I was a child) because I was a thin, white teenage girl from an economically privileged family. This stereotype I happened to fit into is a privilege because it offered me the opportunity to get the medical care that I needed to start the recovery process. BIPOC do not have this same privilege, as it is repeatedly shown that they are taken less seriously by medical care professionals and significantly under diagnosed with mental illness such as eating disorders.” Charley raised a great point here. Doing some research, I found this incredibly descriptive article on the subject of Black women being diagnosed with eating disorders. It talks about Black women being more likely to engage in binge eating behaviours or eating beyond fullness vs. restrictive ones, and anyone who has struggled with disordered eating in the past knows that B.E.D (binge eating disorder) is often not taken as seriously as anorexia overall. Even engaging in binge/purge behaviour is not often believed. Doctors regularly like to treat the symptom (weight gain) rather than where the weight gain stemmed from, this article talks about the full person approach to diagnosis and treatment which would deeply benefit people of minorities due to the trauma related to being part of an oppressed group.
I asked Charley if she felt like she had an advantage of being able to look around for a therapist that suited her more easily than a Black person, “Yes! I’ve shopped around with therapists. All have been white women. It’s not necessarily easy to change but it’s not hard either, just tedious, and I can always find someone new to help me with my goals.” I asked this question as I have heard from Black people that they would feel more comfortable with a Black therapist, as they would be more likely to understand the specific trauma experienced as a Black person, René Brooks calls this ‘cultural competence’ in her article for HealthLine. My experience with many different counsellors has varied, but I have found I am often scared to mention things about the minority groups I belong to for fear of not being understood and wasting session time (and my own money in some cases) teaching my therapist why it’s not as easy as “separating the feeling from the action”. René Brooks talks about this really well in her article and breaks it down into four distinct and really important points that I think a lot of white people can take for granted when looking into starting therapy. (Here is a site specifically for BIPOC in the UK looking for therapy, I hope it is useful)
Carrie Dayton and her boyfriend Drew agreed to talk with me on this subject too. Both are white and currently living in Los Angeles. “Our entire existence, both individually and as a couple, has been steeped in privilege. Neither of us have ever faced adversity based on the color of our skin.” They began.
Drew states, “I’ve had several interactions with the police throughout my life, and never once have I been worried or afraid. I’ve run through my neighborhoods for years and years and never once did someone stop and ask me what I was doing there.” This is particularly prominent as one of the recent murders of Black people was Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot by two white men in the area whilst he was on a jog. There was also a recent video that went viral where a Black delivery driver, Travis Miller, was prevented from leaving a gated community by some white people who lived there and he was only finally allowed to leave when the Neighbour he dropped a package off to came out of his house to explain.
Drew enjoys painting Warhammer figures and he recently noticed a discrepancy in this hobby, “As a painter of mostly Warhammer [and] D&D character miniatures, I often watch tutorials on blending and painting skin tones. Recently I’ve done a lot of searching to try and find anything beyond white skin tones featured in these tutorials, and I realized that it just doesn’t exist.” So, this is something I truly know nothing about and had to put a bit more effort into researching. Though I did find a few video tutorials on how to paint darker skin tones, they were all the same steps and the same shade and none of them were being taught by a Black person. I did find one video that is a long step by step tutorial on skin tones and how to create them by the channel Kujo Painting. He begins with a pretty typical white skin tone but goes on at length, how to create, not just one darker skin tone but numerous, and how you can create them yourself by mixing different paints. His selling point at the start of the video is if you run out of your favourite skin tone paint, but then uses it as a way to turn this around and teach multiple skills where the other video only gave you one.
I did find a reddit post as well where someone was asking for help on how to mix for a darker tone, and just found it really funny one of the replies gave advice and said they thought it was great, then posted a picture that…wasn’t much darker than white.
I also asked if Drew was actively interested in Fantasy genres of shows and films and if there’s anything he thought about that, he said he does watch a bit of Fantasy content and has noticed “it’s basically all white.” I’ve noticed that even when a Black person is cast, they are often in a smaller roll, an unflattering costume that hides their blackness, or painted a different colour. A great example of this is Princess and the Frog, the first Black princess is a frog for 90% of the film. The Harry Potter books and films are just stereotype after stereotype: the Patil twins, Seamus Finnegan and Cho Chang have some of the least creative names in all history, especially when there are characters like Luna Lovegood or Minerva McGonagall. Also, Lavender Brown was originally played by two Black girls and recast and given to a white girl. There are many more examples of racist undertones and direct racism in fantasy but I’ll be here forever, so I’ll move on!
Carrie is a YouTuber and Instagrammer whose main focus is on size-inclusivity and positivity as well as trying to be more sustainable as a style vlogger. Carrie begins by saying, “I’ve never had to worry about walking into a store and a makeup brand carrying my shade of foundation. I’ve never had to wear a band-aid that wasn’t specifically designed to cater to my skin tone. I’ve never been in a professional, educational, or really even social setting where I was the ONLY white person in the room. I’ve never been tone policed. Nobody’s ever come up to me and touched my hair without permission. Nobody’s ever said that I “talk white”. THAT is privilege and THAT is why, even though it’s shameful and inexcusable that it’s taken this long, we MUST be having these conversations and working relentlessly on our anti-racism work,” My highschool was very white, my best friend was the only Black kid in the year, and in the school there were probably only three Black children and one teacher. Having your hair touched without permission wasn’t something I had thought about growing up, but looking back I do remember a lot of people felt like they were allowed to touch my friend’s hair without permission. I asked him about this a few years later and he said that’s why he kept his hair short, the longer he let it grow the more people wanted to touch it and it bothered him a lot. He felt like he couldn’t say no.
I asked Carrie a little about living in both Arizona and L.A. and if there were any differences, “There isn’t much to know about Arizona other than it does have a small Native American population, obviously due to 99.9% of their land being stolen from them and being forced into reservations, and then a slightly bigger Latinx population, but it’s still mostly white. The city of Phoenix is more progressive and liberal, but the state itself is Trump country. It’s awful and one of the reasons we were excited about moving to LA – however, LA’s gentrification problem is rampant and that’s a whoooole other topic haha. I’ll most likely talk about all of this, as well as the gentrification of thrifting, in future videos as time goes on!” Gentrification of locations has been a massive problem for people on low-incomes, in this article it shows almost ¼ of Black Americans are facing poverty and they make about 20% of the overall numbers of people in poverty in America. That’s alarming.
Gentrification, if you aren’t entirely sure, is “the process of renovating and improving a house or district so that it conforms to middle-class taste” says the dictionary, but that sounds a lot like propaganda to me. It is basically the influx of new, more expensive businesses and housing with a certain demographic in mind and higher price tag. It often alienates minority groups living in the area and puts pressure on them to pay more for their rent, often leading to moving to a different, more affordable neighbourhood. This is seen a lot in New York and L.A. but also in parts of the UK and other places around the globe too. The idea of gentrifying thrifting is that as more people choose to thrift over buying new, the more the prices of clothes go up as the clientele become people from more affluent areas, again, alienating buyers from minority groups who buy from thrift shops as a necessity. I’m really excited to hear more about this from Carrie in future videos for sure. Carrie also recommends people check out her friend, Tiffany Ferguson’s, video “the rise of thrifting” as it touches on these topics a lot. I’ve watched it and found it very interesting.
I want to close this out with a quote from Kimberlé Crenshaw who coined the term ‘Intersectionality‘.
“Crenshaw said conservative criticisms of intersectionality weren’t really aimed at the theory. If they were, and not largely focused on whom intersectionality would benefit or burden, conservatives wouldn’t use their own identities as part of their critiques.
Indeed, intersectionality is intended to ask a lot of individuals and movements alike, requiring that efforts to address one form of oppression take others into account. Efforts to fight racism would require examining other forms of prejudice (like anti-Semitism, for example); efforts to eliminate gender disparities would require examining how women of color experience gender bias differently from white women (and how nonwhite men do too, compared to white men) … Intersectionality operates as both the observance and analysis of power imbalances, and the tool by which those power imbalances could be eliminated altogether. And the observance of power imbalances, as is so frequently true, is far less controversial than the tool that could eliminate them.”
Even as a marginalised white person, I still experience white privilege, and so do you. I am trans (nonbinary), disabled/chronically ill, and bisexual but I still benefit from being white.