foggy bottom metro station

How I learned about White Privilege

This morning I read an article on Buzzfeed, that breaks down (in very simplistic cartoon form) the concept of white privilege. View the entire article here - (This Comic Perfectly Explains What White Privilege Is.)

The cartoon explains a general concept of white privilege and provides some statistics to support its premise. But, it does not truly get at the heart of what white privilege is, now does it explain, how people, as individuals (not a collective) benefit from this system. Because, let’s face it. America is an individualistic culture. And “if it does not happen for me, then it does not exist.”

During my time in college, I explored the concept of white privilege, thanks to a few of my awesome professors at North Carolina A & T, including Dr. Theresa Styles, Dr. Derrick Smith, and Dr. Stephen Ferguson. We explored this concept from multiple aspects – Philosophy, Journalism, Criminal Justice System, Historically, in Literatures…etc. I could quote the statistics of disparity and injustice in America. I could recite the prose of famous writers who suffered under the hand of this system. I understood the impact that years of blatant and systemic racism molded the American fabric and American culture today. I knew about Affirmative Action, and I knew about the privatization of prison. I understood all of those concepts. But I never completely grasped, how white privilege, can impact and effect the psyche of an individual at the most fundamental and rudimentary level until, I could truly understand how it effected me. After all, I am a middle class African American woman. 

This is how I, a middle class black woman (truly) learned what white privilege is. I hopped off of the Metro one morning and began my normal, half-mile trek to work.  It was a chilly day, so I made sure that I walked swiftly. I worked in near the Foggy Bottom metro station, so daily I would cross paths with individuals of all kinds. As I was walking, a young white woman was walking towards me. I noticed that she had on a beautiful blue wool coat. I noticed that her legs were bare; she did not have on any stockings or tights.  This seemed unusual for me, because it was so cold out. As I walked closer to her, I made more observations of her legs. They appeared to be perfect. No blemishes, no scars.  

When we finally crossed each other, I noticed that she had a band-aid on her leg. I thought “hmmph, she had a band-aid on her leg, I could hardly tell from this close up. I could not tell from far away. I wonder what kind of make-up she puts on her band-aid to make it blend in with her skin so well. Wait!? Her skin and the band-aid probably ARE the same color.”

Here I am, a black woman, and I could never imagine wearing a band-aid that would completely blend in with my skin. I immediately had flashblacks to my days as a dancer, when we would have to dye our “nude” convertible stockings to match our skin tones. I realized white women do not have to do this? I thought it was natural. From such a young age, I had been trained to adapt what is/has been traditionally, designed, and purposed for white women to accommodate my needs. Dye your stockings, spray-paint your ballet shoes; wear band-aids that are so pale everyone knows you have a “boo-boo.” Wear nude bras that can still be seen through your clothes. 

#whiteprivilege Band-aids that match your skin.