Redefining White Privilege – Part 1

There was a picture of a white women in her twenties holding up a sign that said “use your white privilege to disrupt the system”. The woman was protesting in an affluent almost all white suburb of Milwaukee. Normally that would have annoyed me. I’ve been aware of the term white privilege for at least 15 years. The woman looked like she belonged in the town she was protesting in. It’s a town that, for me, represents what I see as much of what is wrong with race relations in America. It feels like one big gated community purposefully segregated from the realities of life. It’s full of and caters to upper middle class white families. This town is the opposite of my neighborhood. Almost none of my neighbors could afford to live there. The city council has blocked multiple low income housing projects. If you are poor and black and looking to get harassed, this would be a great place for you to drive around.

Normally I would roll my eyes or make a snarky comment about a young, white seemingly affluent woman saying anything about white privilege. I would assume it is just the trending thing to do, post something on your instagram page about how you are embracing your white privilege on the way to grab your morning Starbucks, while 15 miles away her black counterpart is sitting at the bus stop waiting to go to a job that will never allow her to make an actual living for herself.

This time might be different though.

That girl is right. We should be using our white privilege to disrupt the system we live in. But what does that actually look like? What would you actually do?

We need to redefine or dive deeper into what it means to have an advantage because of the color of our skin. Before we get into that, let’s talk about how change happens. It follows this progression.

  1. A problem is identified
  2. A critical mass of minds are made aware of a problem
  3. The desire for solutions is identified
  4. Methods for the logistical carrying out of those solutions are attempted
  5. A critical mass attempts those solutions
  6. Reflection on those solutions combined with new information produces iterations to the solution
  7. The process is repeated on a micro level while moving toward greater refinement
  8. Eventually, a new normal is created. With that new problems arise and the process repeats on a macro level

It seems like we are on step 2 of working on fixing the next level of race relations in America. A subset of the race relation problems in America is that black are 3 times more likely to be killed by police than whites. In some cities, such as Minneapolis, that probability is almost 10 times greater. On June 6th, it seems like some work is going to get done pretty quickly to start addressing this problem and hopefully the problem will move quickly through the problem solving progression.

The greater issue of racial inequity is also primed to have additional work done to it. There was a time I never thought I would hear a white suburban woman say anything about white privilege. Unfortunately, the desired outcomes are not as clear as the outcomes of the collective masses protesting George Floyd’s murder are looking for. How would we ever know if we have ever arrived at racially reconciled America or even a racially reconciled city or neighborhood. I wonder what that would look like and how we would ever be able to measure that. Eliminating the racially inequitable use of force by police officers is good step in the right direction. I wonder what other steps are going to be made now that there appears to be a critical mass of people interested in exploring that work.