Dear White People

A letter to white people explaining white privilege.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Dear white people,

In recent months and days—scratch that—since long before we were even born, y’all have been acting foolish as hell. The product of your foolishness? Name basically any problem our modern society faces, and it probably started when some entitled white dude thought he had a good idea.

Now, the result of white people’s foolishness can range. On a macro level, we have things like the forced migration and subjugation of millions of Africans, global warming, and Trump. But we, as students, also have to deal with white people’s foolishness on a daily basis. In fact, we are writing this column with the express purpose of calling out white people on their bullshit, and perhaps, in doing so, alleviating some of the deeply internalized trauma that they’ve caused us.

On any given day, our messages with each other look a little something like this:

“White people suck….”

“Omg u right [thumbs up emoji].”

“Like actually, they’re so entitled. Like I deadass got interrupted like three times today by [white male teacher]”

“[angry emoji] Yeah maybe if [white male teacher] exerted his white privilege a little less and taught more, we’d actually learn something.”

And not to call out [white male teacher], but this is a real problem. Despite white people’s knack for taking what isn’t theirs, white privilege is possibly the best kept secret from white people. In fact, while messaging [white male student], he told me flat out that he doesn’t even believe white privilege exists or, to put it in his words: “economic privilege, maybe, but racial privilege? Nah b.” While this conversation was frustrating as hell because arguing with white people is always frustrating as hell, it did show us that while as people of color we both have to deal with the complexities of respectability politics, some people just…don’t. Hence, this column and today’s topic: white privilege.

For those unfamiliar with the term, white privilege is generally recognized as the rights, advantages, or immunities white people receive simply based on their race. This can be as specific as not having to fear the police, knowing that you won’t be denied a job opportunity because of your race, and having role models in basically every field, or be as broad as the fact that whiteness is considered the norm and as such, white people get to consider themselves “normal” and their experiences universal. While white privilege comes as a result of living in a racist society, not all people who benefit from it are racist. In fact, one tell-tale sign of a non-racist white person is when they acknowledge their own white privilege and actively work to change the oppressive power structures in our society.

White privilege also does not mean that white people are automatically better off. You can benefit from white privilege and still be disadvantaged in other ways. There are obviously white people who are socioeconomically disadvantaged or have mental or physical disabilities. White privilege just means that even if you do experience those other disadvantages, you experience them as a white person, which means that you will not have to face the same challenges that people of color face.

Breaking down my conversation with [white male student], I realize that I may have been a little harsh. I understand that for you white people, it can be difficult to deal with the fact that you are perhaps more inclined to be racist bigots than other groups. However, when [white male student] brought up Oprah and Obama as evidence that “systemic racism doesn’t exist, at least in America [upside down smiley face emoji],” my bullshit-o-meter went off, leading me to two effects of white privilege.

As white people, you get away with tomfoolery that none of the rest of us can, not only cementing power structures that keep people of color oppressed, but feeding into your own sense of entitlement and superiority. As a Black person in this country, I know that I can be shot, profiled, or wrongfully arrested at any time, and Obama becoming president did not magically change that. And saying Oprah’s success proves that there’s no systemic racism is like claiming Howard Schultz, the president of Starbucks who grew up poor, is proof that poor people aren’t systematically disadvantaged or like saying that because one person finally read the Sports section of The Spectator, it suddenly became interesting.

The fact that [white male student] felt confident in using this logic to tell me that I am not at a disadvantage because of my race is perhaps the root of the problem. As opposed to listening to my experiences as a Black person in this country who experiences microaggressions every day, [white male student] assumed he knew more than me about something he had never experienced. White people, you need to listen to the experiences of minorities because you do not have any primary knowledge relevant to the topic. Not only might you learn something, but listening to minorities is the only way to learn something other than your own opinion.

It is this sense of entitlement to my experiences that manifests in countless classrooms throughout Stuy. It is well known that in [Eurocentric A.P. History course], white people, especially boys, often dominate discussions. This is also true of both white students and teachers in basically every other class ever. Even in clubs like Debate and Model U.N., white people often dominate because they are more comfortable voicing their opinions regardless of their validity.

While this phenomenon may seem innocuous, it is part of the reason why there are so few minorities in STEM or academia. When our voices aren’t heard, when your white privilege is used to feed your sense of entitlement and silence the rest of us, when you make fun of [Black teacher] simply because you can, that’s when white privilege is actively harmful, perpetuating systems that are already in place to exclude minorities. This is why denying the existence of white privilege is not only ignorant, but racist.

So, white people, I understand that you’ve been taught all your life that it’s ok to interrupt other people. But please try to understand that your experiences aren’t universal, and sometimes you do, in fact, benefit from things that you can’t control. Go out there and do some research! Do you really know how racism is defined? Did you skip the reading when your teacher assigned M.L.K.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”? Reexamine your actions and how they are affected by your whiteness. You benefit in so many ways that other people don’t, and the first step in changing that is being aware. I know this realization is hard, but hey, at least you’re not disadvantaged by things (like your skin color) that you can’t control. How terrible would that be, right?

Remember, racism exists in America!

A Well Meaning Student of Color

Additional scathing commentary contributed by Emily Xu.