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Understanding White Privilege

What is the difference between personal bias and institutionalized privilege?

In this clip from Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible, Francie Kendall says, “I think being a bigot is an equal opportunity phenomenon, but in order to create a system or systemic institutionalized privilege, you have to have privilege plus the power to institutionalize it—to put it into laws, policies, procedures.”

In the United States systems of power, such as government, law enforcement, education, financial systems, etc. have been developed through a white culture lens, rewarding those who can adapt to white culture and punishing those who don’t.

However, in many communities, young white people have little or no exposure to people of color. Marguerite Parks tells us, “I was talking to my daughter about white privilege. I have this student, Leighton, who used to take care of our house, I have to warn our neighbors that he’s taking care of the house so that when they see this large black man going into my house they know that he belongs there. My daughter doesn’t have to explain to the neighbors that she’s taking care of the friend’s cat. That's white privilege.”

In these communities with few people of color, white people do not necessarily see their spaces as racialized, Tim Wise explains, “When young white people say people of color make everything about race, it stems from being in a white space for all your life and never needing to think about how that was a racialized space—to them race wasn’t in the room.’”

The first step to changing these relationships is recognizing white privilege.  Whether in a grocery store, school, the newspaper or on tv, we as a society need to begin to recognize white privilege in all its forms.  Then, we need to take a step back to understand how white privilege is systemic.  Privilege transcends the interpersonal stories we share with neighbors, family, friends and co-workers. Institutionalized power shapes and controls access to resources.  Understanding requires that white people explore their stories in light of history, culture, power and economics in order to create a more equitable and just society.

Mirrors of Privilege gives people the opportunity to ask these difficult questions and creates space for dialogue.  Take the first step and watch this clip.

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