I Have White Privilege ... and You May, Too: Why It's Time for Us to Get Uncomfortable by Kurt Gardinier

I Have White Privilege ... and You May, Too: Why It's Time for Us to Get Uncomfortable

"Yes, I’m white, but I grew up poor, our family struggled and I was the first person in my family to go to college. I didn’t have privilege.” I hear this often from fellow white people. But it isn’t true. You did have privilege. And I did, and do. I think it’s long overdue for white people to acknowledge, accept and address this privilege.

I did not grow up poor, but I certainly did not grow up well off either. I was, however, very fortunate to grow up in a loving family with both parents at home, and two amazing sisters. But at times, we struggled financially, especially when my father was laid off during the recession of the early 1990s. I started working at the age of 11 and helped with expenses from time to time, yet I certainly had privilege – privilege from the color of my skin. We bought a modest house, but in a relatively wealthy, predominantly white suburb, and my sisters and I went to a great public school because of that (more on the issues with public school funding later). And because of the color of my skin I avoided many obstacles and barriers that black and brown people have experienced, and still do.

This is something that educator and writer Marie Beecham summarizes well: “Privilege isn’t the presence of perks and benefits. It’s the absence of obstacles and barriers. That’s a lot harder to notice. If you have a hard time recognizing your privileges, focus on what you don’t have to go through. Let that fuel your empathy and action.” Of course I’ve had challenges along the way just like anybody else, but never have I encountered an obstacle or barrier due to the color of my skin.

Dane Waters, a veteran political strategist and co-host of the upcoming documentary that I am directing, The Redneck & The Professor: Understanding White Privilege, acknowledges that some white people do have a hard time recognizing their privilege. The Redneck says, “a lot of people don’t know that they have that privilege, so if they don’t understand they have [it], how do they know that they have to respect it and act a certain way?” The Professor Matt Qvortrup responds to him by saying, “if you have had privilege, with that comes greater responsibility … and it is incumbent upon [one] to act in a way which is above the normal standard.”

If you are interested in understanding more about white privilege and taking on that responsibility, I suggest you check out the act.tv video, Systemic Racism Explained. It discusses two young boys: Jamal, a black child living in a “poor neighborhood” and Kevin, a white child living in a “wealthy neighborhood.” They grow up quite differently, and Jamal experiences many challenges that Kevin does not, despite living just a couple of streets apart.

The video later says that, “the consequences of slavery and Jim Crow laws are still affecting access to opportunities today,” but suggests ways to end systemic racism by: reforming our criminal justice system, ending predatory lending, protecting voting rights, and increasing public school funding while making it independent from property taxes so poor and wealthy districts receive the same funding and resources. Before we can take any of these actions, we must first recognize our privilege.

Act.tv’s video ends with this: “Systemic problems require systemic solutions. Luckily we’re all part of the system which means that we all have a role to play in making it better.” These conversations and action steps may be uncomfortable, but they can make a big difference, as Dr. Tiffany Jana’s Tedx Talk on privilege suggests: “Sometimes we need to be a little bit uncomfortable in order to understand the power that we have to effect the change on our lives and to effect the change on the lives of others.”

And, as act.tv says, we all do have a role to play in this. So, what will yours be? What will mine be? Let’s get uncomfortable.

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Elisa Schmitz
Incredibly powerful perspective, Kurt Gardinier . As a first generation American and the daughter of a Puerto Rican mother, I saw first-hand the discrimination and different standards applied even to members of my own family. And yet because I am white-passing, I do have incredible privilege. I'm writing about this in my upcoming book, "Become the Fire." Thank you for sharing, and welcome to 30Seconds. I'm excited to have you as part of our community of those who want to help make a difference!
Ann Marie Patitucci
Kurt Gardinier: This piece really resonates with me. You've given readers a lot to think about and have shared valuable resources, too. I think Marie Beecham's quote is especially poignant and important in this moment: “Privilege isn’t the presence of perks and benefits. It’s the absence of obstacles and barriers." I think it's important to keep this in mind.
We need more people with privilege to say this, thank you. 🙏🏼

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