WHITE PRIVILEGE IS
Inspired by @ListPrompts
- •I bear privileges because of my white skin every day in the US.
- •But the story I want to tell about my experiences of white privilege is set thousands of miles away in The Gambia, West Africa.I spent about a year total in Gambia in grad school. I did ethnographic research there for my dissertation.
- •My white skin made me anomalous in the neighborhood where I lived with a friend's family.Neighbors and local merchants learned my name and, through the routine of daily comings and goings, I became part of the scene.
- •When I traveled even a few blocks from home, kids who had never seen me would circle up and playfully shout "Toubab! Toubab! Toubab!""White person! White person! White person!"
- •Some friends and family at home would say things like, "I bet you're learning a lot about being a minority."
- •But, no. Not at all.
- •My whiteness put me in a smaller subset of the population, but privilege isn't about numbers (though they can help). It's about power.
- •People with white skin colonized and sub-divided Africa, enslaved Africans, and extract(ed) natural and human resources for their own purposes.
- •The legacy of European imperialism and post-colonial realities granted me white privilege in Africa despite my "minority" status.
- •My white privilege let me navigate government and NGO offices with ease.White skin and a laptop bag (a conspicuous class marker) were my passport.
- •My white privilege allowed me to enter swanky beachfront resorts.I could never afford to stay there, but my white skin was a pass to spend 3 hours using their uninterrupted electricity to charge my cellphone for the price of a Coke at the bar. My Gambian friends wouldn't have gotten past the gate (recommended reading: Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place).
- •My white privilege gave me access to a European-run medical research facility, whose library and electricity I was allowed to use without question.I had friends who worked there, but no official attachments myself. I was never asked to explain my presence as any Gambian would have been.
- •When I used my privilege in these ways, my friend Naisatou would say, "You're just doing what you need to do to get your work done. I'd do it, too, if I could."But she couldn't, and that's the point. Did my phone or laptop need charging more than any Gambian's? Did I need library access more than a Gambian university student? No. Absolutely not.
- •Acknowledging the ways you are privileged is a first step.That was 16 years ago. I've learned a lot since then and I have so much more to learn.
- •Next steps/works in progress:
- •Keep paying attentionTo power. To the ways that race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and other dimensions of identity intersect and shape my life and opportunities and the lives and opportunities of those around me.
- •ListenTo those with experiences different than my own. To anyone with lessons to teach about social justice.
- •"Vote. Keep reading. Rinse. Repeat." --Ta-Nehisi Coates (via @ChrisK )