“I wonder if white people even know how lucky they are to be white”

This term, I am taking a class about racism, ethnicity, and technology. A mere three weeks in, I have found myself thinking about things I never have before.

To start with, there is Peggy McIntosh‘s list of “the daily effects of white privilege” in her life. In her article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack, Ms. McIntosh considers things like:

7. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am told that people of my colour made it what it is.

12. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.

24. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to “the person in charge,” I will be facing a person of my race.

43. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem.

50. I will feel welcomed and “normal” in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.

The list goes on. Please read the rest of the list.

The following image was borrowed from PostSecret and subsequently, I borrowed it from the linked blog:

Do we? Do we know how lucky we are?

A few decades ago, comedian Eddie Murphy embarked on a journey to see what the world was like for a white man. I couldn’t figure out how to post the video here, so you’ll have to click on the photo below to watch the video on another site.

Alright, it’s a bit exaggerated, but did you notice no one in the audience laughed during the scene where he is at the counter, trying to comprehend why the white clerk won’t let him pay for the newspaper? There’s something here. We realize that there IS a difference!

Did you know that 80-90% of the jobs available in the USA aren’t posted in places where the majority of the population can see them. Or the fact that “urban renewal” (making downtown pretty) has destroyed the homes and playgrounds of people who can’t afford to live anywhere but downtown? The majority of those people without access and without playgrounds? Yup, you guessed: people of colour.

Then there is also the fact that, even though we talk a lot about women getting paid less than men, we tend not to even think about the people of colour who are doctors and lawyers in their home countries but whose training is not accepted in Canada, and so they are forced to drive taxis and work as custodians. They make less than white women. Non-white women make even less as nannies and fast-food workers.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Racism is live and well. Racism is inside us. We the whites were born with it, merely because white isn’t a race. We think of white as normal, and non-white as “other”. Racism might look like this:

Whites have privileges we don’t even think about. But we should. Imagine if it were Barack Obama’s teenage daughter rather than Sarah Palin’s that were pregnant…

But that’s the United States, right, Canadians?

How about the Attawapiskat Housing Crisis in northern Ontario?

I feel ashamed knowing that I will likely never have to live like people in my own province live every day, that my children will never have to live in tiny, mold-infested smoky rooms, or live off of KD and pepperoni sticks.

It is not likely that I will be able to lessen our society’s embedded racism through anything that I do, but at least I can perhaps tear the blinders off of other people’s eyes. White is a race, too. And we are guilty of being ignorant about the inherent privilege we are born into, no matter which class we belong to.

(Thanks to my professor, Dr. Warren Steele, for these videos, & inspiration)

14 thoughts on ““I wonder if white people even know how lucky they are to be white”

    • It’s thought-provoking, isn’t it? How is it that we haven’t realized this? I’m being taught that it’s because racism = prejudice + power, and since whites have held power for so long, racism has been systematized within us, and we don’t recognize it as an issue.



      Sarah Koopmans SarahEKoopmans@gmail.com ATransparentLife.com 519-955-3045

    • Why feed her ego and the demon of racism? You have absolutely nothing to feel guilty or sad about. It’s the race baiters that are the problem.

  1. Being Native myself, I try not to get involved in any kind of debates involving Native rights. I took a Canadian Law class in high-school and had to ask to be exempted because a lot of my classmates were of French-Canadian heritage and we taught or atleast learned from observing their parents’ attitude towards Native people that we were beneath them. I find that stereotypes, racism and bigotry are still so abundant here in Toronto — I witnessed this while walking in a Native Rights Protest a few years ago that halted traffic throughout the city for a few hours. Even when it came to us claiming our rights to our Status (non-tax) cards, threats had to be made from different bands in the area to shut down the 401 during G20 to exempt us from the new HST law. This shouldn’t have been an issue in the first place.

    Unfortunately, I find that being mixed and having pretty dominant “white” genes from my paternal grandfather has been a blessing. A lot of people think I’m white simply because my husband is, I’m educated, and I don’t “act or sound” Native. What does this even mean? Its sad that I have had to ask myself this question countless numbers of times. And even worse, that I find its easier to be considered white than embrace my own heritage. A lot of the reason why I’m with a white man is because I knew that the whiter my child was, the easier a life they’d have. As a white teenager, these thoughts would probably never enter someone’s head, let alone carry on into adulthood and shape the way she forms her relationships.

    I’ve also found it funny that Canada is so quick to jump in to help other countries in need (Haiti, Japan, south Asian countries to name a few) during their crisis’ when they have even bigger problems happening in their own backyard. Attawapiskat is a great example of how Canada has its own “Third World” conditions. And only now, after years of fighting, are people starting to notice. This isn’t a new problem. Its been happening since before I was in middle school. I would know – these people slept on our gymnasium floors, lived in our old military barracks and were shipped to countless other communities in the area temporarily as a band-aid fix until their conditions were “liveable” in the spring again.

    Making people realize that simply by being born white automatically makes them privileged is definitely going to shake things up. You really don’t know how lucky you are.

    I think your entry today is great Sarah.

  2. some good thoughts to ponder!
    i don’t know if the “trained as doctors and lawyers in another country but have to work as taxi drivers and custodians here” necessarily is a race-based problem though. there are language barrier issues, accreditation differences … i don’t think it’s that simple. even a white canadian that studies law in the US would not be able to practice as a lawyer in canada because they are trained in american law (unless it was a program specifically designed for return to canada with certification). they do still need to meet our country’s standards in each of those job areas, or earn an equivalency. not to mention the forgeries – when i worked at redeemer, i took a workshop in toronto that focused on international transcripts and documents, and how to know what is legit or not… fake documents are a big problem.

    • I agree that training & accreditation in Canadian (or host country) standards are important, and requiring immigrants to qualify according to them does not equal racism. But we kind of expect “those people” to be okay with doing work we don’t want to do ourselves, and live in neighborhoods we wouldn’t want to live in, in exchange for the privilege of living in a democracy, away from persecution.

      I also think that Canada shouldn’t be expected to receive all of the refugees from every country in the world, and that means there has to be some kind of qualification process to determine who gets accepted and who gets denied. Some might make those decisions based on race rather than individual cases, and on the other hand there will be those that say we shouldn’t deny anyone and to do so is racist.

      I don’t want to be the one to make those decisions, but I do want to ask white people to think about how they think about non-white people, and to think about how racist attitudes are built into our Culture and lifestyle, even if we are the most tolerant people we know. We expect certain things of people that look certain ways, and we rarely look at ourselves honestly through the lens of colour and what it has given us and taken away from us.

      • oh, for sure! i don’t disagree. it’s a hard topic to discuss because nothing is able to be painted with a broad brush – everything seems to be case by case and very circumstantial.

  3. Just a couple comments….

    I disgree with a number of your points…

    “…even though we talk a lot about women getting paid less than men, we tend not to even think about the people of colour who are doctors and lawyers in their home countries but whose training is not accepted in Canada, and so they are forced to drive taxis and work as custodians…” For many people who immigrate to Canada, they are doing so because they will have a better life – KNOWING that their credentials will not be accepted here. They do so because Canada has a higher standard of living and they want to be here. We have not forced immigrants to come to Canada and taken away their degrees, etc. – it is THEIR choice (again, for the most part).

    You spoke of “white as normal, and non-white as “other”…” but do you mean North American? I’m wondering if some of your comments refer more to a North American lifestyle than being “white.” I also wanted to point out that the (arguably) most powerful country in the world, the US, has a, as you would say, non-white President – I’d say that’s a pretty awesome influence to have in the world!

    “How about the Attawapiskat Housing Crisis in northern Ontario?” It is very hard to just drop this issue into conversation without looking at the bigger picture; I studied the Attawapiskat issue with my students (I’m a high school teacher), and there are a LOT of factors to consider – historical content (poor treatment by Europeans), lack of education and HOW that came to be, and the battle between the federal and provincial governments about whose responsibility it is to help them out. I wasn’t sure what your point was referring to?

    “I feel ashamed knowing that I will likely never have to live like people in my own province live every day, that my children will never have to live in tiny, mold-infested smoky rooms, or live off of KD and pepperoni sticks.” Why does this make you feel ashamed? I would hope that it would unite us in action to DO something about it – not make us feel bad and then not prompt us into doing something about it (which, I realize, is not what you said). I hope that I will be able to be grateful that I can, hopefully some day, provide a stable and comfortable life for any children I might have, and instil in them a desire to make a better world for all people. I don’t think you should be ashamed – I think with privilege comes responsibility, and its what you are going to do with it that counts.

    “I also think that Canada shouldn’t be expected to receive all of the refugees from every country in the world, and that means there has to be some kind of qualification process to determine who gets accepted and who gets denied.” There IS! That is what our current immigration system is based on – it is a points system – where people are given points for education, skills, age, languages spoken, etc. This is to determine if the person will be a good fit for Canada, and if Canada will be a good fit for them. This goes for people from ANY country. For example, a good friend of mine, a white woman from New Zealand (a country with a similar culture and standard of living to Canada), was told by immigration that she had to leave Canada after living here for a year and a half, even though she had a teaching job and was a strong contributor to society. They said that Ontario has a surplus of teachers and we need to give the teaching jobs we do have to people in our own country. That is a CANADIAN issue, not a “white” issue.

    “And we are guilty of being ignorant about the inherent privilege we are born into, no matter which class we belong to.” Do you really think that’s true, across the board? I had a discussion about different races and cultures with my students last week, and I really believe that, while we (North Americans and Europeans) have made tons of mistakes about other cultures and ethnicities, there is a turnaround happening. Students are shocked when they learn about events in history where other races and cultures were discriminated against (Black slavery, the persecution and murder of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, among others), and would say things like “How can one human be so stupid as to do that to another human? We’re just the same!” I think we’ve come a LONG way. (And yes, there will ALWAYS be more that needs to be done, please don’t get me wrong). My students found the issues of French and English speaking Canadians within Canada to be of a pretty major concern right now, to be honest.

    Anyway, I hope you don’t mind me participating in this discussion, and please feel free to point me out if I’ve gotten something wrong. I enjoy discussions and love to be challenged. Would love to hear your thoughts.

  4. Yeah, a friend told me about how in Nebraska they built a bunch of housing for the indians. Within a couple of months the indians had stripped and sold all the copper in the new housing.

    Nope, I don’t feel any guilt.

    The American indians are heavily subsidized. Haven’t we figured out that’s not working?

    How about bring more capitalism to the reservations? That what they need.

  5. I don’t agree that whites are a privileged race, as you infer. As the son of a south Georgia sharecropper’s son, I worked shoulder to shoulder, hand to hand, and sweated alongside “blacks” when I was a child. I served in the US Army with so-called “minorities.” We were all brothers under the skin. I never noticed that “white privilege”…and still don’t. I don’t look at a person and see a black person, a Hispanic person, an Asian person, a native American, etc.

    Do you look at a blonde European, a dark-haired European, a hairy one, a hairless one, a tall one, short one, etc. as being from a different race? Why or why not? Color (or colour) is merely a means of description…NOT a racial or judgmental issue.

    Playing the race card is the spawn of “political correctness” and a false pretense. If someone of my background and genetic disposition can evaluate someone based on his actions and words, and not on the color of his skin (or “race”), then there is no white privilege. If anything, there is a backlash of sentiment, condemning the white race for past injustices…real or imagined.

    Americans, (and Canadians) are a blend of the world’s best and worst. We are the mongrels of the world. Racial purity? Ha!

  6. Many Tea Party people take offense at being called racist. These same Republicans think the ‘Jim Crow Laws’ were not racist either. They were simply following God’s law. Before the Tower of Babel was constructed, all people spoke the same language, when God toppled the Tower of Babel, God instructed the people to ‘be separate and speak different languages.’

    Therefore, the Jim Crow laws, segregation and miscegenation laws were an extension of GOD’S LAW. Under God’s Law, what happens when a non-white child shows up at a white’s-only hospital?

  7. The very sad truth is, there will never be a society where racism or prejudice do not exist. Even in population around the world where there is hardly division in race, what happens? They devide the city by walls and set up ghettos for underprivileged citizens that are not chosen by God, or are not of Noble decent etc etc…Its hilarious for people to think in this world that there could be harmony world wide. Why not feed our neighbors. Why not have free world wide medical care. It is because i like myself…how would i come to terms with living a normal life if i hated myself…so if i love myself and i love my general motor of operations it becomes what is normal, when a new culture or race of people are introduced(maybe even a new government or hierarchical system) things are not normal. Because they are not normal i am uncomfortable with it. I do not love it because i do not know it. Instead of changing or accepting this new idea that i am not comfortable with, the only thing that will let us stay alive is separation. So we start are countries and set up military to keep everyone out and separated, and then even inside our own community we have subdivision, even in our neighborhoods, we all sit separated in our homes, we don’t know each other yet, you sleep not 100 ft from my head. Want to talk about prejudice?….Why not invite homeless over to your house for dinner?…white black, mexican…why not invite them???….because they are in a desperate situation and they might steal from me…..oh so you deny them help…because they are in serious need of help….oh ok well they are dirty and smell….they have views that are suitable for my children, they are alcoholics etc etc etc…..its a HUMAN problem when you boil it down,,….not a white or black or mexican problems, and classifying it as such only furthers the problem that is SEPARATION. The world needs more togetherness…..we need to be right in each others homes…ALL the time

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