Sometimes, political speeches, essays and marches aren't enough – sometimes it takes a real-life incident to make you realise the state of things.
White privilege is a term that refers to the societal privileges that benefit people in western countries that identify as white. This is beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people who live under the same social, political and economic circumstances.
If you're white, it's probably something you experience everyday without even realising it – sometimes, it's important to self-reflect.
Jenny Lundt, a student at Colgate University, a Liberal Arts School in New York shared a story about her white privilege in light of an incident where her campus was placed under lock down due to a black student using a glue gun for an art project.
Sharing a photo of herself posing with a sword, Jenny wrote:
THIS is what white privilege looks like. This is me, only one year ago on this very campus, running around the academic quad with a fucking sharp metal sword. People thought it was funny. People laughed- oh look at that harmless, ~ silly white girl ~ with a giant sword!!
Today, a black man carrying a f**king glue gun shut down my ~prestigious liberal arts college~ for 4 hours. The limited information that was released put all black men on this campus in danger and at risk of being killed. That is the reality of the institutionalised racism in the United States. If you think for even a second this wasn't profiling, ask yourself why this sword is still in my room and has not ONCE made anyone uncomfortable. No one has EVER called the police on me. Understand that there are larger forces at play than this one night, and this once instance of racism. This is engrained in our university and our larger society. White Colgate students, we need to do better. #blacklivesmatter [sic]
After going viral, Jenny edited the post, saying the engagement is another factor of her privilege.
This post is getting far more shares than I ever imagined. I just want to remind everyone viewing/ sharing this that this narrative is not about me and my feelings. This story and the event that happened last week is about are people of colour that are oppressed each and every day by this institution and this country at large and I in no way meant to take the conversation away from them and their stories. Race and discrimination are just as much of a problem here today as it was on Monday- even though many people are not talking about it or even THINKING about it anymore. My privilege allowed me to share my story. My privilege and my influential friends and thus their influential friends made this post go "viral". All of that is privilege at work.
She then encouraged other white people to "wake up" and "challenge stereotypes".
To those white people that are seeing this, use this as an opportunity and wake up call to confront the privilege in your own life. Have these conversations and find the own "swords" in your life- with things you could get away with that your friends of colour could not. There are many white people on this post trying to suppress the voices of others with comments such as "all lives matter" or "white privilege doesn't exist". CHALLENGE THAT. fight back. And not just on this post, but in real life. Challenge racist jokes. Challenge stereotypes and hold your white friends accountable.
She also emphasised the fact that it wasn't about her.
A lot of white people from different areas in my life have messaged me to have important conversations about race that we've never had before. That was my intention in writing this post- using a relatable narrative to help fellow white people acknowledge their privilege. Thank those of you for those of you who have seen this and been able to have critical conversations.
However, let's please not forget who is actually affected by the campus events this week. Hint: It's not me. I am returning to my comfortable life in Southern California where I will enjoy a summer of traveling and interning freely as a white woman through South America (which is not without problems of its own). Part of the reason I am able to do that so freely and without fear has deep roots in colonialism, which I need to be challenging within myself each and every day now, in the US, and when I am abroad. POC [people of colour] at Colgate were traumatised this week. I was not. That is what should be remembered about what happens at Colgate- not a Facebook status.
Jenny also shared an open letter, sent to her from another student, Sahil Gadhavi, where he shared his experience on the matter. In the letter he praises Jenny for "providing an irrefutable example of white privilege at work" but added he was "filled with dejection".
One of the greater things about white privilege is that it affords a white person the chance to be heard. Everyday, people of color protest the injustices and racial abuse that they experience, and find troves of white people relentlessly downplaying their reality, calling it a “victim mentality” and chalking it up to another example of people segregating themselves. Citing examples of poor white people who in their eyes have no privileges and are just as unfairly treated as people of color. Calling it classism and not racism, saying that the media has blinded us all and is forcing us to see racism where it doesn’t exist. In their happy little Bob Ross painted worlds, racism is a thing of the past and people of color are polluting the American culture by dredging up these psuedoracist incidents, further dividing an already divided world. In their eyes, we are the culprits, the element of society that won’t let America heal, constantly chipping at an old wound, making it bleed afresh every time they try to forget about their shameful heritage.
To those people, I present the aftermath of the Jenny Lundt facebook post. If you go and see her post, you will see tons of people praising her, showering her with adulations and admiration for being a hero. A true revolutionary who wasn’t afraid to speak the truth and expose the racism that still exists in American society. To those people, I ask, where is this response when you see black men being incarcerated everyday while white men walk free for the same crimes or more? Where is this overpouring of attention when black children are being shot by the police everyday, while your own white children are being raised in the ignorance afforded by their skin? Where is this praise when black activists march up and down the city squares all over the country screaming “Black lives matter” and all they hear back is All lives matter. Where is this immediate acceptance of the truth when I tell people that I have been consistently racially profiled every time I fly in from India, because of the melanin in my skin, my hair, my beard? Why do we face the suspicion while Jenny Lundt gets the praise?
Following the campus lock down, Brian Casey, the university’s president, sent a message saying he had asked for a complete review of the incident. “It is important that we understand the role that implicit racial bias had in the initial reporting of and responses to the events of last night.
"… In addition, communication and enforcement steps were taken that, I believe, confused and harmed this campus and our students."