MY WHITE SKIN affords me social privileges that many cannot enjoy. All of these privileges grant me unfair access to an ease of life in virtually every social, political, economic, and situation in the United States of America. However, one privilege seems to be the most toxic—the privilege to forget.
I, unlike my siblings of color, do not have to worry about the day-to-day struggle against a system; the system favors me. A white, cisgender, heterosexual, educated, able-bodied male is almost as privileged as it gets in our nation. I don’t confront oppression against myself on a daily basis like many others. I, indeed, find myself forgetting that systematic oppression exists. However, simply because oppression does not affect me does not mean that I can forget it exists.
The white majority oftentimes forgets about systematic racism, and this occurs every day, even among celebrities.
Case #1: Recently, Taylor Swift rocked the music world by asserting her white privilege. After misinterpreting a Tweet from Nikki Minaj, she changed a conversation about structural racism into one about the hurt feelings of a musician. She asserted her privilege in two ways: 1) in her ignorance of the issues, and, 2), in politely apologizing and leaving the conversation altogether.
The first error is necessary to be acknowledged for social awareness and progress—to understand our mistakes and correct them in the future. However, Swift’s second mistake—to remove herself from the conversation—is much more problematic. Swift allowed her hurt feelings (of embarrassment and shame of misinterpreting Minaj’s tweet) to overcome the greater conversation of systematic oppression in the music industry.
And, as much as I wish to say that I have never committed an error of the sort, I too am guilty of white ignorance.
Case #2: I currently work as a Resident Advisor for on-campus housing at San José State University. I work in the Black Scholar’s Community—a floor dedicated to providing a safe space for the black community in residential life. This community is new to residential life, and I am an extremely—almost pale—white male. I admittedly knew little to nothing about the current struggles of the black community besides what I’d seen on the morning news.
In an honest, genuine attempt to learn, I began asking my black residents about their culture. I wanted to know about their experiences, their struggles with racism. I wanted them to educate me. I, however, asserted my white privilege in its most systematic form.
I believed that asking for the Black community to educate me made me an ally. But instead of taking the initiative to cure my own ignorance, I gave the burden to them, expecting this community to take my workload. “Why should we have to continue to educate others about our culture?” one resident said to me. “I don’t need you to tell me about your holidays or traditions or customs. They’re already imbedded in me from television, movies, and the radio.”
These stories illustrate a notion I believe imperative to any true White ally: to not step away from the oppression that you don’t experience, and to educate yourself regarding oppressed communities.
It’s easy to believe that treating marginalized peoples with respect is enough to make you an ally. If I’m not overtly prejudice, how am I the problem? This question, however, is entirely too simplistic in its assumptions. Systematic racism is–by nature–nature, covert, hidden, subtle. And this system is built into our psyche, into the way we communicate with one another.
MY WHITE SKIN gives me the privilege to step away from the fight, to believe these systems of oppression don’t exist. But until humankind is freed from the bondages of oppressed identities, I will continue to break down the barriers between my marginalized family and myself.
by BENJAMIN SAUBOLLE-CAMACHO
Ben is a Resident Advisor at SJSU, in Joe West Hall. He is a third year student majoring in English Subject Matter Preparation with a minor in Humanities. If you are interested in being featured like Ben on our blog, please email: email@example.com with a blog post, attached photograph, and the source for the latter.