CONTENT WARNING: This article contains mentions of racial issues, such as police brutality. This article also contains certain language that may be offensive to some readers. Please use caution before reading.
In light of Black History Month, I thought there was no better way for me to contribute my first opinion piece to The Rocket and the Slippery Rock community than to talk about anti-racism, white privilege and advocating for different people of color.
This is a reminder for anyone reading this, as well as myself, that this is an opinion piece. It doesn’t make this information less than, but I am not trying to argue a point. Rather, I’m presenting topics of interest about racism, and I want to use my voice to bring awareness to people of color.
I want to begin by clarifying a couple of important factors due to the culturally sensitive nature throughout this writing. Firstly, I am aware of the efforts and responsibilities that would coincide with identifying as an ally, and by no means do I take it lightly.
Writing this piece is significant to me because of my desire to bring further awareness to our community about race-related issues, privilege and to use my voice alongside others so that I can provide further amplification.
Language and rhetoric are also very important when writing about topics encompassing diversity, social injustices and intersectional intercultural communication. I want to emphasize that using the term ‘people of color’ will be my only generalized term throughout this piece. This is because I realize how damaging this term and others alike could be to group different races, ethnicities and cultures of people together as one.
Furthermore, I will be referring to “white” as a descriptive. I do see how it can also be another term that is sensitive or damaging. One example I’ve learned is that the utilization of this term allows for a continuing reflection of racial hierarchy and can be seen as a separation from people of color as the “majority.”
The term “white” can also represent negative historical contexts and cause uneasiness in different ways. One of these ways is due to some preferring the usage of the term caucasian.
For my readers: Understand that I want to use this term solely to generalize because of different points of interest throughout this piece that it is significant in. I want to further describe why the term “white” has become normalized and cemented in modern American vernacular.
However, despite its damaging connotation, using the term to describe and group people for being white or having a white identity can also be ideologically charged in good or bad ways.
I plan to use culture-specific terminology when I am talking about individual cultures or specific instances. I will also utilize “people of color” when necessary to communicate the connections throughout topics related to social justice, civil rights and human rights.
About Me and My Views
I am an Italian-American woman with an immigrant father and a mother having a lineage of multiple different ethnicities from Europe and Asia.
As a white woman, I have begun to learn the first steps into fighting for equality of all races. Starting by educating myself as much as possible and acknowledging the existence of white privilege, and how it affects those around me.
I feel that these three main topics of anti-racism, white privilege and advocating for people of color are easily attainable gateways for any person to begin understanding how to get out of their zone of comfortability when it comes to racism-related topics. Educating yourself is a starting line on how you may unknowingly be benefitting from racism, as well as recognizing it as a current issue in any aspect of society.
Coming to SRU has provided me with more than just education. The communities that exist here, the variety of classes and especially the people have given me insights into experiences and societal topics that I’ve never even thought about exploring. This is mainly due to lacking knowledge of their overall existence.
I am originally from a very non-diverse city in Ohio called Medina. Even though SRU is also a largely white population, coming to Pennsylvania was still a huge culture shock for me.
If you were to look up Medina’s demographics, you’d find that even with a population above 25,000 as of 2022, less than 7% identified as a different race other than white.
Not only was college a culture shock, but it also enlightened me to societal issues that I wasn’t aware of. I already know about the disadvantages that people of color communities deal with. What I didn’t know, however, is the severity of systemic racism and the unwillingness of white people to change or be educated.
Personally, when I attempt to bring up these topics to other people, I am met with hostility. I am most often surrounded by a white community or people who would seem to fall under the category of white, and either in casual or formal conversation, the hostility is paired with combative and defensive responses.
This makes me wonder: Why is that?
Why do race-related conversations get automatically shut down by people that are white but it is heavily the opposite for people of color? I understand the ideas that promote not seeing each other by color or race and treating everyone the same because “we all are going to be dead one day.”
But what I don’t understand, though, is why there are continuing forms of race-related oppression for people of color currently and why it is either flying under the radar or mostly going unnoticed. Everyone is being pinned against each other in different ways as to what is right and what is wrong to talk about.
As I have been dissecting this topic, I have been overwhelmed with different emotions, most of them having to do with anger and frustration.
In high school, I believe that little to no racism-related topics were implemented into my K-12 education. When it comes to teaching the histories of Black people, too, I remember briefly being taught subjects surrounding slavery, segregation and their existence throughout the development of the United States before the 1900s.
I also had a single class in high school that taught history about different decades through a variety of sports and athletes, with an emphasis on the lives of only famous Black sports players.
My high school diploma did leave me with quite a lot to be knowledgeable about. However, when it came to major topics, such as the United States and its involvement in World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War or even definitions behind what racism is to all people of color, my education before college missed that mark. These would be just a few of the major topics that were taught to me either by myself or in my collegiate years.
My education while growing up failed to help me recognize a clear definition of racism by almost refusing to talk about it when it was necessary. I feel they tiptoed around subjects involving privilege by teaching at a level of “normality” and making it seem nonexistent.
By not teaching the discrepancies of those with privilege and those without, privileged people will continue to benefit, while others will have to deal with oppression as their normal.
White Privilege and Intersectionality
For this section, I thought it would be significant to input and display some of the privileges that I consider myself to have daily for being white. I got this idea from a paper written by an author named Peggy McIntosh. I will refer to her later on.
- I do not have to worry about being deemed financially inept or unstable when buying a home, or for any reason, due to the color of my skin.
- Police brutality is not a factor to consider in my life because of the color of my skin.
- I will be able to find any shampoo that would suit my hair type in the hair care section.
- I will not be a victim that is targeted for committing a crime I didn’t commit because of my race.
- I will not be stereotyped in any situation due to the color of my skin.
- I don’t have to worry about being stereotyped when I am in an airport trying to catch a flight.
- My race will not be the leading factor as to why I was interrogated, followed, killed or deemed suspicious by police.
- I do not worry about where I could live because I won’t be alienated in any community, classroom or group setting because of my race.
- I have the privilege of endless protection and escaping violent acts of racism because of the color of my skin.
- I could live in ignorance of racist acts and the state of racism today if I wanted to because I am white.
When I am explaining the two-word term of white privilege, I understand the controversies that come with it, as well as the discomforts that it can create. I think it is a very important topic to talk about, despite how uncomfortable anyone feels about it.
“White privilege” is commonly described in a variety of different ways. One thing that all of the definitions will have in common conceptually are the advantages that have been provided to white people in society at a systemic and legal level. According to an article called “What is White Privilege Really?” on learningforjustice.org, “Before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, “white privilege” was less commonly used but generally referred to legal and systemic advantages given to white people by the United States, such as citizenship, the right to vote or the right to buy a house in the neighborhood of their choice.”
I’ve learned that the term is further derived from the histories and involvement of racism and racial bias.
It is easier to start defining it by dismantling the term as to what it is not meant as. I cannot speak for everyone in society and as to what the most correct way to go about this is. When it comes to the word “privilege,” some readers may feel misled by their involvement with the term. They may think they have never experienced privilege for whatever the reason is. This can include originating from a rural town, a poor family or really any reason. Understand that is not what is being implied though.
For those that are not used to being grouped together and described as their race, this term is not suggesting that since you are deemed as a white person, you have never experienced struggles in life at all because of your race. That is not what I am not trying to imply and that is not what the term means.
This also does not mean that due to your race your level of success and accomplishments are less deserving. It is also not under any assumption that you would have had to work less to get there.
But if I am talking in-depth on defining white privilege, I have to include the topic of intersectionality.
To elaborate on intersectionality in white privilege, I have to define what intersectionality is. Intersectionality is an analytical term often defined to assist in connecting other forms of self-identification. It can be understood as an intertwining framework of overlapping social discriminations and oppression from anything that can marginalize people.
The Oxford Dictionary defines intersectionality as, “The theory that various forms of discrimination centered on race, gender, class, disability, sexuality, and other forms of identity, do not work independently but interact to produce particularized forms of social oppression.”
The importance of intersectionality when referring to white privilege is that every individual person experiences privilege in different ways. For example, someone that is white but also is gay and has a disability may have different privileged experiences. That is why intersectionality is important. Despite multiple forms of oppression, a person’s experience of privilege may be affected because of how their identities overlap. Intersectionality also provides a representation of how individual identities are affected in various ways because of their unique experiences of oppression.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that intersectionality cancels out other privileges or, in this case, white privilege. I decided to look for examples to explain this better and I found a very eye-opening article by author and professor Anne Sisson Runyan. It’s called “What Is Intersectionality and Why Is It Important?”
Two quotes from the piece stood out to me the most about how intersectionality can further explain racism, sexism and stereotypes.
“But theorists of intersectionality stress that forms of oppression are not just additive, as if they were wholly separate layers of domination. Rather, women of color actually experience a different form of racism from men of color, just as they experience a different form of sexism from white women. In this sense, gender is always “raced” and race is always gendered,” Runyon said.
“Thus, how women are simultaneously and differently racialized and sexualized (and classed) depends upon cultural and material legacies and contemporary cultural and material forces.”
I believe everyone deserves equality in society. I actively pursue the belief that everyone should deserves equal political, social, economic, and human rights and opportunities. At times throughout society that reality can seem bleak. However, to combat this, there are social justice organizations in effect working towards better realities surrounding social issues.
These coalition groups often assist people affected by different areas of injustice and oppression by fighting for change and equality. When it comes to intersectionality, oftentimes these social justice groups will implement and practice the ideologies to improve their flexibility to further represent individuals and their identities. This is done so to promote further inclusion and unionization among oppressed individuals that are still shadowed by the continuation of issues involving inequality and injustice.
Understand that those that feel oppressed because of their race are living in a society that was carefully constructed to give white people advantages. Many people could disagree about the idea of white privilege not being factual. I also agree this country has, at times, equally disadvantaged populations despite their personal identities or race. Unless the past can be rewritten, I think disagreeing about white privilege will only continue to hurt people of color.
White privilege is embedded like a parasite throughout our history as a country. To understand it and dissect the problems it has created, it needs to be talked about more. And because I am white, I have never and will never feel the damaging effects that has been imposed on people of color, especially by our government.
“White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh
The phrase “white privilege” was originated from a written piece called “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” created in 1989 by scholar and anti-bias activist Peggy McIntosh. In an Intro to Gender Studies course at SRU, I learned how this article talks about the obliviousness that occurs because of the lack of education about racism and white populations’ effects on racism.
McIntosh also emphasizes throughout that the “invisible knapsack” is a deeper term to describe how being white has offered protection to people in the same racial group as me to be confident, comfortable and oblivious. Yet this “invisible knapsack” for white people is nonexistent for people of color.
“White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks and describing white privilege makes one newly accountable.” McIntosh said.
Previously, I listed 10 examples of daily privileges that I thought were more associated to being white. She had inspired me to think of my own reasonings for privilege while she gave 26 completely different examples. Her reasons for the conditions were because she knew that people of color surrounding her in life would not have the same experiences.
Possessing privilege is unavoidable yes, and oftentimes it is something that has been attached to you since the moment you were born. While it is not consciously at the front of our minds at all times or something that is able to be obtained, it does come in many forms. When I am speaking about it relating to race, however, despite its inevitability, I am talking about how being a white person has advantageous qualities in society, whether you agree or not.
Also, this is a reminder that I am by no means an expert on any topics throughout this piece. I am simply hoping to create more awareness on these topics that I feel are significant in striving for racial equality and to open up the necessary discussions that go along with it despite any amount of discomfort and defensiveness.
Advantages of Whiteness
When I mention that people of color has been disadvantaged in society, I want to specifically talk about it here in the United States. I have learned that not only have they been dealt a radically different hand than white people, but they have also had to experience life being dictated almost entirely by white people, too.
The United States’ education system is simply not incorporating thorough teachings of ethnic studies and culture into its curriculum. This is a major topic of interest for people of color and can be researched very extensively, too.
Now, this will vary depending on many different factors, including location and the level of schooling. It seems like you’ll learn more about different cultures and people of color communities depending on if you are taking a foreign language course.
Nationally, I believe curriculums throughout K-12 fall short with their tone and quality of people of color teachings. I wish there had been better representation in media and literature for people of color.
All my race-related books either had pictures of white children or were about white people. As a white person, you are learning about history in America and the history of how it became to be as a core curriculum. Yet for people of color, it would be most likely an elective or left out entirely. When I was taught about slavery and how white people treated Black people, I was taught about how white people “back then” would treat Black people like property and heathens.
An article called “Why our schools aren’t doing justice to the complexities of Black history” explained my perspective in a similar way: “Historical contentiousness reminds educators that Black history has its own timelines, perspectives, voices and people — allowing educators to understand that what is historically important to white people may not be historically important to Black people.”
But there were never perspectives from Black people, only through. I feel like teaching in this way could also be extremely insensitive and harmful to people of color. My educators in high school, who were all white, were often worried about causing discomfort or unsettling us as children because of the curriculum’s racially sensitive nature.
Another advantage for white people is their schools themselves: The location of them, the teachers teaching in them, the students that are going there and how well-funded they are.
The unequal opportunities for people of color are clearer than for white people. States often won’t fund a school that is in the inner city, or in an area that has more minorities, than a suburban city. There will also be less diversity and people of color teachers in schools outside of these areas. You can read more about these topics on two articles I found very illuminating. They are “Schools are still segregated, and black children are paying a price” on www.epi.org and “Fighting Systemic Racism in K-12 Education: Helping Allies Move From the Keyboard to the School Board” from www.americanprogress.org.
These advantages for white communities in education can also be traced back to how minority groups were spread out and disadvantaged in their living situations. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) was implemented in 1934 to help with the effects of the Great Depression. They provided federal loans for mortgages.
Due to segregation, this meant it was extremely unlikely for people of color to receive a loan because it was deemed “risky” to the FHA. This began a concept that lasted decades: redlining. Maps were created and outlined by red lines to show the separation of people of color communities and white communities.
I know adding all these quotes feels a little less authentic as to my opinion. I am glad that there are sources and people that are interested in these topics too and have worded exactly what I would want to say better than I ever could.
A flawless example from www.Brookings.edu was in an article written by Andre M. Perry and David Harshberger in “America’s formerly redlined neighborhoods have changed, and so must solutions to rectify them.”
“The practice of redlining was explicit in its targeting of Black Americans. While Latino or Hispanic residents, low-income white residents, noncitizens, communists, and other populations the federal government deemed “risky” were often included in redlining, they were not targeted in the same manner as Black residents. Today, neighborhoods that fall within once-redlined areas are more likely to have a higher concentration of Black residents, as well as lower incomes, lower home values, and other negative economic characteristics relative to the rest of their cities.”
The effects of redlining are still felt today, with their communities in a position being economically disadvantaged for decades. The disparities in wealth and homeownership between people of color and white people are still widespread, and one of the reasons is traced back to redlining.
The last example of an advantage that white people experience that has at times disadvantaged people of color is the topic of stereotypes. I think stereotypes that are in existence for people of color are extremely harmful and I don’t think we will ever be at a level of equality and be able to disintegrate racism without acknowledging their harmfulness first. Stereotypes for people are embedded, sometimes subconsciously, into our minds. For example, some associate Asian people with being really smart and good at math.
These stereotypes seem positive but are much more harmful in actuality. They are also nonsensical because they are habitually associated with race or a specific culture. Circling back to white privilege, stereotyping can often be seen as a racist micro-aggression.
A well-known example of the negative effects that occur from stereotyping can be seen in the Central Park Five case. Where five people of color teenagers were accused of assaulting and raping a white female jogger in 1989. Due to the media coverage on the unfolding story, they depicted these boys in very negative, stereotypical ways. Portraying them as threats and inequitable. Examples can be found in “When They See Us: Thirty Years Since the Central Park Five Case,” on opportunityagenda.org.
The use of harmful stereotypes in the media led to the wrongful arrests, convictions and incarceration of innocent teens. And after spending between six and 13 years in prison for the crime, another man confessed to it in 2002, exonerating the five men.
Stereotypes and racial bias in the media determined these teens’ future by leading to their wrongful arrests, convictions and incarceration.
All of these topics can be further researched at your own free will. I encourage you to educate yourself in areas related to racism.
Anti-Racism and Advocating for People of Color
To help fight discrimination, oppression and the effects of and against racism, it is notable that despite your race, you are trying to actively eliminate these issues. This means removing them at all levels of society, including interpersonally and systemically.
From what I’ve learned through commonalities intertwining in the definition, Anti-racism is defined as a process and awareness of actively identifying and denying racism in all levels of society. It promotes change through ideas and actions and helps change policies, behaviors and others’ beliefs to do so. An article that goes further in-depth on this and more called “What Is Anti-Racism?” can be found on verywellmind.com.
Whether or not you agree that white privilege exists, for there to be any change for people of color, breaking the patterns interwoven in our society in support of white privilege is one of the many crucial steps.
If you are an individual that identifies as white, recognize that taking no action at all and staying neutral against a system that was built for white people’s benefit is to be complicit in a racist system. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be in every form of active participation or go to Black Lives Matter protests, for example. It simply means that you should be aware of what is going on in society, understand the effects of racism and know ways to learn, advocate and help people of color.
If you are not sure how to advocate for people of color, go to racialequitytools.org to start or participate in learning more on your own.
You can also follow some of these steps that have helped me throughout the years to guide you:
- Race involves intersectionality as well. Learn more about policies involving the intersection between these people. Take time to seek out the voices of these people by listening, watching and reading about people of color.
- Talk about racism with everyone. You will feel uncomfortable from time to time, but I challenge you to embrace that discomfort. This is what assists with the most change, and change can be strengthened.
- Support people of color however you can. You can show support by promoting their businesses, their voices and their social media, as a few examples. Ask people individually how you can, also.
- Speak up when you see and hear problematic or racist behavior.
- Promote diversity everywhere, in work, school and leadership.
To close out, I decided to make and provide a survey to pass around, post on my socials, and ask SRU students I didn’t know personally to participate in. I wanted to use my voice for this topic but thought it would only be fair to use others’ voices as well.
Besides basic demographic information, I made sure to make their responses completely anonymous. Those who responded to my questions also knew that their responses may become a part of this piece, and I have their permission to use them. These are the real questions provided and real responses I received. I won’t be able to provide all of them, but I will do my very best not to have favor and to provide the differences amongst them on a spectrum.
Question One: What is one or more things you want to change in our society when it comes to race-related issues?
a. “Retribution for Black Americans when it comes to the oppression and redlining that is our societal system.”
b. “The mistreatment of all people, besides those that are white. I believe everyone deserves a fair chance in life, and it is wrong that people in power continue to oppress groups that have been oppressed for centuries.”
c. “We need to realize that all races are terrible. Humans do not deserve life. We came from dust and to dust we shall return.”
d. “I want to change the uncomfortableness of the race conversation around my white counterparts (i.e. family, friends, etc.). Approaching the topic of privilege without having to deal with defensiveness would create so much more room for growth and understanding.”
Question Two: If you do not identify as white, how have you been oppressed or discriminated against due to your race? If you are white, put N/A.
a. “I have been bullied and treated wrongly and unfairly by people of different ethnic origins before. For the record, it is racist and your lack of honesty and ignorance is shameful to think anyone, including white people, can not be discriminated against.”
b. “I’m white.”
c. “I haven’t so far, but I surround myself with people I know who would respect me for myself and not my race.”
Question Three: What do you think of when you hear the term “white privilege?”
a. “In my experience, white privilege is written off by white folks so often because they don’t fully understand it. My family members have expressed, ‘White privilege does not exist, my life has been just as hard as anyone else’s.’ I have to explain to them that white privilege does not mean white people do not face challenges, but that the challenges they face do not relate to the color of their skin.”
b. “I think of a white person that doesn’t consider the struggle of other oppressed races and try to make the other races look bad. White people could get away with anything or have a light punishment, while any other race would be either killed or have a harsh punishment that ruins their lives.”
c. “I believe that everyone in this amazing country is privileged and is ridiculous to argue over who benefits more when we all clearly benefit immensely compared to the rest of the world. Terms and ideas like Critical Race Theory (CRT) and White Privilege are nonsense and racist in themselves; To say that a “person of color” can’t achieve or do anything they want or set their mind to because they are not white is simply a false narrative to try and divide us as a country. I remember a time when slave owners and people that removed my ancestors from these lands thought this same ideology to be true and that they were the wrong and racist people.”
d. “I personally do not think this term is appropriate.”
Question Four: What does anti-racism and being anti-racist mean to you? What do you know about it?
a. “I’m just against being an asshole to someone based off skin color/race/gender. We all bleed the same blood & our graves are the same size.”
b. “I don’t know much about it.”
c. “For me, these terms mean not being morally apathetic or complacent in what you do. It means taking action against racism and speaking up against actions you see. If you don’t act, you are part of the problem.”
d. “It means that everyone is equal, and if there is a person who is actively racist, I am not with them. I don’t know if there’s a movement specifically for anti-racism, but I would like to learn more. I would like to be a part of something to help others receive the same treatment I get in day-to-day life that’s very obvious because I AM white.”
Question Five: Do you have disadvantages throughout life because of your race? If so, please tell me more about how or list them.
a. “No, [because] I am white. I have nothing other than family life that causes me issues.”
b. “I have been blessed like many others in this country and believe that your character and drive to succeed is the strongest obstacle for everyone to overcome and success is attainable to everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity.”
c. “People sometimes label me a specific way when they first see me.”
d. “As a white man, I feel as though I have never faced a disadvantage because of my race.”
Question Six: If there is anything else you would like to tell me, whether it’s about you, feedback or something that I should implement into my piece, please feel free to spill your heart out. This box is completely open for your voice.
a. “Black people are NOT seen as equals even in 2022. People think, ‘Oh, he/she lives in the ghetto, so they must be bad or a criminal. They must have some illegal substance or weapon on them. They must be a trouble maker. They probably are stupid or didn’t pass high school.’ These false statements are said/thought everyday, and people have no idea why they may be acting the way they do. Most of these kids don’t have good parental figures in their life and literally ride their bikes down the streets at age six. They don’t have someone to guide them down the right path or show them how to keep their head on straight. All they know is the streets, and that’s not always on them. Too many generations of the same cycle have gone by with the same result, when not all of them come from the same background or environment. We need to do better with these kids and help them along the way to break this cycle of stereotypes and let them live their lives, without having BLACK stapled to their bodies.”
b. “A topic you may want to include in this piece is the death of Jim Rogers. Jim was stopped by Pittsburgh police because they wrongfully suspected him to have stolen the bike he was riding. Minutes later, he had been [tased] ten times. After his complaints of being hurt and not being able to breathe, they took him by a police cruiser, not an ambulance, to Mercy Hospital. Meanwhile, West Penn Hospital was only four blocks away. He died of related injuries the next day. The seven officers involved in Jim’s death have yet to be fired. Jim Roger’s family has not seen justice. Not enough people are talking about this murder that happened right in our backyard.”
c. “I just wish the world would understand that race doesn’t determine personality traits. Most minorities are forced into areas with more pollution, crime and poverty. It’s a sad world.”
d. “Don’t take it all so seriously. At the end of the day, we’re all people.”
e. “N/A but appreciated. Will allow those who have to deal with daily struggles take this one.”
f. “This notion of personal identity pronouns is ridiculous because you can’t and should not just change the use of these pronouns because every language is set up in accordance with rules and these destabilize and break down the language and if that’s the case, should we teach this in school? How would you even try to? Because to some people, they are ‘fluid,’ meaning they can change at any time. If I were to say my pronouns were beautiful and handsome, should you be required to refer to me as that, and if you don’t, should you now be labeled as a ‘bigot?’ I certainly believe not.”
g. “While I think the categorization of race is fine for some things, I know that in things like job applications, it is frequently a lot better if you put prefer not to respond, or don’t jot down your race. [I] have done this experiment where some job applications I put uncertain or prefer not to respond, and the other as white since I am uncertain what races and ethnics I am, but I’m white-passing. Only the ones where I responded with white got a response. A fun little experiment to do.”
h. “I wish that white people could see that they are not best because of their skin color and treat everyone equally. It’s sad that people of color can’t even go to the police for help because there is a chance that it could be the death of them. White people don’t look at the past mistakes of previous generations and they try to justify those actions and they don’t see anything wrong with it.”