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  • Writer's pictureJudy Ryde

How difficult is it even for well-meaning white people to understand their white privilege?

Click here to read more ......... I am struck by how difficult it is for even well-meaning white people to understand their white privilege.

Nor is it easy for them to understand the extent to which those who are not white feel the effects of that privilege. We might have black friends, feel passionately that racism must be ‘stamped out’ and work towards these ends in practical ways but we seem to have little effect on racism in our society. We think progress is made and then it seems to go backwards. We clearly see the injustice, hurt and conflict that racism has wrought on the world in the past and in the present day.

Some may feel that racism is just found in far-right groups which are currently, after the Brexit vote, feeling bolder about expressing their racist views. However, I show in my book, White Privilege Unmasked: How to be Part of the Solution, that white people are all privileged and this lack of awareness on their part shows an implicit racism that can easily be denied. I know that this sentiment is often hotly contested and vilified by white people. In my experience, these are the kind of things that are said about anyone who says this:

  • This is the statement of a hand-wringing liberal who loves to feel guilty.

  • I love other cultures and respect everyone. I don’t notice the colour of people’s skin.

  • Racism is a thing of the past except for those on the far right.

  • Talking about racism just perpetuates it. Racism doesn’t really exist, so stop banging on about it.

  • Lots of white people are not privileged and many black people are. This is all woolly-minded nonsense.

  • Black people should take some responsibility for racism because they do things like take our resources and accuse white people of things they don’t do.

Others understand that racism is a systemic phenomenon which is hard wired into society by hundreds of years of prejudice and cruelty. For centuries the view was held by whites that black people were not as human as they were, more like animals. Even if you were white, there was a hierarchy, with powerful Anglo-Saxons at the top of the tree. The American liberal philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, regarded himself as ‘double distilled white’ because of his Anglo-Saxon background and regarded others such as those from Ireland, Mediterranean countries and Eastern Europe as distinctly inferior and to be discouraged from emigrating to America. All of this was in the past but what of these values are present with us today?

In some quarters, racism has hardly altered from those days and is overtly expressed, while for others racist views may be held secretly or unconsciously – with a spectrum in between. Whether or not these cultural beliefs are overt, they are still deeply embedded within society. In my book I explore ways of understanding and working with white people’s conscious and unconscious racism on different levels – personally, institutionally and societally. I show, for instance, the way that our western hegemony flows through our world systemically. White culture dominates globally which is one manifestation of our privilege and stems from the colonisation and slavery of the past. Our present day domination is often taken for granted but consider this: wherever we go in the world we will find similar stores, hotel chains, styles of dress, means of transport and English spoken nearly everywhere. All of these stem from western nations or are similar in style. A globalised society is a white one. Whether we like it or not we are part of this and making the necessary changes towards a more equal and peaceful world is not a simple matter.


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