The Difference Between White Privilege and Racism

Today I had a conversation with someone close to me that really upset me. There are several reasons why I allowed myself to be affected by this more than I should have, but they are neither here nor there.

I found out this neat thing that in Washington State, a bill was passed which allows individuals who are also felons vote as long as they aren’t in jail or prison during the election, nor are they under parole. I went to pass along this news to this person and received the question:

“Who’s worth voting for?”

Of course I put in my thoughts, which is Bernie Sanders. At no point was I saying this person should vote for him, but my opinion was requested.

The person then went on to explain to me that Sanders is racist. I asked how that was so, unable to fathom any possible way that the guy that marched with Martin Luther King Jr. could be considered racist. I was told it was his promotion of the “stereotype called White Privilege” is “hate speech.”

Now, I’m not going to go on a spiel about Bernie Sanders, nor this individual. This is simply how I got to the need to write this post. What’s more, I’m not attempting to shame this individual. I want to put it down to a misunderstanding of terms. However, I feel absolutely compelled to explain and examine the difference between White Privilege and Racism.

There are many people who are white who feel that White Privilege is attacking them, saying they are in the wrong simply for being white. This is NOT what White Privilege is!

White Privilege is a social construct which is perpetually enabled by societal views. It’s not that someone has an easier life because they’re white (though that can generally be the case), or that they get more because they’re white….except for it kind of is. Of course people don’t get hand-outs for being white, or get into schools for being white. That’s not the case at all. It’s the way people react and respond on a subconscious level. It’s that more often than not a person won’t feel threatened if being passed by a white person on the street. It’s that a police officer is less likely to assume someone has done something because they’re white. It’s not having to speak on behalf of the white race. Again, this is a social construct, this is something that is programmed into the general population, and is generally accepted. The idea of pointing out what White Privilege is is to undo this programming, and view everyone on the same level.

Racism is just hatred. It is hating someone because of their ethnicity. This is on an individual level that can enter into a generally accepted social level, but it is simply hatred. Where as White Privilege isn’t really a choice that one has or exercises, racism is choosing to keep the mind closed to those that are genetically different, and deciding they are not as good as those that are genetically similar.

So when politicians, celebrities, individuals point out and talk about White Privilege, it’s not a matter of shaming those who are white. It’s a matter of pointing out how our society and culture has formed to accept white as the norm, and everything else as not–so much so, that even in towns/cities where white is the minority, they’re still seen as the norm.

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