Like that Princeton freshman who is getting far too much attention for bravely declaring that he won’t apologize for his white privilege, I won’t apologize for mine either. Or my male privilege either. Or my straight privilege. Or my middle class privilege. But guess what? No one has ever asked me to in the world I live in, which, unlike that kid, is not made up of easily vanquished straw men.
What they have asked me, quite reasonably, is to recognize that I am privileged, that many others are not and that this has some rather important implications for how we interact in society, how we view ourselves and others, the kinds of opportunities we will have and much more. This is something I try to do as much as possible and I think it’s clearly the right thing to do. As a humanist, I want everyone to have the opportunity to live a happy, fulfilling life and to develop to their full capacity as a person, which requires a society that is more just and equal. I don’t see how society can possibly become more just and equal without recognizing the role that privilege plays in boosting some people up and holding others down — economically, culturally, legally.
Here are just a brief list of the things that are part of my reality solely because I have white skin:I don’t have to fear being pulled over or stopped and frisked by the police. Yes, it does happen to white people sometimes, but it happens to black people constantly. It’s also much more likely that the basis for it happening to them is that they’re flagrantly driving (or walking) while black. And it ends tragically far more often for them.
No one has ever remarked with surprise that I’m just so gosh darn articulate.
I can wear a hoodie without people finding me threatening, as can millions of white college students who wear hoodies all the time.
When I speak about a subject, no one thinks that I am speaking as a representative of all white people.
No one will ever assume that I only got a job because of the color of my skin.
The concept of privilege is not some means of punishing straight white men, for crying out loud, or of making them feel bad by calling them terrible people. It’s a means of understanding inequality and injustice so that we can take steps to make things better — not by tearing down those who, like me, are fortunate enough to have been born with those advantages, but by working to diminish the cultural and legal structures that take those advantages away from so many others.