Invisible Privilege

This is why I speak.

This topic may seem too racially charged, too political or too out there for a blended family blog – but in our blended family we also have a racial blend. Two of our children are biracial. That is why I speak – their existence has made me aware of the privilege I have – white privilege.  

Recognizing white privilege doesn’t mean I hate whites for being white. I am white – I don’t hate myself. I do however, feel pain that my ancestors have a history of  unfairly inflicting pain and control on and over other ethnic groups. Recognizing white privilege means I see the continued inequality between ethnicities. It means I recognize one group of people has advantages other groups do not. I recognize that though some advances have been made toward equality there remains a large gap between, and there is strong resistance to change. It means that I as one with privilege have a responsibility to speak.  

Perhaps I have been silent on the subject for too long. All the things going on in the news, the hate mongering etc… In fact most of this blog I wrote in 2017 but have been holding on to it since then. Perhaps it is time for me to speak up, for myself as a woman, for minorities and especially for my children.

As a white woman I have a unique relationship with white privilege. I probably would not be acutely aware of it without my relational experience. I was married to an Hispanic man for 10 years – an immigrant from El Salvador. Together we have two biracial sons. My ex is a good father, a hard working tradesman, a tax paying business man, and a good provider for his children. 

While married to him I witnessed and experienced prejudice first hand, even in an apparently progressive place. Stares and dirty looks almost everywhere we went especially when our children were with us. Not by the majority but by a large number. 

I am now remarried to a caucasian man and the difference I experience in public is remarkable – people hardly notice us. This is privilege. Privilege so transparent it was invisible to me prior to my relational experience. The difference I experience now makes me wonder if pressure of prejudice played a partial role in the demise of my first marriage.

Through experience, I observe in society, that it is more common and acceptable for a white man to be with a woman of colour – than for a white woman to be with a man of colour. There seems an assumption that the white man’s status has elevated a woman of colour and she cannot degrade him. 

From experience I observe that it is not the same for a white woman. I witnessed evidence of an assumption that I had married below my status. I also witnessed further evidence that I was, therefore, degraded by my relationship with a man of colour. There seemed an unspoken understanding that my status as a white woman was above his, but not high enough to elevate him. On the contrary his lower status seemed to degrade me in the eyes of many. To me this is evidence not only of white privilege but of male privilege as well.  

I don’t believe having been married to a man of colour degrades me in anyway. I also don’t believe a white man elevates a woman of colour. I believe all people are equals regardless of ethnicity or gender and that relationships cannot degrade or lower an individual’s status. I am the same person whether married to a man of colour or a white man or as a single woman but the perception of me in society seems to change. 

Feminist and activist Peggy McIntosh writes, ” White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.” she also states “I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege.” I am not sure if I have been taught not to see my privilege but I know I definitely was not taught to see it. Now, as a mother of biracial children I see it and it concerns me. This is why I speak.

My sons have given me another window into white privilege. One of my children appears white, or could pass for a number of vague ethnicities. Yet he seems to identify more deeply with his Latin ancestry.The other appears Latino (so much so, I often tease him that I have kidnapped someone else’s child). He identifies more with his Caucasian ancestry. 

In their short lives I have observed different social experiences for both of them. They both have experienced bullying but for different reasons; only one of them because of the colour of his skin. In their experiences I have observed what appears to be a spectrum of privilege based on the colour of their skin. On the playground only one of them has heard “Go back where you came from you stupid Mexican!”  Only one of them has been brought into the principal’s office on more than one occasion for defending himself. You can guess which one.  

As a mother I am acutely aware of the unfair, generalized, stereotype of Hispanic males, and neither of my sons fit that mold. However, due to the unfair stereotype they both have to prove they are different, but one more than the other. They have the same parents and share DNA; they are equals but on many occasions they are viewed differently. This is what I have observed.

I see our governments attempting to legislate against white privilege, prejudice and hate on all levels. Universities, schools, employers etc… are required to accept and hire a certain number of minorities to prevent discrimination. However, I don’t think we can rid hatred through legislation; in fact, in some cases this legislation has increased hatred because those forced to abide by it now feel betrayed and discriminated against in “their country” by “their governments”.

I believe the only way to gain equality for all and rid our planet of prejudice and hate is through education and connection. Rather than separating ourselves into groups based on race, ethnicity, nationality, religion or whatever; we need to be curious about our differences and similarities. We need to look to gain knowledge and understanding of each other. We need to pursue opportunities to engage with people of all races, and walks of life. I as a white woman, a mother, a leader, a writer and an educator of the future generation – I have a role to play. This is why I speak. 

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