This is the first in a series based on the course: Awakenings Anti-Racism Exploration. The eight-week course explores racial dynamics, the societal structures that hold racism in place, and lays the foundation for becoming an effective ally.
When you walk into a store or business, do you expect or at least expect prompt and courteous service?
Would you be upset or offended if you were faced with abrupt questions or other subtle obstacles to achieving what you came here to do?
When you were in school, did you feel like the past you studied made you feel like you were part of history?
Did you learn how your ancestors contributed to the achievements or success of the place and the society where you live?
When you go to a job interview, do you expect the person you meet for the interview to consider you openly and without too many preconceptions?
If you answered “yes” to these questions, then you, like me, enjoy privileges that many of our fellow community members do not.
For those who answered “no”, you are well aware of the many ways in which discrimination and privilege (or lack thereof) affect you on a daily basis.
Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) are often approached every day with mistrust and subtle barriers in ways that white people cannot truly understand.
But as white presenters (people who appear or are white), we should try to do so, in order to work towards a more equitable society.
Here are some of the lessons I was thinking about for the pre-reading and first session of a workshop led by Margaret-Ann Enders titled Awakenings Anti-Racism Exploration.
The pre-reading of the first session was a play by Peggy McIntosh: White privilege: unpacking the invisible backpack.
The natural inclination is probably to feel defensive about having white privilege.
(Merriam Webster Dictionary defines white privilege as: “the set of social and economic advantages that white people have by virtue of their race in a culture characterized by racial inequality”).
Nobody wants to be considered an oppressor or a participant in racism.
It’s not your fault, as someone who enjoys privilege, but allowing the oppression to continue now that as a society we can recognize how those privileges negatively impact others means that you are complicit if you choose not to approach them.
McIntosh writes that we are taught not to recognize white privilege, just as men are taught not to recognize male privilege. It’s understandable that we don’t see something that we ourselves don’t feel as a difference, it’s just the way we are treated and therefore, we expect it. This is our “normality”.
So how do we know we even have it? How do we become aware that others do not?
Peggy McIntosh tried to identify her own privilege in seeing the terms she enjoys but her BIPOC colleagues could not count on.
There were 26 examples of conditions that she could see as privileges that her colleagues might not expect to be able to enjoy and that she considered normal.
Rather, every day BIPOC people would be required to be more patient, more persistent, more tolerant, just to function.
Of course, there are other factors that can affect a person’s privilege, such as age, social class, gender, and sexual orientation, which can combine to create what the now called “intersectionality”.
Having the white privilege does not mean that your life is without difficulties, however, the color of your skin does not contribute to these difficulties.
But putting those aside for now and just trying to grasp the invisible privilege for those of us who identify or present as white in a white-dominated society is an exploration worth undertaking if we want to create a more equitable world.
For me, simple experiences have brought me home throughout my life and helped me realize the obstacles some people face on a daily basis and the privileges I have taken for granted.
Not long ago, while having lunch with my native friend and colleague, she was interrogated and almost not allowed to enter as vaccination passports and IDs were checked, while that my lack of identification was dismissed as insignificant. I had to wonder if I hadn’t been there to ensure she would have been allowed in.
During our lunch together, I clearly noticed a difference in the service and respect I received compared to my friend. She was offering me lunch, and as a final statement on how she might view us, our server brought me the check after we told her it was together.
Subtle, yes, but I was angry that my friend wasn’t being treated very well, but I wasn’t sure how to react, as she seemed to take it for granted. It was his “normal”, which I found the hardest part, how we set the bar so low.
Although not necessarily conscious on the part of our server, this experience has helped me recognize how much we need to do better as a company, and my friend, one of the kindest and most hardworking women I know deserves more from all of us.
Seeing her being treated so differently made me want to learn how to be better and address some of these behaviors.
Racial InjusticeRacismWilliams Lake