Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Check your privilege

By Amy Jones, Guest Columnist

Don’t touch my hair.

Because that’s the first thing most people want to do when they notice me. What is it about being a minority that reduces my head to a public petting zoo?

It’s not just that they want to touch my hair. The questions I get when I first meet people are outrageous.

Is your hair naturally curly? Does your hair take a while to do? Is it yours? Do you tan? You’re really hot for a black girl. Will you go out with me? What are you?

Yes, my hair is naturally curly. It is temperamental — sometimes styling my hair is easy, other times it takes forever and a day. It’s all mine, even if I did pay for some of it. Yes, I tan. I’m glad I measure up to your exalted standards of attractiveness. No, I have no intention of going out with you. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that you thought that was an acceptable pickup line.

As far as the last question goes, the answer depends on my mood. Occasionally, I will attempt to remind the questioner that I am human, female and have a name. Sometimes I decide to satisfy their curiosity and disclose my full heritage.

The thing that gets me every time is a majority of the questioners are white people. My immediate reaction is different depending on the racial background of the questioner.
When a minority individual asks this, it’s a friendly exchange of information, like college students finding out the best textbooks and professors.

When a white person asks, it feels like I’m under a microscope, another specimen to add to the ‘exotic friends’ collection.

The encounter itself is the definition of privilege, however innocent the exchange may seem. Privilege is defined as a right, immunity or belief enjoyed by persons beyond the advantages of most.

White privilege is the theory that white people receive concrete benefits and access to resources denied to most, be it consciously or unconsciously.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a growing backlash to this idea from those who say white privilege does not exist. 

White people have privilege. Those who deny it are refusing to allow progress.

You may say you stand for equality, but standing for it involves action from those with privilege.

The oppressed need to stand up for themselves, but the oppressors need to realize who they’re standing on. The subjugated peoples cannot move forward without the dominating society’s active participation in overcoming this shared issue.

If you truly stand for equality, check your privilege.