World Trust

On White Privilege, Simply: 'Different Rules Apply'

Posted by Adwoa Gyimah-Brempong on September 9, 2014

police lights

In the work of diversity training, one of the toughest pieces can be convincing white participants that the work applies to them as well. This is perhaps unsurprising.

To a well-meaning white person, it can sometimes feel like involving yourself in such an event means signing up to be blamed for injustices you did not ask for or personally commit. As educators, how do we shift the conversation away from blame or shame?

From the Anecdotal to the Systemic
An important first step is siting the anecdotal in its proper place within a larger narrative of systemic inequity.

Matt Zoller Seitz, editor-in-chief of and TV critic for New York Magazine, eloquently explores the incident in his life that helped him understand the ways in which the system of racial inequity touched his life every day, both subtly and blatantly - hammered home to him outside a deli, years ago.

"We have to stop the cycle long enough to realize that what we are really shrugging off is racial inequality. This is not: "Well, if ya factor out race, it's a class thing." We all know in our hearts that that is, at best, only partly true. The full truth must include the acknowledgement that if you're white, different rules apply.

So much of the crosstalk, the shouting, the debate over Ferguson stems, I believe, from an inability to admit this fact of life, which was illustrated so plainly to me that night in front of the deli. I've never been profiled. I've never been stopped and frisked. I've never experienced anything of the sort because of the gift that my parents gave me, and that my son's parents gave him: white skin." 

Looking for a tool to engage white participants in racial justice education? Try our film Mirrors of Privilege, in which white anti-racist activists speak about overcoming issues of unconscious racism and entitlement. In so doing, they were able to begin bridging a gap - between good intentions and meaningful change.

Topics: Talk about Race