This article has no political agenda. Some point out “dominant group privilege” might be a better term, and using “white” is a generalization, but, white privilege best fits my revelation.
My sophomore year of college I embarked on an adventure. I went on exchange to the University of the Virgin Islands in St. Thomas.
What awaited was beyond my expectations. Walking to the cafeteria for breakfast every morning, an aqua blue ocean greeted me. I drank bush tea and was off to the best possible island class schedule: diving, gym, Caribbean dance, Genetics, and Gospel choir.
Did I mention the campus is right on a quiet beach?
I soon found out I was one of seven white people on campus, one being a local “Frenchie” as they referred to her. 76% of the US Virgin Islands is black or African-American.
My Run-In with Racism
Living in St. Thomas was one of life’s best experiences. However, I experienced racism for the first time. It wasn’t blatant. During breakfast, lunch, and dinner, we ended up sitting at the designated “white” table. I overheard jokes. We were told by a local to be careful when driving. “You don’t want to get a DWW, or Driving While White.”
It was an odd situation. We froze up a little more than usual when we saw a cop. No advocate would defend us should we get into an unjustified legal issue.
One night, a group of us went out. The next morning we awoke to horrible news. Two white construction workers were killed execution-style while driving home from the same bar! This was after a series of white tourist killings.
A senator from the nearby St. Croix island made a statement similar to, “Why care? They were white.” We were told to stay on campus and not leave for our safety.
I share this story because this was the first time I thought about what it must be like to be black in the Midwest. This is when I discovered my white privilege.
The White Privilege I Never Knew
Coming from rural Missouri, I’d never experienced being a minority. I might’ve been a bit nerdy and was bullied, but I never felt racism. I often was upset that I didn’t quite fit in. But, I thought of that one black girl in my elementary school class. I thought of the 1 or 2 African-Americans in my entire high school. How must they have felt that a section of the highway just miles away from where we were in class was adopted by the Ku Klux Klan (on full display in 1994)?
Racism wasn’t subtle in southern Missouri. Circa 1992, my sophomore math teacher held up a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. in front of the class. With a marker, he had drawn a devil over his face and wrote, “I Had a Dream.” He thought it was so funny. He laughed. The rumor was he was in the KKK. I complained to administration. Nothing happened.
The definition of white privilege is “whites in Western societies enjoy advantages that non-whites do not experience, as ‘an invisible package of unearned assets’.” It’s quite an advantage to not feel an inferiority complex over the color of your skin. We don’t stop and consider what it must be like to walk in another’s shoes. In fact, we wouldn’t want to try those shoes on.
“Majority privilege” might be a better overall term to use for the future. Racism against whites does happen in parts of this country, too.
Racism remains prevalent today. The outrage over the Oscars, police brutality, and university carelessness points to a larger looming issue that many of us might not understand, but many of our brothers and sisters have felt.
We Need Empathy
We might not be able to walk in another’s shoes, but we can listen to their story. We can question our gut instincts. We can stand in contrast to private jokes and stand up against any rhetoric which seeks only to divide. And, we can empathize over any life lost. We can cry for children who have lost their fathers and women who have lost their men.