“You’re so lucky. I’m so jealous.”
These two phrases spin around me often. People are jealous of my lifestyle, and they think it fell into my lap. Well, it did.
But it is not luck. It is privilege.
I was born a white girl in an upper middle-class family in 1989. My parents were employed, and if they lost their jobs, I bet they could have gotten new ones pretty easily. I graduated from high school, then from college without really blinking an eye. I then saw opportunities and took them, and as a result I have seen a lot of the world. I have traveled, I have gotten paid to do things I find fun. And I do not take any of that for granted.
But if I were not a white woman from Connecticut, things would have been different. Things would be different.
So, allow me to clarify:
This is not luck. This is privilege.
This post is about me, because this is my blog and I write about my experience. I have the experience of a white person in this country.
Luck is that I was born white. Privilege is that my family will never know the hardship that Alton Sterling’s family faces today. Mike Brown’s family. Sandra Bland’s family.
Luck is finding $5 in the pocket of my old jeans. Privilege is that if I wanted to, I could simply not pay attention to reports of murders of people of color. I could go on with my day and post a photo with a caption about nature or trees or travel or whatever else. Privilege is that yeah, I can feel bad about this, I can feel my heart hurting, but then I can say oh well and sweep it under the rug. And if I did, nobody would bat an eye.
I literally never have to think about my race, because the entire society that surrounds me is built for me. I work in an industry designed to sell stuff… to me. Designed to engage with me. I live at a time where I can talk my way out of a speeding ticket, and if you don’t think that is about race, then good goddamn morning to you, it’s time to wake up.
I do not discredit your hardship. I don’t invalidate your excuses. But let me tell you, this world is full of excuses and well White People, we are full of them. So if you feel fragile or attacked by this, I’m gonna need you to get over that, because this society, this culture has literally been built for you. It revolves around you.
If you think we are all equal, open your eyes and see color. See that people of color are being murdered for existing and meanwhile, I’m getting a stern talking to for being rude to a cop.
My life goes on like normal today because I am white. I get to make choices that Philando Castile cannot make today because I am white. And when I get pulled over for a busted tail light, I get let off with a warning.
If you face similar circumstances as I do– if you are living in privilege like I am– do not for one second think I am some kind of lucky special flower. I just made different choices than you. Choices I did make not because of luck.
Choices I made because of privilege.
Start seeing your privilege. Start caring, start talking, start doing, and do not stop. And yes, care, talk and do for yourself. Themes of my blog are travel and the outdoors, and if that’s what brought you here, I am so happy it did and I hope you pursue whatever it is that is calling to you.
But we need to care, talk and do for the humans that are being murdered in front of us because of their skin color. Right now it is not enough. Prayers and thoughts are useless without action.
My life today is not my life because of luck. I have built my life the way it is because I have a foundation of privilege to do so from.
Get over your excuses and how you feel you should be doing more or saying more. Instead, say it.
Please ignore this text box - Recoleta Font
White privilege is having the option to sit on the side lines on racial issues. We can’t do that anymore.
Make a statement and take a stand people.
I’m with you, girl.
Erin, thank you for such a sincere post. It’s not ok to shrug and ignore all the racism, and violent one at that. You’re completely right.
As for your life experiences, I feel like I am in a similar position to you, I can relate – I’ve lived all over the world, and people think I’m lucky in that sense, too, but in reality that’s just the family I was born into. I grew up traveling and consider myself a Third Culture Kid. So really, I don’t know any other way to live.
Looking forward to seeing you back in Guatemala soon, dear.
Thank you Mari.
My skin tone is white, and nothing was given to me. I’ve worked hard 65+ hours per week for the past twenty years just so that I can have the privilege of scraping by. Your privilege is the wealth you were born into. I’m kinda sick of being grouped in with a bunch of people that I can’t relate to simply because my skin tone matches theirs. We are nothing alike.
Isn’t what you are suggesting also racism?
With that being said, I understand that being black can make things more difficult in this country. Attributing that only to white ignores and dumbs down the actual root causes of that difficulty. By doing that, the socioeconomic issues that are at the root of the problem can’t adequately be addressed, because it’s considered racist to deal directly with the facts, instead of the excuses given by the activists that may have an agenda that doesn’t exactly mesh with real solutions.
Not all white people are wealthy suburbanites. Quit labeling people with your narrow world view and start looking at them as individuals.
Trading one racism for another doesn’t do anything to better the situation.
Hey Cory, thank you for the comment. I empathize with where you are coming from. I also work my ass off– probably less than you do. Definitely less than you do. Circumstances determine a lot, and you bet I am privileged because of wealth. I agree with you here. I am not discrediting your hardships or anyone else’s.
Being white does not make you evil, it does not make you automatically racist. What I am referring to is a system that revolves around whiteness– everything is catered to us as white people. I think it is vital to acknowledge that the black experience in this country IS different than that of white people- ‘All Lives’ (referring to the phrase All Lives Matter here) won’t matter until Black Lives do.
I do not intend to label all white people as wealthy suburbanites – certainly that is not true. But reverse racism is not a thing. What I hope to do here is to help others reflect on their experiences as a white person. I do not intend to judge anyone or make anyone feel guilty– guilt is not helpful. But speaking up often is, and that’s why I chose to publish this.
Erin, I fundamentally disagree with you that our system revolves around “whiteness.” I also believe that the term “White Privilege” is designed to breed resentment between white and black people and to incite hatred.
Those two words basically rob one group of their achievements while simultaneously telling another that they can’t achieve, all based on color. It is the perfect phrase to ensure that no reconciliation can ever happen. It also, makes everybody belonging to one group guilty while making everybody that belongs to another victims.
I feel what you are doing is helping to swing the mallet to drive the wedge between groups, although I think you’re doing it unknowingly.
Also, you say reverse racism is not a thing. I agree, racism is racism, regardless of the color of the person practicing it.
Speaking up is good, which is what I’m doing.
“…rob one group of their achievements while simultaneously telling another that they can’t achieve, all based on color” – I believe that this is true, and that there are systems in place that make it so.
Not trying to swing a mallet, and I am sorry it comes across that way. I am trying to shine light on things white folks may not see every day. I don’t want to go back and forth with you to go nowhere. I hear what you are saying, and with respect, I disagree.
We can disagree and that’s okay. I think we both agree that a problem exists that needs to be resolved.
Discussion is the answer, especially when people disagree.
Have a good day and thank you for your willingness to discuss things openly and honestly.
I actually turned to outdoors articles and imagery today to get away from the depression that is plastered all over the Internet. Your Instagram post stopped me dead in my tracks though. Maybe it was a cute smile on a pretty lady that grabbed my attention (privilege?) but it was the words that made me click through. I don’t usually comment on blogs but I had to let you know how refreshing it was to read this today. I’m a Hispanic male from Texas, so being a minority who is often villainized around here makes me very sympathetic towards the #BlackLivesMatter movement. However, I keep thinking that nothing is going to change unless more white people join the movement. Then the events in Dallas happened last night, and I felt like all hope was lost. I have to admit that my judgement of white people has been skewed by the many deplorable statements I’m seeing online. You just reminded me not to go down that path. No one should be judge by their race. Thank you for that.
Adam, thank you for tuning in. Thank you SO MUCH for tuning in. And that’s exactly why I chose that picture. And I completely agree that white people need to wake up and speak up. Thank you for your comment, it really means a lot.
“So if you feel fragile or attacked by this, I’m gonna need you to get over that, because this society, this culture has literally been built for you. It revolves around you”.
Yes. This is such a great piece Erin. Thank you for choosing to speak up.
Thank you Renee.
Erin, thank you for this post.
“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”
Thank you Kara. Yes. All lives won’t matter until black lives do.
Thank you so much for writing this! I am 100% with you.
Thank you so much!
Thanks so much for writing this post. It’s so spot on and really resonated with me as I come from a similar background as you. Never stop using your voice to call attention to the injustices you see in the world.
Thank you Alicia! So happy to hear that.
Such a refreshing, open, honest, and raw post from you. Much appreciation for your willingness to open up and start conversation, turn on lights, and get people thinking.
Thank you Kristen!
Thank you for this, it is open and honest and true.
Thanks so much Betsy!
YES. Thank you for speaking up! It is so important for white americans to acknowledge our privilege and help friends and family acknowledge theirs too. That is the first tiny step toward change we desperately need.
There is a great organization I’d like to mention: OutDoor Afro “Outdoor Afro has become the nation’s leading, cutting edge network that celebrates and inspires African American connections and leadership in nature. We help people take better care of themselves, our communities, and our planet!” http://www.outdoorafro.com/
It seems like a great time to throw some support their way either through spreading their message or donating to the organization through their website.
Thank you Carrie! I definitely have an eye on what Outdoor Afro is up to and would love to connect with them. Much appreciated! 🙂
Thank you for writing and posting this. 🙂
Thanks for the love, Erika! Much appreciated.
This rings so true for me. Words matter. In this context, I’m going to start using “privileged” instead of lucky. Right now, I’m struggling to find my balance and sense of stability. But, maybe that’s the point. Things have been so unbalanced for so long, that maybe even the feeling of solid ground – of a foundation beneath our feet is also a privilege. Thank you so much for bringing these words and this message into my life.
Thank you for being open to receiving this message, Nicolette! I think some of us are just constantly in motion– for me, other folks seem to have their lives all figured out, meanwhile I am juggling a million things! I totally agree about solid ground being privilege… that is definitely how I view it. xo
How can you repeatedly say this nation is built around the white race when we have a partially black president??
I’ve seen lots of what you call privileged black people get college degrees and go on to live privileged lives. It boils down to character. The real truth…we all have character flaws…some are just a bit more flawed and reckless in their behavior.
Hey Jaxob, thanks for the comment. Yes we have a black president, high profile black celebrities and other cultural icons, but that doesn’t mean racism is over. I don’t think as white people (and I don’t know if you are white, so I do not include you here), we need to listen to stories and experiences of oppression of people of color, because we have not experienced it in nearly the same way or category. Character flaws and recklessness are found in every race– what I am commenting on is the unequal punishment and violence that one race experiences while another does not.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this Erin. I’m sure you’re getting some shit for it, but it needs to be said and you said it perfectly.
THANK YOU for posting this Erin!!! When I hear things like “It’s not race that makes white people more successful, it’s hard work. Both races have the same opportunity,” it makes me really sad because some people genuinely can’t see that there is systematic oppression for the black race in our country. Plenty of black people work extremely hard to be successful in our country, but they simply aren’t offered the same opportunities as white people. And when we have HUGE disparities when it comes to legal sentencing between races, resulting in our prisons being significantly more black, it’s nuts to me that people don’t see white privilege. I won’t rant, but you said it perfectly!!!
Amazing post! So well said!
“I have the experience of a white person in this country.”
No, you have the experience of a WEALTHY white person in this country, and much like you cannot relate to the black experience, you also cannot relate to the experiences of poverty and lack of opportunity. Do NOT even presume to know anything about either. You said yourself that you breezed through your childhood and college years without even a second thought, and that you’re “upper middle class” (wealthy white language for “little rich girl”). Lucky you.
Also, poverty/lack of privilege doesn’t only come in shades of brown. There are severely underprivileged people of all races in the United States and elsewhere in the world, and you are a fool if you don’t think that poor whites get profiled and dehumanized in stores, schools and restaurants, or as they’re driving down the road in their $500 car that barely runs.
And do you really think that every white kid in America grows up wealthy in a great neighborhood, with a college fund, supportive parents, ample opportunities to excel in life, etc.?! Ha! That is utterly asinine. There are plenty of suffering white children and adults who never asked to be born into really sad situations (that people like YOU will never be able to wrap their heads around), and who will struggle all their lives just to barely scrape by.
Do not confuse “white” with “wealthy white from Connecticut”. Good LORD, that is beyond ignorant. But of course, I’m sure you know EVERYTHING. Privilege comes in many forms, and having white skin does not always equal wealth, a stable and loving home, etc. (just like minority status doesn’t automatically mean being born into the opposite). Anyone born into a life of no opportunities, abuse, poverty, no stable home life, etc. is worthy of sympathy and kindness. Nobody asks for that lot in life, and whites in that situation have the added bonus of listening to spoiled, wealthy, trust fund know-it-alls telling them how “privileged” they are. You should really stick to posting exotic vacation selfies and food photos.
So to sum things up for you:
1. You don’t speak for the black community, since you aren’t even black. We don’t need rich white people to show us their great benevolence by “saving us” (in your own warped minds), pitying us and telling us how underprivileged we are.
2. You don’t speak for the entire white community just because you’re white. Unlike you, I actually grew up with several impoverished white friends. I had it much better than they did. They had cheap Walmart and Goodwill clothes that a lot of kids teased them for, crappy shoes, useless/absent parents in many cases, abuse, etc. Some of them only got to eat when they were at school. They didn’t look too privileged to me, but of course you know everything. You cannot even BEGIN to compare your life or your “privilege” to theirs. Like, don’t even GO there.
So check YOUR privilege, and don’t presume to judge anybody else’s (or lack thereof). And don’t even bother replying to me (I’ll never bring up this ridiculous blog again), because there’s no just talking to people like you.
And by the way, I went to college for four years with zero debt, thanks to grants and having a mother who busted her ass so that I could have more than she did in life. Having a wonderful, caring and strong mother is a privilege that many of my white friends didn’t have.
Hi Shamaya, thank you for taking the time and energy to share your feedback. I appreciate you bringing up these important points, and will re-visit this piece with a lens on socio-economic and family status, and check my class privilege. I want to express that I am sorry if you have had experiences in the past where you did not feel heard by “people like me”. I am here to listen, take on feedback, find my lane and shut up/sit down when I should. I’ve never posted exotic vacation selfies or food photos, and I’m sorry to disappoint in that I don’t plan to start now… instead, I am trying to have productive conversations about this and other topics that are more important to gaining an understanding beyond my own lived experience. If you find yourself back here, thank you sincerely for your comments.