Interviews were conducted with three white individuals of whom I work with in the same warehouse in Mattapan Massachusetts. Two of the individuals are in their 50’s, of little to no higher education and both have been previously incarcerated for extended periods of time. The other individual is in his late 20’s and holds a B.S. degree. All are self- described lower middle working class. Patterns of response to the concept of white privilege are similar between the two older individuals and differ from the younger individual. While all three are white, lower middle working class, and work in a poorer Boston neighborhood with a large minority population, the difference in age and education may play a role in the different perceptions of white privilege between the older two respondents and the younger one.
While the first two respondents did believe that white privilege did exist in the past, they now believe that the existence of white privilege today is a myth. In fact they both went on to say that the reverse is true; minorities hold privilege over those who are white. Their justification for this belief was the educational benefits, grants, scholarships and other non-educational programs that are available to those of minority status. The third respondent did agree that institutional white privilege exists because, “The majority of 1%ers are affluently white”, but again used examples of programs and opportunities that he has personally seen that might assist minorities. All three did cite examples of persons of minority status gaining access to programs or opportunities that they were not afforded due to their status as white. Respondent two stated, “It seems like I get less help with opportunity and assistance than they do”.
When asking the first two respondents to explain why minorities on average are poorer, and have higher drop out rates, worse health, etc. their responses revolved around a blaming the victim strategy. Respondent one and two both stated that minorities and blacks don’t want education and that they are too lazy to go after it. Respondent one stated, “What they fail to remember is that slavery ended over 200 years ago. Get off your butt”. On the same string, respondent two replied, “I’ve seen the issue of slavery come up. I mean, its time to put that to rest”. Both of these responses are examples of denial of history and responsibility. Because they were not present then it has nothing to do with them and furthermore, those who are black should forget about their own history within this country.
A cultural argument was also a theme that was found in all three respondents answers to the question of disparity among the races. The first two focused on micro level relationships that might be found within the home of a minority. Laziness and lack of a desire to take advantage of opportunities that might be afforded to them is a trait that is passed down from their guardians. “They follow the examples of their parents. Their parents don’t want an education so why should they get one. You’re only taught what you see”. Respondent 3 used a macro level argument of cultural transmission through the media. He stated that the majority of successful black people that he has seen on television are portrayed as rappers and sports players. It is this image that is sold by the media and people buy it; both minorities and whites. “If you’re low income then they want to keep you low income. Don’t want you educated because you’ll raise questions they cant answer, or don’t want to answer”.
At the end of the interviews I talked about the existence of a ‘flesh colored’ Band-Aid that is currently on the market and is conveniently the same color of the respondents flesh, but if they took notice, there are many different shades of flesh that exist within humanity. I asked if they felt that this was an example of white privilege and respondents one and three reacted positively. Respondent one stated with a smile and a laugh, “I believe I’ve never thought of it. Yea, your right.” When asked how he would feel if he were black, “I would feel I was being discriminated against” was his response. “To a degree this country is still backwards when it comes to discrimination”. Respondent three had a very similar statement, “I’ve actually never thought of it”. Both believed that it was an example of institutionalized white privilege. Respondent two’s opinion was unchanged believing that the flesh colored Band-Aid was not an example of white privilege and that it was still very much a myth.
While respondent one was of the original assumption that institutionalized white privilege was a myth, after the Band-Aid example he reversed his original thought and then preceded to add in his own examples of white privilege. Respondent three already had the idea that white privilege still exists today and the Band-Aid example only further solidified what he already believed to be true. So while certain strategies were utilized to deny the existence of white privilege, even one small example was enough to almost completely reverse the original opinion of one of the respondents showing that education and awareness of white privilege might have a positive impact on the current opinions and misguided assumptions of others.