February 28, 2012
Race and Ethnic Relations
White privilege is something that is among us every day but depending on whom you ask it can be more noticeable for some than others. While interviewing my brother and roommate who are both white males, white privilege did not seem to be as existent as it is for my girlfriend, who is half Irish and half Cuban. One explanation for why the two white males do not notice the privileges is because having white privilege can be underappreciated and taken for granted when the person is white. My girlfriend can notice white privilege because her Latino background made it more noticeable and present in her life.
The two males had a lot in common; both are white Irish males and both went to the same high school. The differences between the males were the ages, one being two years older. The female was also from the same town, but attended a catholic school instead. The female and the younger male also worked together at the same restaurant for a few years. These similarities played a part in some of the responses that were given when asked about white privilege.
When interviewing my brother, the younger male, he had not heard of white privilege. I explained to him that white privilege is any unearned advantages that come along with being white. After giving some examples of white privilege; like not having any trouble finding your groceries or never having to speak for people of your own race, his reaction was a surprised one. Given his race and culture these privileges were just a way of life for him, he never considered the advantages of our race. After realizing what sort of everyday issues people of different ethnicities go through while living in America, my brother then thought that white privilege should be addressed more, saying that; “America is the land of opportunity and no one should have advantages.”
Like my brother, my roommate lived in the same town where the majority was white, upper-middle class families. It was not until after leaving our hometown that he noticed white privilege. Now living in an urban neighborhood, my roommate has recognized some of the different things that are available for different types of people. For example, all of the salons and barber shops that are available near our apartment are quite different compared to the two barber shops that everyone went to from our hometown. Given our town’s demographics, there was never a historical need to have a diverse set of resources available and the two barbershops are enough. In one block on Dorchester Avenue, there are Asian, Black, and Latino salons available to people of those races.
These social and institutional structures make the vision of white privilege even more blurry for white people. When the issue cannot be seen, it cannot be addressed. That’s what my girlfriend suggested in my third interview. As mentioned before, her Latina background allowed her to notice different types of treatment people would give her race. For example, this summer when she was working as a waitress, a customer asked if she spoke English without speaking a word to her before. I asked her whether she thought this situation would have occurred if her skin was lighter, and she answered most likely not. Knowing that my brother and girlfriend worked at the same restaurant, I asked them both if the positions were at all structured by race. They both mentioned that minorities were mostly in the kitchen instead of being servers, but both adding that they did not think the restaurant was at all prejudice. Some of her suggestions for getting rid of white privilege were to integrate different ethnicities early on in schools so the barriers between races can never be formed. Starting at a young age is the best way to erase white privilege because having diversity in the adolescent stage of life can bring on a whole new outlook on life itself. Slowly getting rid of communities with one dominant race is a long process and maybe impossible because history has shown that ethnicities stay together.
The social and institutional structures are broken down into five categories; political, economic, historical, social, and legal. These categories influence people’s views on white privilege from all different races. With my brother being in a Republican-based, upper-middle class, white community in Massachusetts, there was barely any diversity given to him to experience different ways of life. Growing up with the same institutional structures as my brother, my roommate didn’t experience any other way of living until he left. Reflecting on the three interviews, I’ve concluded that diversity needs to be involved more in the lives of adolescents of all races because having knowledge of the different types of cultures and ethnicities can slowly break down barriers and eliminate white privilege for good.