I'm Not White, But I Am White Priviledge

May 31, 2020

I didn't really understand what the term white privilege meant until the Black Lives Matter movement began. Soon after, I started seeing the phrase so often in my Facebook feed that I felt compelled to look it up. It was then that I realized, to my horror, that I am white privilege.

 

I'm not white, not technically, not completely. My father's parents were born in Madras. He has brown skin. Not the caramel kind. Brown. His first language was Tamil. He calls himself a black boy (although he's 77, and not, as I keep telling him, actually black). He's an immigrant. He's also a retired professor, a cinephile, a PhD holder, an amateur historian. But he is not white privilege.

 

My mother is Dutch. Which is basically as white as you can get. When she was little she had that kind of white blonde hair that makes people stare. She has blue eyes. She immigrated to Canada when she was ten and has no discernible Dutch accent. She's so WASPy it hurts. My mother is white privilege.

 

And then there's me. In high school I used to call myself beige. Which I thought was clever. I watched a lot of Fresh Prince of Bel Air and thought of myself as cooler than regular white people because, though I wasn't black like Will Smith, at least I wasn't really white either. It was my favourite part of myself. I liked my tan skin. I thought it made me stand out, made me interesting. And I liked that it saved me from the terrible burden of being WHITE. Like the white people who slaughtered and stole from and destroyed Canada's Native Peoples. Like the white people who owned slaves. Like the white kids at my school who might say the wrong thing and be called racist. Nobody was going to call me racist. I was outside of these racial divisions, or above them, or beyond them. I was bi-racial. Beige. Better. And if someone had asked me if I was white privilege, I would have said, "no way!"

 

But I would have been wrong.

 

I used to think that I glided through airport security so easily because I'm a nice girl. I smile at store clerks. I say "sorry" when people bump into me. I have a nice face, and I don't make trouble, and I don't deal drugs, and my coat's usually clean, and that's why the world is so nice to me. I didn't think of it as white privilege. I thought of it as nice privilege. How could I be white privilege without being white?

 

But I am.

 

Sure, I have an ethnic last name. It's long. It has a Hindu deity inside it. Sure, my parents are immigrants. Even if they are the easiest kind of immigrants. The kind that blend in. The kind that speak English, and abandon much of their culture, and don't keep dual citizenship. They're still immigrants! Sure, I used to tan really dark as a kid. Sure, sure.

But I'm still white privilege.

 

I pass. I've been mistaken for Italian, Jewish, Greek, Spanish, but never Indian. People are surprised when they see my last name. I have no accent. I'm not an immigrant. I pass as white. I am white. And I am white privilege.

 

It's a strange thing to find yourself lumped in with the most privileged group on the planet and to still be looking for a loophole, a way out. I never wanted to be white. It still chafes. I miss being that naive girl who thought she could escape history by calling herself a blend, a hybrid. I miss the world that was nice to me because I was nice. I miss my beige self. Because she's gone now. And she was never really real anyway.

 

I am not truly white, but I am white privilege. I've never been followed around a store because they think I'm going to steal. I've never been pulled over for driving while brown (I know, because I've never been pulled over). Nobody has ever expressed surprise that I have a master's degree. I glide through airport security, smiling or not. I've never been called a paki, or been told to go back to my country, or felt degraded or marginalized or persecuted or afraid because of the colour of my skin.

 

I am white privilege, and I have to accept it. I have to feel the responsibility of it. I have to stop appropriating other people's struggles when I've had no struggle. I have to stop pretending my barely olive skin means something it doesn't. I have to own my privilege and be grateful for it, because it allows me to live my nice life. A life of safety and freedom and ease. A life I've been living all along, without even knowing it. A white person's life in a racist world.

 

I'm not white, but I am white privilege. It's not a choice. It's just the truth.

 

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