Philippe Sanchez, Sidwell Friends '16

When I was asked to write this article, I was asked about ‘what it meant to be White.’ That’s a funny question, something you don't get asked a lot as a White person. My initial response was to make jokes about listening to Norah Jones or being bad at dancing, but then I settled across the reality of why White people don't like to talk seriously about what it means to be White. That's because the answer is privilege.

Being White is all about privilege, living in a separate world where I don't have to worry about being judged by my race or being treated differently by society. It's a world where I can walk into the room and automatically have a leg up on someone else of a different race. And it's pretty obvious too, and in more ways than one, but one example is in education, where a civil rights survey done by the Department of Education showed Black students making up only 18% of pre-K enrollment, yet being responsible for nearly 48% of suspensions, and Black students were also more than three times as likely to attend schools with less than 60% of the teachers meeting all state certification requirements. Another study on incarceration rates found that nearly 40% of Black males who are high school dropouts are incarcerated, which when compared with the previous statistics on education, evidences how much the game is rigged against Black individuals. Despite all of this, it is still often difficult for some White people to admit the inherent privilege they enjoy. I think it makes them feel guilty or worried that all their achievements will be automatically reduced to happenstance.

However, the issue of racism in this country is something that can only be solved by everyone participating in the discussion of racemost importantly White people. As the beneficiaries of this inequitable society, it is our job to participate in the movement to change it for the betterment of all people. The thing is, you see, when someone has privilege, it is impossible for them to realize that privilege until they understand the lives of those who live without that privilege. I often found myself buying into the White narrative told about blacks in this country, seeing statistics on crime and wanting to believe that everything was okay. We elected a black president, after all. But, it was only through sitting in on discussions with my black friends that I began to understand a whole other way of life in America, one faced with constant obstacles and judgement by the society of which they are apart. I began to better understand my privilege when I took the time to understand other perspectives that differed from my own.

At first I wouldn't say much during the discussions, preferring to listen and witness the lively back and forth. Only after listening for a while did I feel comfortable to slowly start contributing to the conversation and share my voice and opinions. I believe the conversation of race on a national scale should take place in a similar manner, with White people taking the time to listen to people of color and taking the time to understand their struggle and respecting their feelings, rather than invalidating their viewpoints by generating excuses for why and how they are treated the way they are.

Now, this isn't to speak for all White people or make any claims that every single White person is actively opposing racial equality, but it is important to remark on the bystander effect that is taking place across America. There are many White people that will claim not to be racists or to have any problem with blacks or racial equality, and I myself was one of those people, but passively supporting equal rights will do nothing to actually foment change. That in itself is White privilegepossessing the ability to not care or not have to get involved in social justicebecause for many people of color around this country, it isn't a choice. It's a life or death situation, one for which people are fighting out of necessity because of how directly it affects them.

So, what does being White mean to me? Being White means to me that I don't have to care about what's going on with racial injustice in this country, but that I absolutely should.