A sign at a anti-racism rally. (File photo)
Racism protests try to raise awareness about issues impacting racial minorities in our society. (Black Press file photo)

A sign at a anti-racism rally. (File photo) Racism protests try to raise awareness about issues impacting racial minorities in our society. (Black Press file photo)

Check your privilege: Williams Lake course helps put racism in focus

Learning to identify unseen privilege, racist societal structures and ways to address them

This is the first in a series based on the course: Awakenings Anti-Racism Exploration. The eight-week course explores racial dynamics, societal structures which keep racism in place and lays the groundwork for becoming an effective ally.

When you walk into a store or business, do you expect or at least hope for prompt and courteous service?

Would you be upset or offended if you were met with abrupt questions, or other, subtle barriers to achieving what you came in for?

When you were in school, did you feel the past you studied made you feel a part of history?

Did you learn about how your ancestors have helped contribute to the achievements or success of the place and society you live?

When you go for a job interview, do you expect the person you meet for the interview to regard you openly and without a lot of preconceptions?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, then you, like myself, enjoy privileges many of our fellow community-members do not.

For those who answered “no,” you are well aware of the many ways that discrimination and privilege (or lack thereof) impacts you on a daily basis.

Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) are often approached with mistrust and subtle barriers every day in ways white people can not truly understand.

Read more: More than half of Asian Canadians experienced racism, hate in past year: survey

But as white-presenting (people who appear or who are white) we should be trying to, in order to work towards a more equitable society.

These are some of the teachings I was pondering for the pre-reading and first session of a workshop facilitated by Margaret-Ann Enders called Awakenings Anti-Racism Exploration.

The pre-reading for the first session was a piece by Peggy McIntosh: White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.

The natural inclination is probably to feel defensive when faced with the idea of benefitting from white privilege.

(Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines white privilege as being: “the set of social and economic advantages that white people have by virtue of their race in a culture characterized by racial inequality”).

No one wants to be seen as an oppressor, or as participating in racism.

Read more: Acts of racism, sexual harassment end Canadian Armed Forces training course in B.C. capital

This is not your fault, as a person who enjoys privilege, but allowing the oppression to continue now that as a society, we can recognize how those privileges negatively impact others does mean you are complicit if you choose not to address them.

McIntosh writes that we are taught not to recognize white privilege, just as men are taught not to recognize male privilege. It is understandable we do not see something which we, ourselves do not experience as a difference, it is simply how we are treated and therefore, we expect it. It is our “normal.”

So how do we know we even have it? How do we become aware other people do not?

Peggy McIntosh attempted to identify her own privilege by seeing conditions which she enjoys but which are things her BIPOC coworkers would not be able to count on.

There were 26 examples of conditions she could see were privileges her coworkers might not expect to be able to enjoy which she considered her normal.

Every day BIPOC persons would instead be required to be more patient, more persistent, more tolerant, simply to function.

Of course, there are other factors which can impact a person’s privilege, such as age, class, sex and sexual orientation, which can combine to create what is now referred to as “intersectionality.”

Having white privilege does not mean your life is without hardships, however, the colour of your skin does not contribute to those hardships.

But setting these aside for the moment and just trying to grasp the unseen privilege for those of us who identify or present as white in a white-dominant society, is an exploration worth taking if we want to create a more equitable world.

Simple experiences for me have brought these things home throughout my life, and helped me become more aware of the barriers some face daily, and the privileges I have taken for granted.

Not long ago, out for lunch with my Indigenous friend and coworker, she was questioned and almost not allowed entry as vaccine passports and ID were checked, while my lack of ID was dismissed as insignificant. I had to wonder if I had not been there to vouch for her if she would have been allowed entry.

During our lunch together, I clearly noticed a difference in the service and respect I was receiving versus my friend. She was treating me to lunch, and as a final statement about how she viewed us perhaps, our server brought me the check after we told her it was together.

Subtle, yes, but I was angry that my friend was not being treated very well, yet I was uncertain how to react, as she seemed to take it for granted. This was her “normal,” which I found the hardest part, how sad we have set the bar so low.

While not necessarily conscious on our server’s part, this experience helped me recognize how we need to do better as a society, and my friend, one of the kindest and hardest-working women I know, deserves more from all of us.

Watching her be treated so markedly differently, helped prompt me to want to learn how to be better and address some of this behaviour.


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