This post is the third part in my five-part series of blogs educating white people and all non-black races about the injustices, prejudices and conspiracies designed to oppress and encourage discrimination against black people. You can read the first two lessons here (1,2).
In this lesson, I am going to explain the often debated and very heated concept of white privilege. I am going to look at what it is, how it manifests and if anything can be done about it.
With the preamble over, let's start the third lesson.
White privilege – Once you understand it, you start seeing it a lot
For a long time, I ignored the conversation around white privilege. I did not want to be one of those black people who blame all their misfortunes on the advantages of white people and the disadvantages of their skin colour. Some within the black community do play the race card to deflect from their shortcomings, and I did not want to have that mindset.
But my perspective changed in 2015.
I remember watching the news about the Charleston church shooting in that year. A 26-year old, white male named Dylan Roff had entered an African-American church in South Carolina. He then massacred nine black church members in cold blood. The brutality of the act angered me in such a way that for two days, I was not the nicest person to have a conversation with.
It's what happened to Dylan Roff immediately after his killing spree that made me realise that I needed to take white privilege seriously. After he had been apprehended following a short manhunt, the police had given Dylan Roff a Burger King meal when he complained that he was hungry. It was then that I understood what white privilege was.
Imagine if a black male walked into a church with a predominantly white congregation and slaughtered nine white people with a machine gun. Do you think he would be given a Burger King meal afterwards? If you're struggling for an answer then let me help you: he would have probably been killed by the police immediately after they caught him.
How white privilege affects the black community in the UK
As I've said many times, the UK is a far more tolerant and sophisticated society than the US. The British judicial system is impartial, and those who commit a crime receive the most appropriate punishment, irrespective of their ethnic background. Of course, it is not always the case, but it's more often the case than it is not.
But white privilege does exist in the UK, and I am going to give two examples of it; one mainstream and one personal.
Let's start with the mainstream example. Last year, Blue Story, a film about young black men involved inner-city gang warfare, was released in cinemas across the UK. Unfortunately, a small group of teenagers incited small-scale fights during the film’s screening in Birmingham.
Following this incident, cinema chains across the UK temporarily stopped screening the film. Some of the mainstream media started attacking the violent nature of the film and how it encourages bad behaviour among young people. Now during this period, The Irishman, Martin Scorsese's violent film about a murderous hitman who worked for a white crime syndicate was also playing in cinemas. Also, on British television, we had Peaky Blinders, a TV series about a violent, white youth gang terrorising Birmingham’s street shortly after the First World War.
Both The Irishman and Peaky Blinders are far more violent than Blue Story. Still, both received critical praise from media outlets. There were no calls to ban The Irishman from cinemas or cancel Peaky Blinders from British television screens because of their depiction of violence. Conversely, Blue Story was criticised for its supposedly excessive brutality (it's not as bloody as Peaky Blinders, trust me) and its depiction of gang culture by several media outlets.
Content about white people committing crime and violence is seen as just entertainment. But any content about black people committing the same acts is encouraging bad behaviour in our society. That is one manifestation of white privilege within mainstream culture.
Now let me give you a more personal and very recent example. Boris Johnson had announced, during his now-infamous daily updates on the COVID-19 national quarantine, that British citizens could exercise once a day. Following the Prime Minister's words, I left my house in the afternoon. I took a stroll to Cassiobury Park in Watford, which is about a 40-min walk from where I live.
Watford's town centre was teeming with people. Three police officers in the middle of the town watched as dozens of people, all white and Asian as I remember, walked through the high street. As soon as these police officers saw me, the only black person on the high street at this time, they confronted me.
Not one to antagonise police officers, I remained calm and exercised patience, as they began questioning where I was going and what my reasoning was for venturing outside. After I had calmly answered their stupid questions, they left me alone to continue my afternoon.
These police officers racially profiled me because I was a young black man. That afternoon, I saw young white men walk past them, but they did not confront them. It was me, the black man, that they had to stop for questioning. When you're white, the police are rarely suspicious of you. When you're black, for many police officers, you're suspect purely on the basis that you're a young, black male. I do not have the white privilege to protect me from their assumptions.
Can we do anything about white privilege?
White privilege gives white people an advantage over other ethnic groups, particularly black people. Being white enables white people to have access to certain benefits, to excel much quicker in their chosen fields and be protected from specific criticisms and punishments. Black people do not have these same benefits.
But here's the caveat, this is not necessarily the collective fault of all white people. History has made it this way.
The British Empire was the largest in the history of mankind. At one point it had control of over 23% of the world's population. The English had successfully conquered the world. Even though they are no long the uber power they once were, the English still dominate the world. Britain's colonisation efforts destabilised a lot of African and Caribbean countries. Therefore black people, many of whom were part of the British's Common Wealth territories, had to scatter around the world for a better quality of life. So now, many black people find themselves as a minority in many Western countries, especially in the UK.
The fact is there is a much larger white population in the UK than there is a black population. By that admission alone, white people will always have more representation and more advantage over the black community as we are rather small by comparison. We are called an ethnic minority for a reason.
However, what is essential is that the white population, particularly those in positions of power, recognise their advantage and influence, and then use this to create more opportunities for ethnic minorities. Asking the white establishment in the UK to give up their advantage is never going to happen and why would they give it up. But, they can provide a fair chance for others to be able to climb the social ladder and make the UK more of a meritocracy rather than one based on nepotism.
We can't expect the powers that be in western society to eradicate white privilege. Still, they can ensure that it does not stop ethnic minorities from fulfilling their potential.
But most importantly, those with white privilege must use it to ensure that everyone is treated fairly and justly, regardless of their skin colour.
Next lesson: Why saying ‘All Lives Matter’ is incredibly racist