White privilege is a term you may have heard used alongside discussions on racism and discrimination. Having privilege means you are more likely to have an advantage in life because of a particular group that you belong to. This can include finding it easier to get ahead in your education or career than others, or finding you are less likely to face consequences for something that you’ve done wrong, all because of your privilege. Because of white privilege, a white person has access to many more benefits and opportunities than people of colour.
Understanding white privilege
Many white people are not aware of their privilege, because white privilege has been built into the structure of our society. This means that they have been benefiting from white privilege without necessarily realising it, because to them, things are working as normal. However, people of colour, or people who have become aware of their white privilege, can see that the system is set up to advantage white people, and disadvantage everyone else. When the system is set up to advantage white people, this is known as structural racism. To understand white privilege it is important to have an understanding of racism and the types of racism that can occur.
Examples of white privilege
The term ‘white privilege’ can be used to describe the advantages white people experience, many without being aware of them. These can both be small, subtle things that happen day-to-day, or they can be bigger, societal issues that impact on a person’s overall experience.
Day-to-day examples of white privilege
- ‘Flesh’ coloured plasters or moisturiser that only matches light or white skin tones.
- When being served in a shop, the person at the till is less likely to examine the money you hand over to make sure it’s real
- If you are walking down a street, people aren’t likely to stare at you because of your skin colour
- School curriculum covers only white people’s history or literature and lacks presenting people of colour as positive heroes and/or role models.
- Vast majority of children’s toys and books represent only white people
Societal examples of white privilege
- A black person is more likely to be stopped by the Gardaí and questioned about their migration status for no reason
- A person of colour might not be called to interview because of their name or assumptions about their skin colour
- Gardaí are more likely to be called out when people see a group of black teenagers compared to a group of white teenagers
- Person of colour may be followed by a security guard in a shop for no reason or denied access to a nightclub.
- An Irish born or mixed ethnicity person of colour may be constantly asked ‘where are they really from’ and their Irishness questioned because of their skin colour
This video explains the way that white privilege can work in an everyday interaction:
Why do we need to talk about white privilege?
It’s important to understand and have conversations about white privilege so that we can be aware of the ways in which white people can more easily move through life compared to a person of colour. If you are aware of your white privilege you can use it for good to highlight injustices, racism or discrimination that people of colour face and to help fight for equity through movements such as Black Lives Matter. Our volunteer, Mary, explains how we can only have meaningful discussions about these issues when we acknowledge both racism and white privilege.
Sometimes we can feel uncomfortable with the term white privilege or being described as having white privilege. This can be for many reasons. We can be uncomfortable being defined by our race or skin colour if this is not something we are used to, or maybe we don’t feel like we have privilege because of other aspects of our lives. We can feel that being defined as having privilege means we have never struggled in life or that something we may have achieved was down to this ‘privilege’ that we possess. White privilege does not mean white people have or will not struggle in life, it just means it is very unlikely their struggles or disadvantages in life will be down to the colour of their skin.