My White Privilege Story

I’m a white, Acadian-Canadian woman, raised Catholic in a predominantly white community, currently living in South Korea. I could easily say that what happened in Charlottesville isn’t my story. But having had a geographical closeness to North Korea and USA’s bids for superiority during the decade I’ve lived here, I’ve learned that what happens in the USA affects much more than the USA.

I write this from my experience, and I’ll probably do a messy job of it. I’ve accepted that. What I write might make people uncomfortable. I accept this too. I’m not looking to explain, debate, or justify anything I share, and this isn’t a time for comfort.

I do hope, however, that by writing this I spark something sacred and courageous within you. I hope my sharing empowers you to shine your own light.

Darkness can’t remain dark once you shine a light on it. What happened in Charlottesville is an example of how the darkness has strived. I’m committed to doing my part in making sure it doesn’t envelope more than it already has. As Peggy McIntosh writes in her article White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack:

“To redesign social systems, we need first to acknowledge their colossal unseen dimensions.”

So to do this, I’m writing about ways I think I’ve contributed to racism and how I think I’ve benefited from white privilege. I understood why it was important to share my story after watching Brené Brown’s Facebook live video. And I found the resolve to write this after watching Vice’s documentary on the Charlottesville protests. As I’ve written about before, this documentary is something I normally would have avoided, but avoidance is what got us into this mess, and again, this isn’t a time for comfort.

Ways I’ve contributed to racism

Last week I posted this image of overt and covert white supremacy on my Facebook page. This encouraged a short discussion about the term “white supremacy” and the need to unpack the terms listed under “covert white supremacy”. My intention in posting the pyramid was to raise awareness regarding how white people might secretly, if not unknowingly, be contributing to racism. Then I suggested that we may need to create a more precise pyramid to make sure the concepts weren’t misleading.

Although I’d like to do this, and hope someone does, I’ve decided my time is better spent doing my own messy and imperfect unpacking. So here goes:

  • I’ve been teaching English as a foreign language from a mostly euro-centric curriculum in South Korea for the past 12 years. I can refute linguistic imperialism, and work on promoting English as a global language, but I can’t deny that my job was built on the shoulders of white Europeans who colonized Asian, African, American, and Oceanic countries.
  • I’ve used racist terminology. This was when I was much younger, but regardless, I did it.
  • I’ve remained quiet while others made racist jokes. This was also in my younger days. I’m not justifying having done this. I’m just providing a timeline because I’ve changed.
  • I’ve remained quiet as older people belittled the economic reality of people of color, especially that of African-Americans and First Nations people in Canada. I didn’t know how to speak up to these people I’m supposed to respect.

I may be in denial of a few more. I’m not sure. That’s the sneaky thing about racism, or maybe implicit bias; we can sometimes be unaware of our racial conditioning. But the more I unpack, and shine a light, the more aware I’ll become. And in this awareness, change becomes possible.

But there’s a bit more unpacking to do.

Ways I’m benefiting from my white privilege

In her Facebook live video, Brené Brown explains that, “privilege is not about how much you work; it’s about unearned access and authority,” and that “privilege when it comes to race is about unearned rights.” So because I’m a white, English-speaking woman from North America with a Catholic upbringing, I have many unearned rights.

My unearned access and rights have served me well in Korea. I can complain all I want about being stared at, and about being treated differently because I’m not Korean [i.e. microagressions (but also nothing like the microagressions many others experience)], but the underlying reality is I’m benefiting from my white privilege, especially as it pertains to my income and social status. Things have changed in recent years, but there is still a widely held preference in private and public schools to hire white teachers, preferably from North America, Australia, or England. I’ve never had to worry about my white skin or blue eyes being grounds for scrutiny. There’s something unjust about this.

I know there are many other ways I’m benefiting without merit, and I think that just by unpacking what I shared about my career as a teacher could reveal a lot more, but this post is long enough.

I’m still not sure what will come from telling this story. I sense it has something to do with spiritual activism. I also know I’m tired of being controlled by darkness, and maybe by sharing my story with you, you’ll come to terms with how tired you are too. If that’s the case, please know you aren’t alone. There are safe spaces for you to share your truth, and to let your light shine. This blog is a place to start.

RESOURCES:

Courageous conversations:

Resources for healing and action:

  • Consider your position on using language that shames people who don’t share your position by watching Brené Brown’s video at 20:50. She starts off with,”Shame is not a motivator for better behaviour. Shame ignites two things: rationalization, blame.” She then continues to explain how you can speak to people with different beliefs without shaming them.
  • Marianne Williamson’s talk after Charlottesville where she encourages American citizens to learn more about their history and strategies for non-violent resistance.
  • 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action – I recommend choosing one item from this list, and cut and pasting it to Google. Here you’ll find examples of what that action looks like, and how you might carry it out.
  • Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha) by Mahatma Gandhi

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