The more I write about white privilege, the more I am asked to also speak about black privilege. I have been wondering if such a status even exists, and my thinking has led me down this path.
As a black person, the only time I deem I might have an advantage is when I get to a club and everyone expects that I can dance like Michael Jackson, when I do Karaoke and people assume that I’ll sing like Whitney Houston, or when I try out for a sports team, and everyone thinks I’ll be the best player. I think that those are the only situations where I might have it easy.
In all other areas, i.e. looking for a job, taking the bus, or even simply minding my own business, I don’t benefit from any bit of privilege — it’s more that I am underprivileged instead.
But maybe, I’m being too dismissive of the question: do black people benefit from privilege? Maybe I should go much deeper here. Some of my colleagues infer that as a black woman, I have an advantage when it comes to getting hired and promoted. They say:
“Companies are looking to hire and promote more black people, especially women, you have an advantage, you are black and a woman, go for it”.
But I wonder, is that really an advantage? Is simply filling a diversity and inclusion quota really a good thing? When you think of it, no it isn’t. It’s rather exploitative — using someone’s color, gender, or sexual orientation to pretend that one — in this case, companies, are doing something about a serious social issue.
It is misleading and disingenuous because more often than not, it’s surface deep. The company hasn’t done the work to educate its entire workforce not to be racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic for that matter, and yet they expose a representative of either or several of these groups to the masses — or a better analogy would be: it’s like putting a zebra into a den full of lions. Can you imagine what would happen? Could you imagine how that would feel like?
The candidate that finds themselves hired or promoted to meet a diversity quota often finds themselves in a hostile environment. Other employees will doubt their capabilities and the usual cynical remarks will be repeated over and over:
“Such and such was only hired because she’s black or he’s gay.”
People will look to the race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation rather than to the skills and qualifications of that person. They will undermine that person and judge them even more harshly than they do their other colleagues.
I think you see my point. You need to do the work of educating people to make sure diversity and inclusion bring meaningful and measurable change to your organization. Simply hiring a black, or gay, or Muslim without doing the work to build an anti-racism or anti-homophobic culture within the organization is a fruitless and sometimes even perilous undertaking.
In most of today’s corporate world, hiring or promoting someone because of their belonging to a specific ethnic, gender, religious or sexual orientation is commonplace and this is actually doing a disservice to that person. It can lead to burnout, depression, and a host of other mental health issues. In this type of environment, being hired because one is black is not at all a privilege, much the opposite.
So, as I dig deeper into my life to see if there are any unknown or neglected privileges I may have omitted to mention, I am faced with a stark reality: black privilege simply doesn’t exist. For the exception of Africa, everywhere in the world, black people are looked upon with fear, hatred, and suspicion. I’m not going to sugar coat it for you, that’s the harsh reality.
In some Asian countries, we are even referred to as “black devils”. Does it even get worse than that? In many places, the blacker you are, the more inferior you are perceived to be. You are considered to be at the bottom of a white supremacist, man-made racial hierarchy. In some cases, you are even considered sub-human.
Some people refer to the fact that there is Black History Month as a privilege. It’s important to note that that exists to acknowledge the identity of black people. Slavery and colonialism took a lot away from us. We were separated from our families, brainwashed, beaten in submission.
Black History Month is simply a way of helping us re-build our identities, our history, or culture. And truth be told, that one month can’t even begin to help us recover all that we have lost.
So no folks, there is no black privilege, I don’t need to analyze this further. In fact, the more I try to find examples in my mind, the more it becomes painfully clear that I hardly ever have a free pass to anything — especially given that I can’t dance, sing or run to save my life.
So where does that leave me? With almost zero privilege when it comes to the color of my skin. Notice here that I say skin. I may have other privileges because I am educated and live in one of the richest countries in the world: Switzerland, but that’s about it. A white woman living in Switzerland would have the added privilege of being white and having all doors opened up to her while I would have a lot of those same doors shut in my face.
I don’t have the same amount of privileges as my white husband for example. He won the big jackpot at life by being male and white, and every day I see his privilege play out in the most mind-boggling ways.
When I’m up for it, we even play experiments to put facts behind my stories about white privilege. He will get the car serviced and ask the garage to send the invoice by mail, and they’ll agree. I’ll do the same and they’ll tell me I need to pay for the service on the spot.
There are many areas in our lives where we test the system. It would surprise you just how endemic and systemic racism is — it’s not just in the United States with the traumatic and painful experience of slavery, racism is everywhere, it is a global phenomenon.
If you ever needed more proof to come to this conclusion, all you would need to do is to look at the global demonstrations following George Floyd’s murder. Black and brown communities all around the world collectively stood up to demand justice. One would surely ask themselves, why did something so domestic to the US become such a global phenomenon?
The answer is simple: black and brown people feel the impact of racism on their everyday lives wherever they may be. They see how white privilege plays out, how their own lives are considered of lesser value — no matter what the liberals, peace, and love hippies say.
The global response to Floyd’s death was a global reckoning and acknowledgment that it’s time for change — that black and brown lives should matter as much as white lives. And that racism and its fellow bedfellows’ white privilege and white supremacy should be dismantled at all costs. If we don’t do this vital work in all urgency, that will spell the end of our civilization as we know it.
Thank you for reading my perspective.