Understanding and Cultivating Understanding: White Privilege

Understanding and Cultivating Understanding: White Privilege

Anna Zoodsma


Three adages have been rattling around in my brain and have been giving me some context for our modern world. The first: “If you don't have to think about it, it is probably a privilege you have.[1]” The second: “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.[2]” And the third: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.[3]


“If you don't have to think about it, it is probably a privilege you have.”


White privilege has been overlooked for centuries as individuals have functioned, incognizant of the benefits of their positions of power, in a world designed to benefit them. As recent events have unfolded, the realities of life without white privilege have become blatantly obvious. Though racial privilege is manifested in so many ways, it remains a topic I don't fully understand and that I know those around me do not either. This can make it difficult to find the “right way” to communicate about it. But in order to care about and have a passion for making the world a more equitable place, a basic level of understanding is a prerequisite. A lack of understanding is not an excuse for inaction when it comes to demanding that all human rights be respected.


“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”


So how can an understanding of white privilege and its impacts be cultivated in ourselves and others? People understand their own experiences. At some point in everyone's lives, they have experienced the feeling of being judged or treated differently due to something that was out of their control, and that did not feel good. Maybe for you, it was not being given a chance at a job you were qualified for because you were “young and inexperienced.” Maybe it was when you were charged an unfair price for a service at the repair shop due to your gender. Maybe it was an aspect of your culture that was misunderstood as it was not the norm. Though it is impossible to truly understand what it is like to live someone else's life, we can all connect with negative feelings as a result of inaccurate judgments.


“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”


Even if only for a fleeting moment someone can connect to the feeling of being judged or of being treated differently due to something they did not control, they can begin to understand privilege. They can begin to connect to the experience that they are a part of a system that is perpetually afflicting judgments based on skin color onto others. And in the case of race, these judgments historically and today have often resulted in discrimination and violence. Without a link to connect with that emotion, how can anyone truly begin to understand the impact that they have on others?


So, as someone who can choose to ignore the news without being personally harmed or directly impacted, due to a privilege that I in no way earned or am entitled to, I must take on a role of action. Not everyone has that privilege. This season I pledge to find ways to channel frustration into cultivating understanding, my own, and others. To have conversations that close divides instead of widening them. To stand up to systems that violate human rights and perpetuate violence and discrimination towards people of color. To work to remove my own implicit biases. And to check myself, often and honestly, for the ways in which my privilege perpetuates the same feelings of judgment. There is truly no other option because human lives are at stake.

 Additional resources on systematic racism, white privilege, and actions to take are provided below.


Systemic Racism Explained Video



White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack



Ways That You Can Take Action



Anti-Racism Resources




[1]   Author unknown

[2]   Quote by Albert Einstein

[3]   Quote by Maya Angelou