Recognizing – and addressing – white privilege: A reflection on how society can treat people of color differently

If recognition of white privilege becomes addressed on a larger platform, then we, can stop and fight for those who are treated with less respect than those who are privileged because of their skin tone.

I place a bag of Peanut Butter M&Ms in our shopping cart, without asking my dad first. As our cart’s wheels squeak down the aisle, my dad laughs as he tells me, “Put it back.”

As we continue shopping, we notice employees of the store seem to follow us around. We watch one approach us and ask, “Do you need any help finding anything?”

My dad, replying to this question for the sixth time that day, flatly responds, “No thanks, I’m good.”

I always wondered why my dad became angry when employees at stores insisted on helping him. When I was younger, I thought it was very kind of them. Besides, I figured my father should feel lucky that they offered to help him, because whenever I went to a store with my mom, we were never followed or asked if we needed help.

As I became older, I finally understood why he was upset. My father is Native American, and he has been racially profiled all his life. I have watched employees actively discriminate against him for having a skin tone darker than theirs. They decide to follow him and ask him if he needs help in order to watch him and make sure he doesn’t steal anything as he shops.

My mother, who is white, does not experience this treatment from employees. She does not have the same burden of representing her entire race or suffering from negative stereotypes.

I am white and Native American (Polish and Ojibwe from Leech Lake, to be specific), but I take after my mother in terms of looks. I have very light and pale skin and light brown hair. Even though I am two races, I represent one to the world: white.

I too am not bothered by employees when I go to a store by myself.

As I became more aware of racial injustices and as I wrap up my senior year, I’ve begun to look at colleges more seriously. My top college’s school newspaper (and other news organizations) reported recent racially charged incidents on campus between students. A total of 82 incidents were reported between January 2016 through February 2017, which were categorized as anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, racist, homophobic/transphobic and sexist/misogynistic.

Seeing numbers like this from the college I want to attend the most was unsettling for me and made me cautious about my choice. As I spoke to my mother about this, she told me, “Racism will happen no matter where you go. It exists everywhere.”

One college I applied to is in Canada, and I was telling one of my past Ojibwe teachers that. “Don’t get stolen,” she told me. She said that because there is an epidemic of indigenous women going missing or being murdered. As I began to think that might actually happen to me, I realized it never would because I don’t actually look indigenous. I realized a racist incident might never happen to me because I look white.

This realization has given me a sense of security, but that security comes with guilt for witnessing racism without actually having to deal with it. I have white privilege because I look white. With this privilege comes the luxury of not fearing racism wherever I go.

Some people believe white privilege does not exist. Those who don’t see it in society also usually think that the word “privilege” means to have more of something than others. When “white” is put in front of it, they think it means white peoples’ lives are easier.

While that isn’t necessarily true, I believe white privilege means that white people have the privilege of not dealing with hardships formed around race.

While much progress was accomplished during the Civil Rights Movement, there are still many inequalities in our society today. If recognition of white privilege becomes addressed on a larger platform, then we, as a nation, can stop and fight for those who are treated with less respect than those who are privileged because of their skin tone.

One way to decrease today’s inequalities is to recognize, address and stop white privilege. To recognize is to see that people of color, like my father, are sometimes harassed and profiled in stores.

Addressing it can be difficult. For some, it’s hard to stand up in public and fight injustice, but it is a civil duty in order for equality to be achieved.