On the issue of Charlotte’s pervasive notions of white privilege
Posted on 19 May 2009 by Desiree Kane
To quote Rage Against the Machine: “If ignorance is bliss then knock the smile off my face.” White privilege is alive and well in Charlotte.
Wikipedia puts it in a nutshell:
“White privilege is a set of perceived advantages enjoyed by white people beyond those commonly experienced by non-white people in those same social, political, and economic spaces (nation, community, workplace, income, etc.). It differs from racism or prejudice in that a person benefiting from white privilege does not necessarily hold racist beliefs or prejudices himself and can be, as is often the case, unaware of his privilege.”
There’s no doubt in my mind that there are people who will emphatically deny that white privilege is present in Charlotte — but just because Charlotte is a cosmopolitan city in the new millennium doesn’t mean nasty Old South values aren’t still in our midst. Pinning down this surreptitious thing into something formidable is tough. The definition of this concept highlights that – those whom are given the privilege are often unaware.
I, too, was unaware of such a thing until recently. At the risk of sounding self absorbed for a moment, I’ll explain: I excel in work settings where I’m given the liberty to do what comes naturally; helping people and being tech savvy are the two areas in which I excel. In my job as an executive assistant and unofficial office manager, I interact a lot with those in my very ethnically diverse office. So much so that I know everyone’s face, first and last name plus their extension number.
I started out at the bottom, in the largest department which has notably the highest turnover because it’s the call center department. Soon, I became the admin assistant then the receptionist. Quickly after that, I was promoted to executive assistant, where I also became the defacto office manager, or, as I like to call myself the “Chief Factoum.” In less than a year, I was promoted three times. Along the way I noticed white privilege sneaking into my perception.
It came to me in forms of comments like “I knew you could fix this for me!” or “I knew I could count on you!” Now, mind you, I was not doing anything earth shattering, simply things that came easy to me because I am a GenY poster child with second-nature computer skills, like how to un-hide accidentally hidden rows in Excel or how to set up a default printer on someone’s workstation for them. At the time, it struck me as strange that someone with whom I’ve never interacted and who would otherwise be unfamiliar with my skill set had such pronounced faith in my abilities.This still happens to me regularly, so much so that it’s almost egregious. There’s no possible way that I’ve created this reputation for myself in the office as so reliable, smart and naturally talented as some of my co-workers suggest.
Then I started noticing it in other places too: like the grocery store’s Band-Aid section when I thought to myself that the bandages didn’t match anyone’s skin tone. I wondered how acutely aware of this people of color were because those bandages weren’t going to match their skin tone either, though it was blatantly obvious to me the Band-Aids were made for Caucasians. I noticed it even when people exit elevators in Charlotte, no matter where in the city I’m at, people of all ages expect the white girl to get off the elevator first. I’ve never had so many people look at me with surprise as when I wait my turn! It was upon exiting an elevator that I was able to metaphorically ‘put the face to the name’.
So what does white privilege look like in every day Charlottean life? I’ll give you examples of how I notice it:
- I can have BO, be late, be ditzy, be angry, be opinionated and/or talk/blog about racially charged issues without it somehow reflecting negatively as just a trait of my entire race.
- I am never asked, in any setting, to speak on behalf of all white people. I can honestly say I’ve never been asked, “Desiree, you’re white. Is that what white people think/do/feel?”.
- If I need to run out to the car to ask if a specialty bread is the right specialty bread for my mom’s party, the baker will let me take it out to the car to ask then come back and pay.
And, that’s just in my day-to-day.
Does noticing it mean I’m to blame for it? No. Does it mean I’m perpetuating it by noticing it? No, but it does mean now that I’m aware of it I can do my best to not accommodate it, even if it means the benefits I’ve formally, unknowingly reaped from it disappear. The ways it’s realized are endless. Yes, white privilege is everywhere, but here is where I’ve seen it in action (note: I am not saying everyone in Charlotte is a racist).
So, I encourage you to do something today against the grain, no matter your ethnic or racial makeup because when white privilege ceases to be perpetuated by everyone, the better off Charlotte as a whole will be.