Photo by Alex Hockett on Unsplash

Melissa who describes herself as just an ordinary girl, used to work in Buckingham Palace.  As a result, she is privileged to have met the Queen face to face. She has even had the odd conversation with the Queen. I understand that not everyone is interested in meeting the Queen. However, the truth is that the average man on the street would not be privileged to do so even if he wanted to.

A few months ago, an American was involved in a crash with a 19 year old young man on a motorcycle. This crash resulted in the death of the young man. She left the country based on the privilege of Diplomatic Immunity which affords foreign diplomats and their family with protection from legal prosecution in the country they work in.  In different circumstances from Melissa, the American is also privileged. If a British Citizen had been involved in the crash, as opposed to an American with diplomatic immunity the person would have been prosecuted.

I found myself reflecting on privilege following on from a conversation with a friend. As she shared an experience, I mentioned that she was privileged. Oddly, especially as she didn’t protest, I found myself explaining to her why I thought she was privileged. I went further to point out that it wasn’t a bad thing to be privileged.  Thinking about it later, I realised that I was reacting to the fact that white privilege has become a growing subject of conversation. Some people almost seem to see it as an insult to be called privileged and push back. Alternatively, some may believe that the admittance of privilege may mean that something will be taken from them.  From a dictionary perspective, privilege is “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.”

Personally, I believe that the existence of White Privilege in our society is undeniable.  If you’ve read some of my pieces for Black History Month such as “Britain: A Place Called Home”; “Windrush Scandals”; “For Blacks Only”; “Colourism”; and “Stereotypes & Realities”, you will have some insight into the historical context that generally advantages white people. Crucially there are deep rooted prejudices ingrained within our society and we still have the problem of institutional racism within some arenas. It’s not to say that all white people are discriminatory, I believe the vast majority are not or at least not intentionally so. The problem is that there are structural and systemic problems that at times work against people of colour.

White privilege is not the only type of privilege though and there are white people that do not fully benefit from white privilege due to other privileges that they lack.  There is the old class system that places people in higher classes at an advantage over the working class population.  In addition, are the privileges of wealth or celebrity status which both provide opportunity and access.  In many ways privilege begets privilege such that a child from a privileged background is more likely to receive private tutoring to go to a Grammar school; have access to fee paying private schools and access to networks and various other opportunities to enable a secure future.

There are some people of colour within these privileged groups. However, there are way more white people in such groupings than people of colour.  Being within such privileged grouping does not stop people of colour from being stopped by the police or prevent people from mistaking them for “the help”; looked down as less than them; or have people refuse to serve them, such as the experience of Oprah Winfrey (one of the richest women in the world) when she visited an upmarket handbag shop in Zurich.

As I see it, having the things that come with privilege are not so much the problem. I don’t expect everyone to have access to visit the Queen for tea or to have diplomatic immunity. You can argue both ways about the privilege that comes with family status; however, when it comes to the privilege verses discrimination that is purely based on the colour of skin a person is born with, it’s hard to find any justification. I hope that we can reach the stage whereby everyone has the same level of opportunity. For this to even begin to happen, people need to accept that white privilege exist and not assume that their circumstances represent the norm for all people.

In Britain, we are privileged to have clean water running uninterrupted from the taps 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  There are some places in the world where not everyone has running water all the time or in some places at all. If you’ve never visited such a place and all you know is clean water running interrupted  24/7, you may not realise that you are privileged. Even if someone tries to explain it to you, you may find it difficult to fully comprehend it as a possibility. If you can’t see it as a possibility, how will you even begin to understand the implications on people’s lives? None of it will make sense unless you listen with an open heart and mind with the intention of learning.

The same applies to the day to day challenges relating to white privilege. We need to learn to discuss the subject with open hearts and minds; gently creating awareness without trying to attribute guilt; and the knowledge that the improvement of opportunities and circumstances of people of colour does not need to lead to a disadvantage to anyone else.


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Susan Popoola

Mosaic Fusions:

Author: Consequences: Diverse to Mosaic Britain

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