White Privilege, Heterosexual Privilege, and Liberal Guilt
First there was white privilege.
White privilege isn’t something I thought about until I was confronted with a bulletin board full of it. I was at a Unitarian church I had sporadically attended and had wandered into an area of the church I had not been to before. This area featured a large bulletin board with essays tacked up onto it. The essays were stories from the church members about how they led hassle-free lives. Essay after essay explained everyday situations the church members had been in and how nothing had gone wrong. One member had gone to a department store and shopped peacefully. Another member had gone to Maine without any event. The odd thing that struck me about these essays was that the authors felt an obvious guilt about their hassle-free experiences. They felt that if they were a minority, these stories may not have played out so happily. The essays focused mainly on the guilt these people felt because their lives were easy.
The essays struck me as vaguely ridiculous. I am white. It was not a choice that I made, I just came out this way. Because I do not consider myself at all racist and it’s not like I chose to be white, I saw no reason for me to feel guilty about not being a minority. I’m a woman with a Jewish last name, doesn’t that count for anything?
At the time I read the church essays, I was friendly with someone whose mother was a Unitarian minister. When I told him about what I had read, he said it was a typical Unitarian thing. He explained that Unitarians often love guilt. You’re supposed to feel guilty if you make a lot of money. You’re supposed to feel guilty if your profession does not further the good of mankind. You’re supposed to feel guilty if you’re not a minority. According to him, Unitarians are supposed to feel an overall guilt if their lives are not a hardship. I had thought that Unitarians were simply into doing good and being nice to other people. I had not realized they were all about liberal guilt. This turned me off to the Unitarian church and I did not go back.
Soon after, I discussed the concept of white privilege with a good friend who is a woman and a minority. Her thoughts on the topic were that people may feel guilty about any white privileges they may have because it was a privilege they did not earn. This made sense to me and I started to think of any guilt due to white privilege as being another form of liberal guilt. It seemed like a slightly different, but highly similar form of the concept.
This led me to look up “white privilege” on Wikipedia. The entry stated that “in critical race theory, white privilege is a set of advantages enjoyed by white people beyond those commonly experienced by non-white people in the same social, political, and economic spaces (nation, community, workplace, income, etc.). Theorists differentiate it from racism or prejudice because, they say, a person who may benefit from white privilege is not necessarily racist or prejudiced and may be unaware of having any privileges reserved only for whites.”
As I appeared to be unaware that I had any privileges simply because I am white, this seemed like an accurate description to me. But should I feel bad about this? Maybe. Am I automatically an unappreciated jerk because I am not a minority? I don’t know, I don’t think I’m a jerk. If I felt guilty, would that help anything? Probably not. I decided that the best thing for me to do is to continue treating everyone the same way, regardless of his or her race. As this is what I have always done, nothing really changes.
Then came heterosexual privilege.