There are quite a few definitions of White privilege. Wikipedia’s is “a term for societal privileges that benefit people identified as white in Western countries, beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances.”
Peggy McIntosh sees it as “an invisible package of unearned assets.”
And James Baldwin put it best, saying, “Being white means never having to think about it.”
And while some White people are still in denial about their privilege and how they benefit from it (read the comments on Yahoo stories for examples…), others know how they’ve profited.
Or at least, they think they know. But maybe not.
Hillary Clinton, as well as the other candidates (specifically Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley), has been in Iowa this week hitting the campaign trail, digging for support. And in her quest for all that, she took part in the Iowa Brown and Black Forum at Drake University with Sanders and O’ Malley yesterday. She addressed questions from a diverse room full of young people, questions that touched on issues of race and ethnicity.
One Drake student, Thalia Anguiano, asked Clinton point blank, “Secretary Clinton, can you tell us what the term white privilege means to you and can you give me an example from your life or career when you feel like you’ve benefited from it?”
Here’s what Clinton had to say:
Where do I start? I think it is hard when you’re swimming in the ocean to know exactly what is happening around you so much as it is when you’re standing on the shore, perhaps watching. For me, look, I was born White, middle class in the middle of America. I went to good public schools. I had a very strong, supportive family. I had a lot of great experiences growing up. I went to a wonderful college. I went to law school. I never really knew what was or wasn’t part of the privilege, I just knew that I was a lucky person. And that being lucky was part related to who I am, where I’m from and the opportunities I had. But I’ll tell you when I first realized that I was privileged, both because I was White and because I was economically stable. I had two experiences, and they both came through my church. The first when I was about 11 years old. Our church asked if some of us would volunteer to babysit the children of migrant workers on Saturday because the families had to go into the fields and the older kids had to go with them. And there was nobody left to watch the little kids. I and a couple of my friends volunteered. And I remember in those days, Chicago was surrounded by fields, doesn’t look like it anymore, but it was…I remember going out there, taking care of these adorable little kids and I kind of thought, “Well, they’re very different from me, they’ve got different experiences,” but they’re just little kids. And then at the end of the day, at the end of this long road, the bus stopped, the parents and the older brothers and sisters got out. And when the little kids saw them, they just dropped everything and began running for their mothers and their fathers, holding their arms out. I remember it like it was yesterday watching that, and I was thinking, “I used to do that with my father.” And I’m watching these kids and their families, and they have to work so hard. And the place they live is not very nice. And I just felt that I had a different kind of life. I didn’t call it a particular name but it was a different life, and I knew that.
Sound like privilege?
To Anguiano? Not really. She would go on to tell Fusion she was “a little disappointed” by Clinton’s response. She felt that Clinton started off pretty good but went nowhere fast.
“I feel like she didn’t answer it,” Anguiano said.
Anguiano said she was even more disappointed in Clinton after moderator and Fusion anchor Alicia Menendez asked Clinton to name one way she’s not like Menendez’s grandmother after the controversy a blog post from Clinton’s campaign called “7 Ways Hillary Clinton Is Just Like Your Abuela” caused.
Clinton’s comical response? “Well, you know, I’m obviously running for president. Not every grandmother does that.”
But Anguiano didn’t find that response so funny, telling Fusion, “That showed me that she does not fully understand what white privilege is and how oppressed marginalized communities are in our society. I feel like I got more of a white privilege understanding from [fellow candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley] than Clinton tonight.”
Indeed, Clinton probably could have delivered a more poignant response had she spoken on how her interactions with police as a White woman have been much different from interactions between cops and minorities. If she talked about work opportunities that her family received, say, in comparison to the opportunities the migrant workers she babysit had. Being one of many White people in the workplace in comparison to people of color. Seeing images of people who look like her and representation in general as a White woman growing up in a White world. And so on and so forth. Her response could have had a bit more depth to it, and she could have taken things a step further, but I wouldn’t say it was all that bad. And considering that moderator Jorge Ramos told her that they would have to move on before she could explain what White privilege meant to her, you never know what she may have come up with. Acknowledging that it’s real is the first step.
But what did you think of her examples of how she’s benefited from White privilege in her life? Was it as disappointing as Anguiano said?