The Consequence of Privilege

On International Women’s Day, a man told me that he believed that I should not be allowed the right to choose my future. On this long celebrated holiday, women around the world (note: not just in the United States) joined forces to strike or to support a Women’s Strike by celebrating each other.

The Dentonite is a primarily female driven collective, so days like today are important to me. This site serves our community in a number of ways, including providing content that is valuable to the community whether you want to keep up with the latest local music and art exhibits or learn about who is running for city council. The 50+ people who contribute all have day jobs and various freelance side-hustles, but we all work together to make this website run. That’s not what this is about, though.

During my lunch break yesterday, I walked through the free speech area at the University of North Texas to see if there were any protests or demonstrations taking place. I stumbled upon a group handing out information about a march, planned to take place in Downtown at 6 p.m. I listened, engaged in conversation, and found myself completely taken aback by the words of one deeply privileged person.

In a conversation that lasted much longer than the 45 minutes I took part, a white man (I’ll get to why that is important later) told me that he believed that women should not be allowed to access contraceptives or abortions. On International Women’s Day, a man told me that he believed that I should not be allowed the right to choose my future. So, like any responsible adult, I whined about it on Facebook.

Although I fundamentally disagree, it makes sense to me that some people consider themselves “pro-life.”. Abortion is a sensitive and complicated subject, there is no getting around it. But to suggest that Planned Parenthood is just cranking out state-funded abortions is not only a complete lie, it’s also actively harmful to the women who rely on this organization for essential healthcare services. Put simply, if you think Planned Parenthood is only (or even mostly) just performing abortions, you haven’t done your homework.

One in five women will find themselves in need of Planned Parenthood’s services at one point or another in their lives, whether they need an STD test, breast exam, or pap smear.  Planned Parenthood and its affiliate clinics provide care to more than 1.5 billion young people every single year. And, in case you thought that only women benefited from the services that Planned Parenthood offers, you’d be wrong — men make up 11% of the patients seen by clinics every year.

Only 3% of services at Planned Parenthood are abortions. Read it again. Only 3% of services at Planned Parenthood are abortions. That means 97% of the services provided at Planned Parenthood are educational, preventative, and screenings. There are no facts from Planned Parenthood or any credible media source that suggest otherwise.

Even if they performed a five trillion abortions, Planned Parenthood would still be necessary. Without safe abortion, women die.

A week before International Women’s Day, I attended a Planned Parenthood fundraiser in Fort Worth. I was stunned at the diversity of men and women present, both Republicans and Democrats and everyone in between. Every person at that luncheon had one goal in mind: keeping the necessary, life-saving services provided by Planned Parenthood accessible to those who need it most. Abortion may be an endlessly divisive issue, but despite Congressional attempts to strip funding away from Planned Parenthood, majority of Americans support Planned Parenthood.

All of this is great, but why bring race into it? I’m getting there, bear with me.

Back in January, The Women’s March proved that when we come together, women make for a powerful movement. In Denton alone, hundreds of people showed up to support the international cause. As the movement continues to grow, the people involved are sticking to their mission:

“We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families - recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.”

Today, that movement brings us to A Day Without Women. Part of the organization’s plan to take 10 major actions in 100 days, the strike encouraged women from all over the world to participate in one (or all) of the activities outlined below:

  1. Women take the day off, from paid and unpaid labor

  2. Avoid shopping for one day (with exceptions for small, women- and minority-owned businesses).

  3. Wear RED in solidarity with A Day Without A Woman

This sparked a debate on whether the Women’s Strike was an act of privilege or not, and this is why race matters.

In one of the comments left on my previously private Facebook post, many asked why bring race into the equation. Simple: it needs to be. The man who told me that he believes that women shouldn’t have rights or access to contraceptives or abortions is white. He said that he is a business owner. He was not rude when speaking about his beliefs (nor did he attribute religion at all), he just seemed uneducated on the topic of healthcare for women or of those who can not afford it. It was clear that this man valued my opinions over POCs for no reason other than my privilege as a white woman, and that is not okay.

Right, so why bring white into this? Most of the who make major decisions in our country are white men. We have historically had predominately white, male leaders in place, deciding what's best (and frequently marginalizing) for everyone around them. Why is that a problem? Besides men not having any first-hand experience with what it’s like being a woman, they make choices that a lot of women (and other men) oppose.

I’m a white woman, I love men of every race including white men. That does not mean that I cannot talk about why discussing racism in this regard is important. One of my Facebook commenters was confused about why I’d bring race into a discussion about women’s health. They asked,“If he was black would you have made the same comment?”

The answer is a simple. No, I would not have. This person being white proves a point. Why would I further demonize a culture that does not have the respect of the majority of people who I identify with as a being fellow white people?

What being white gets me

I hate that I even have to spell this out, but here we go.

I am extremely privileged. I am a college-educated white female. I have a full time job and no major medical or other issues that hinder me from working and making money to support myself. I work for a company that pays me equally and treats me well. I was on my parent's health insurance plan until I was 25 and then, fortunately, was able to afford to get health insurance through my job. I am healthy, I am strong, I am smart. I am privileged.

If I am out shopping, I know I won't be followed or profiled due to my race. As someone who has previously worked in the retail industry for more than ten years, I can tell you that profiling is something that happens. It's something that people are asked to do. It's something I've been asked to do.

I know that if I look to mainstream media, I will see a whole lot of women who look like me. Who have my skin and facial features and straight hair. I don’t have to worry about my skin color, hair, makeup, or accessories when I go in for job interviews or out in public. No one will ever label me as a terrorist. Hell, it’s unlikely that anyone would ever even mispronounce my name. It is a privilege to be unaware of your skin color.

The argument about making this into a Colorless World

We do not live in a world that does not see color. Systemic racism still exists, as evidenced by the scourges of police brutality, poverty, and the prison industrial complex. We can’t move forward until something gives, until there is an understanding that occurs. Lest we get too comfortable in our tiny progressive bubbles, there are still people in this country who believe that racism does not exist. Not in 2017.

Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a Christian man (two things I am not) and he makes a point that I could not agree with more. “We cannot begin addressing this problem until we’re willing to admit this problem exists.”

Why this is so uncomfortable

The first time that your white privilege is checked, it’s going to hurt. No one likes to be called fragile or to be perceived as weak or wrong. But the process of unlearning white privilege, what is described by Peggy McIntosh as “unpacking the invisible knapsack,” is not easy. As white people, we have learned harmful stereotypes and possess infinite implicit biases. If you didn’t know before, now you do. What you choose to do next will depend on whether or not you really care about equality for all people.

When you start paying attention to is actually happening around you beyond eyes that are not your own, you begin to see privilege. If you’re not sure yet, start acting a fool the next time you’re pulled over by a police officer, and watch as you’re treated differently than the black men that are killed what seems like every day in this country by overzealous cops. And once you begin to actually realize that white privilege exists, you have to do something about it. You have to call out your friends’ racist jokes. You have to stop using racial slurs. You have to listen.

And if, at this point, you’re thinking of suggesting that you as a white person experience racism, just stop. As 2014’s Dear White People (currently streaming on Hulu — you’re welcome) so brilliantly sums up: “Black people can’t be racist. Prejudiced, yes, but not racist,” says Tessa Thompson’s character Samantha. “Racism describes a system of disadvantage based on race. Black people can’t be racists since we don’t stand to benefit from such a system.”

Reverse racism is not a thing. Prejudice and racism are not the same thing. Regardless the situations you grew up in, if you’re white, your skin provides access to privilege that people of color simply do not have.  

What you can do to help

Start by talking to your friends. If your friends look just like you, maybe venture out into some volunteer work and meet new people. Learn about someone completely different than you. Learn about a lot of people completely different than you. Most importantly, listen more than you speak. Way more.

If you’re not sure where to start volunteering, we’ve made a helpful index of different places that could probably use your help.

If you have money, even a couple of bucks, give it to the Denton Black Film Festival or UNT’s chapter of HerCampus or Keep Denton Queer.

Diversify the art, media, and writing you consume. Seek out creators of color, both in Denton and beyond.

Read books. A lot of them. Here’s a list to get started.

LISTEN. Seriously, shut up and listen.  

Recognizing, and calling out, white privilege will probably not be the easiest thing that you’ve ever done. It’s going to get a whole lot more complicated as you realize that, depending on your particular lot in life, you have more privilege than you probably ever imagined. Unlearning it, even at a basic level, is going to require a lot of effort. But if you care about equal rights, you’ll do it. It might result in a few uncomfortable conversations, but you can’t say that you’re not a racist if you’re not willing to do the work.