“But you all have the same issues we do! I mean, why are we even dividing ourselves, race doesn’t matter—we are all gay.” Fifteen years ago, a white gay male friend said this to me after I asked him how responsive the LGBT group he ran focused on issues affecting people of color. He truly did not understand that LGBT people of color might have unique needs or that we may have different priorities than the white LGBT community.
Since that conversation, I have worked diligently in the LGBT community to help my white brothers and sisters understand the privileges they enjoy as white people.
White privilege is a difficult concept for many whites to understand. As Peggy McIntosh contends in her seminal piece “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” Whites are not taught to recognize how their status as white people confers on them many privileges. Hopefully, this piece will try to break the layers of denial that whites have about their privilege and that work to protect, prevent awareness about, and entrench that privilege.
The voices of LGBT people of color are generally not included unless the white LGBT group wants to reach out to communities of color. If LGBT people are included, they are often only done so as tokens and only if they agree with the white LGBT narrative.
White privilege is a set of advantages that white people benefit from on a daily basis not afforded to people of color. White privilege can exist without white people’s conscious knowledge of its presence and it helps to maintain the racial hierarchy in this country. The biggest problem with white privilege is the invisibility it maintains to those who benefit from it most. The inability to recognize that many of the advantages whites hold are a direct result of the disadvantages of other people, contributes to the unwillingness of white people, even those who are not overtly racist, to recognize their part in maintaining and benefiting from white supremacy.
White privilege teaches whites that only one’s own standards and opinions are accurate to the exclusion of all other standards and opinions. Because Whites generally view their beliefs and actions as normative and neutral, they fail to identify Whiteness as a racial identity and do not realize they are racialized as well. Though Whites are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, average, and ideal, their perspective is not “objective” or neutral. By not confronting their privilege, Whites as the racially dominant group maintain that dominance.