And by this, I do not mean that I will be investing in a helmet, white hood or tiki torch any time in the foreseeable future. But I was in a conversation with a bunch of white folks on Facebook yesterday about our emerging understanding of our white privilege when one gentleman commented that he had been at lunch with a friend, a Person of Color, a few days before. His friend had asked him to stop referring to his white privilege because privilege implied something earned. He said that what we whites enjoy is not privilege. It is supremacy.
Yeah no, I know. That shoe is ugly and uncomfortable. But does it fit?
The definition of privilege is “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.”
The definition of supremacy is “the state or condition of being superior to all others in authority, power or status.”
But here’s the thing. To me (admittedly a white, upper middle class, college educated, heterosexual woman) privilege is not earned and supremacy (or the assumption thereof) is a choice.
Privilege says that I don’t have to think about Confederate statues and flags as anything other than statues and flags.
Supremacy is when I choose to believe that it is my right to erect and maintain these totems with flagrant disregard for their shameful history and the pain these reminders may bring out in others.
Privilege says that I get to disregard the speed limit with the confidence that if I do get stopped, I will be treated with respect, given the benefit of the doubt and, most likely, let off with a warning.
Supremacy is when I choose to believe that I am entitled to this treatment, that others can be treated differently and that they must have done something to deserve the treatment the received.
Privilege means that I can walk into a department store in smelly gym clothes with the expectation that I will still receive attention and be regarded as if I belong there.
Supremacy is if I wonder why those people are here.
Privilege means that I will be given every opportunity to succeed in a job, my failings will be explained away and less than my best effort will be acceptable.
Supremacy is when I decide that my mediocrity is better than someone else’s excellence.
Privilege is when the Out of Order sign on the bathroom door in the service station is removed when I say I have to pee.
Supremacy is when I refuse to use that bathroom if someone not like me just walked out.
Through privilege, I am granted rights, advantages and immunity that I have not earned, that sometimes I don’t deserve and that I have not asked for, solely based on the happy accident of my birth and how I look.
But I can’t change my privilege any more than I can change the color of my skin or the fact that George Washington had a set of dentures made from slave’s teeth.
What I can do is humbly accept the label of supremacy if that is how others choose to see my privilege, while at the same time rejecting the actual state or condition of being superior to all others. I can choose modesty and gratitude and witness. I can choose reconciliation and apology. I can shelter and carry and support.
Most of all, I can wear my privilege self-consciously. Uneasily. I can let it chafe a little and make sure that I never allow it to fit too comfortably. At least not until I can help find a way to make it one size fits all.