IS THIS WHAT IT’S LIKE … TO BE WHITE?

Everybody in the USA, and even other countries, knows what it’s like for white people in America. They have privileges, simply because they are white. Through a random act of nature, if they were born in America, and have “white” skin, there are things for which they automatically get privileges. The reason has nothing to do with their character, it usually has nothing to do with their education level, and at times it has nothing to do with their economic level. Of course, the richer they are, the more privileges they are afforded, but there are still some privileges they get just for being white.

If arrested for a crime, they are presumed innocent. At times, this presumption is put in place even if there is validated, documented and clear evidence that they have committed the crime. Sometimes, even with the most heinous of crimes, they may get just a slap on the wrist, admonished and released from jail.

If a white person walks into Saks Fifth Avenue, or Neiman Marcus or any of the higher end stores, the store clerks assume that they have the money to purchase something from that store. They assume that the white person is there to buy, not to steal.

White people are always treated deferentially by customer service people. It doesn’t matter if it’s at a restaurant, hotel, salon or airport ticket counter. This is even more true if the customer service person happens to be a person of color. Many of these representatives have bought into the fallacy that white people deserve more respect. Or, maybe they just believe they’ll get a bigger tip from the white man (or woman).

And, the scenario of “who gets the job” or “who gets the housing” has been played out so many times that the record has been broken and taped back together over and over again. We all know that particular story. If a white male applies for a job, and a black man of equal age, education and experience applies for that same job, who will get it? The same goes for housing. If a white family applies for an apartment and a black family of the same economic status applies for it, we all know that it will very likely go to the white family.

These and other scenarios have been repeated over and over countless times in America. They have been repeated so much that some of us think that’s the way of the world. Some believe that life is uniformly based on race all over the world.

Well, it isn’t. I just happen to know what it’s like to be white.

I know because I’m American. At home, in the good old USA, I’m African American. But, for most of the world, I’m American.

I did not choose to be born in America. It was simply fate. If it wasn’t fate, I could just have easily chosen to be born in Lebanon, or France, or Senegal. But I didn’t choose. My mother gave birth to me in Texas, USA and I had nothing to do with it.

However, in other parts of the world, I am treated “differently” and deferentially because I’m American. When I’m in France, or England or the Netherlands or Egypt, I am American. There is no subdivision, no categorizing or analysis of what kind of American I am. I am just American. Although I do occasionally get asked who I voted for – Hillary or Trump?

In Saudi Arabia, where I’ve worked for the past 3 or 4 years, the Saudis assume I am one of them. That is, until I speak. I was in a phone store looking to buy a local phone and SIM card. The clerks did not seem to notice that I was there. I could have easily not been in the store, as they barely looked at me. But, when I said “I’m looking for a new phone,” they almost tripped over each other trying to help me. It was a little like watching keystone cops, and I had to smile – inwardly, of course.

That must be what it’s like to be white in America.

In the Middle East, Americans are paid well. Why? Simply because they’re American. They could be incompetent, lazy, unproductive and even not fully qualified for a job. But, because they hold an American passport, they are paid a good salary. Because of this imbalance, I have had to deal with resentful teachers from other countries who hate me because I make more.

I did not choose to be born in America. I did not create the payroll hierarchy in the Middle East, but I benefit from it.

Is that what it’s like to be white in America?

I was recently in Amsterdam where I was bumped from my flight. The airline clerk gushed as he told me “I can reroute your flight anywhere. You have an American passport.” I reminded him that I was well aware of my passport, and irritated to be bumped from a flight. I got a hotel room, at a very nice 4 or 5 star hotel, free meals, transportation to and from the airport, and more cash than I had paid for my initial ticket.

That must be what it’s like to be white in America.

I didn’t earn these perks and privileges. I didn’t work for them. There was no extra effort on my part to get them. It is simply because I am an American. Something I had no control over, something I did not consciously choose to be.

Now, I wonder just how I’m supposed to react to being a privileged American. Am I supposed to speak up for those less privileged? Am I supposed to deny my privileges and insist that I be treated like everyone else? Or should I just accept that I am a privileged American and to hell with everyone else?

I’m not sure … but I do believe that this must be just a bit of what it’s like to be white in America.

 

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One thought on “IS THIS WHAT IT’S LIKE … TO BE WHITE?

  1. Interesting post. I think in a similar way when I travel outside of the country. I think, this must be what it’s like to be a black. For example, when I travel to Kenya and everyone stares at me, and I’m not allowed to go into certain areas because of the color of my skin (or because they assume I’m American). I get just a glimpse of what my brothers and sisters of a different color experience here in the states. Obviously not everything you wrote about happens to all white people, but it is fairly close I imagine. SES will shift some of that for sure, cultural context will Determine who gets looks. Like when I went and picked up my friends kiddo in North City St. Louis, I got some looks haha. I didn’t think, at that moment, this must be what it is like to be black. I just thought, This is a African American culture and I am the minority here. It was uncomfortable for sure and way outside of my everyday comforts. I imagine it was just as uncomfortable for everyone else who was starring at me as well.

    Like

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