White privilege is unconscious

Published 5:57 pm Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Editor, The Smithfield Times:

One of the challenges with addressing white privilege and systemic racism is that for the most part they are unconscious processes.

For those of us who benefit from them and participate in them we are largely unaware. It is the way it has always been for us and it is difficult to address what we are unable to see.

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Two markers that something unconscious may be going on are the experience of feelings that seem bigger than the current situation would warrant and/or defensiveness. A big emotional reaction, with or without the internal buildup of pressure to do something, can indicate there is more going on than the present situation. If I can contain that feeling without acting it out, I might get information about what else was going on.

Research has shown the unconscious nature of some situations. When Asian and Black applicants “whitened” their applications, they were twice as likely to get interviews than minority applicants who revealed their race. The number of women in orchestras went up if musicians auditioned behind a screen so the musician’s sex was concealed, revealing an unconscious bias that men were better.

By Googling “implicit bias test,” Harvard’s implicit bias tests can be accessed and taken. They come with a statement that the participant might have difficulty with the results, which are supported by research done at several other institutions of higher learning, including the University of Virginia.

It has been helpful to listen to people who are on the receiving end to get a clearer picture. How can I tolerate my feelings as I explore my benefits of white privilege and get a clearer understanding of how “my benefits” play out in the community at large? How can I dismantle my participation in systems that benefit whites over others because we are the ones who set up the systems with ourselves in mind?

I have work to do.


Jo Weaver