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Reflections of Privilege in a Global Crisis

Region IV-W
August 6, 2020 Ethan Sykes Ozarks Technical Community College

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) has directly affected over 4 million people in the United States and over 15 million worldwide as of August 5, 2020 (“Cases in the U.S, 2020”). We are seeing the impact on both micro and macro levels, including our education, economy, and daily interactions. In addition to the pandemic, the tolerance for police brutality and overt racism has reached its limit. People are crying out for justice and demanding acknowledgement for the hundreds of years of oppression and inequity ingrained in our systems.

This is a critical moment in our history because everyone is affected in some way by the virus. There is an opportunity to connect the feelings of being limited and powerless to help those who are privileged empathize with the challenges of those in oppressed groups, especially White, cis-gendered men. To be clear, the experiences held by people with privilege during the pandemic are in no way related to the experiences of those who are oppressed, but empathy can be a useful tool in starting the conversation.

Empathy can educate others and provide self-reflection on how people with privilege can support those who hold less privileges. There are multiple intersections of identities and where you may hold a certain amount of privilege in one identity, you might not have privilege in another. Many White people try to use this as an advantage to capitalize on their less privileged identity when seeking sympathy, but this does nothing except invalidate feelings and seize control over the conversation. Right now, the conversation focuses on people of color, specifically the Black and/or African American communities. COVID-19 has taken much from the world, but this will be a short dot on the timeline compared to the injustice of systematic racism that has plagued our society for generations. Take a moment to reflect how you can support the underrepresented groups who have consistently been limited, just as the pandemic has done with everyone.

How can White People Support People of Color?

If you identify as a White person, there are several things you can do to support people of color. The ideas presented are a reflection of my own experiences and my hope is that you are able to identify areas that relate to your life.

  1.      Recognize Your Privilege

As a White, heterosexual, cis-gender male myself, I recognize I have been afforded privileges that many have not and cannot begin to understand how covert and overt racism in our systems have affected people of color for generations. I do know there is data showing how people of color are affected differently with COVID-19. According to the CDC, there are many inequities in health that put underrepresented groups at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 including discrimination, access to proper healthcare, occupation, wealth gaps and housing. (“Health Equity”, 2020).  You can read more about these disparities on the CDC website here.

Don’t know where you stand with your privilege? There are many great resources to learn, but here is an article by Peggy McIntosh, entitled White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, to assist in your exploration of privilege.

  1.      Be Open to Education

As someone who is invested in social justice, there are many days where I feel like I am “woke”, but I am only deceiving myself if I believe I have arrived as a White ally. The truth is I often must fight my implicit bias that has been ingrained in me since childhood. Reading meaningful literature, listening to others, and seeking guidance to truly understand another experience frequently checks my privilege and reminds me I still have a long way to go.

There are many great publications that can start the conversation if you are looking to expand your knowledge or create a dialogue with your friends, family, or peers. Current popular literature includes:

  • “Of Course There Are Protests. The State Is Failing Black People,” by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor for the New York Times
  • “The Death of George Floyd, In Context,” by Jelani Cobb of The New Yorker

The COVID-19 pandemic is limiting many in-person interactions, but there are plenty of opportunities for virtual interactions. Starting an online book club or virtual discussions are a great way to reinforce learning and hold you accountable for further education.

  1.      Join the Fight, but don’t Overshadow People of Color

Be there to support your friends of color, but don’t take it upon yourself to be center stage; It is not about you. However, it is encouraged that you join the protest, advocate for rights, or interrupt racism when it is witnessed. Don’t know where to start? There are plenty of great local, regional, and national organizations to involve yourself with. These are a few national organizations the promote justice and advocacy for people of color:

Afraid to go out in person? There are plenty of ways to get involved, including donating to the cause, writing a blog, interrupting racism (online or in-person), or setting time to educate yourself. Find what works best for you and don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone occasionally.

  1.      Expand your Social Circle

When you look at your close circle of friends do you see diversity? It is true that we are attracted to people who are like us, but these homogenous relationships allow us to perpetuate ignorance and limit our worldview. Intentionally get to know others different than you and learn to admit your ignorance if you ask a wrong question or contribute to the micro-aggressions embedded in our society. Although the pandemic is making it hard to establish new connections, try reaching out to people you have already built relationships with.

However, please do not expect the person to be the voice of the oppressed group. Everyone has a different experience with their intersection of identities and being asked to constantly explain how something impacts them can lead to fatigue. Those in underrepresented groups, including people of color, do not owe you any explanation.

Closing Thoughts

According to some, the regulations mandated by the response to the COVID-19 pandemic have become the new form of oppression. Although it can be very uncomfortable to adhere to our new normal, I implore you to take this time to consider what is oppression. Use this information to start the journey of recognizing the privileges you hold and how you can be a better person in this global crisis.

It's okay, and it's expected, that White people will make mistakes as we uncover our implicit bias.  We need to give ourselves the space to make mistakes, not getting caught up in White fragility or White guilt. We need to continue engaging in the conversation. It doesn't serve people of color for us to be stuck here, and once again, centers our experience in the conversation about race. It is evident there is still plenty of work to do and it is on us to own our privilege and make this world a better place for all.

 

References

Cases in the U.S (2020, August). In Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html

Health Equity Considerations and Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups (2020, July 24). In Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

McIntosh, P. (1989). White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Retrieved from https://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/mcintosh.pdf