“A fish in the sea doesn’t know it’s surrounded by water” parallels the issue of white privilege that surrounds white people. In a recent discussion between democratic candidates at Drake University, Hillary Clinton aimed to describe this phenomenon, although she missed the mark on accurately describing the “fish in the sea” comparison. (She quotes, “it is hard when you’re swimming in the ocean to know exactly what’s happening around you.) However, she does describe an instance of when she was 11 years old and first experienced white privilege (video below).
Although I would not call myself a Hillary supporter, I was impressed by her example–and especially the fact that it occurred at age eleven. As a 21 year old college senior, I am digging in to my own white privilege for the first time. Of course, I’ve been living in and benefiting from the societal phenomenon my whole life, but have been that fish in the sea that cannot acknowledge the substance around me. I am [finally] naming my Whiteness. As noted in “The Meaning of Whiteness” (Jackson, Shin, Wilson, 2000), racism has existed as a force against people of color. To name Whiteness is to acknowledge that it is a universal issue that impacts everyone.
The article also cites how whiteness is “a club we are enrolled in at birth.” If we are forced to be included, why don’t we talk about it? I return to Clinton’s example and ponder what would have happened if she was able to verbalize this event to her superiors at the time (teachers, parents, etc). The conversation that could have started could have sparked an intense cultural conversation. What if we all could have these conversations throughout school?
If we are born into racial “clubs,” why can’t we talk about them? Whiteness saturates our society. Whiteness controls, sets standards, and harms our culture. Countless scholarly literature on the subject exists, but we aren’t talking about it. If we begin to incorporate conversations about today’s racism (not the 20th Century racism that is breezed over in secondary schoolrooms), we can begin to tear down the institutions in place. But if we’re waiting until college, or like Mrs. Clinton, until we run for presidency, we are waiting too long. We’ve let Whiteness and its institutions grow and flourish, hushing those who want to talk about it. I do believe we’re at a pivotal point, where White Privilege is becoming an important social issue (in music, the news, politics) but conversations must start earlier.
“I had a lot of great experiences growing up…I never really knew what was or wasn’t part of the privilege, I just knew I was a lucky person.” Well Mrs. Clinton, it’s not just luck. Luck implies a benefit/good thing brought on by chance. White privilege is not something that happens by chance–white privilege is deeply entwined within our culture and even worse, is generally ignored/unnamed because we assume that racism does not effect white people.
On the contrary, white privilege is an invisible privilege that we must bring to light. We have to make it noticeable, big, bright colorful…whatever it takes, we must do it so that we as a society can begin to destruct this so-called “luck” and acknowledge the harmfulness of our invisible privilege.
-Annie Kate Swain