un(Fair) Skinned

I’m white.

Fair skinned (or so society tells me).

Very pale.

And very very privileged.

I can stroll down the street or into a restaurant and be quite certain others will respond kindly towards me. I never fear or worry in the slightest about law enforcement. Magazines, movies, and newspapers are plastered with images of people who look like I do. I have never been asked to speak on behalf of my entire race. I can walk around unaware of my color and reap the undeserved benefits and entitlements that come along with my white privilege. I could also choose to fight against systemic racism one day and completely ignore it the next because I am not disadvantaged by it personally. It doesn’t affect my daily life. But I affect it. Daily. The white privilege woven into my every day life allows me to collect unearned advantages and opportunities at the expense of others.

Is my white skin really fair skin?

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We’ve gotten to a point where in certain situations the color of our skin speaks louder than the words that come out of our mouth. It’s awful. It’s frustrating. It’s downright sickening. It’s the system we have been born into. Our society is saturated in white privilege. Oppression comes based upon skin color. Before a word is spoken, minds are made up about who people are based on appearance alone. Culture screams that the color of your skin determines your place. My white skin is not fair skin. It gives me an unfair advantage that grants me unearned freedoms, unearned benefits, and unearned exemptions in our society.

I’ve heard a number of people say that they “don’t see color” or are “colorblind” when it comes to discussions about race and privilege. And it’s always white people who are making these claims. Go figure. What they mean to say is they don’t consider themselves racist and don’t see themselves as prejudiced against people of color. However, it’s statements like “I don’t see color” that reek of white privilege. Because with that declaration people are actually discounting racism all together, not helping to solve it. Ignoring color just further promotes ignorance. As James Baldwin said, “To be white in America means not having to think about it.” Most whites are in denial about their participation in and perpetuation of racism. Myself included. While I try to be aware, I know there are still hidden ways that I am contributing to this system of oppression without realizing it. Blindly going about our lives silently, and often unknowingly, oppressing other races is what has to change.

Not seeing color also strips people of their identity. Our differences are there to be seen and celebrated. I believe there is significant purpose in each of our ethnicity for the glory of God and expansion of His kingdom. Every human was created equal in worth, value, and dignity. I believe God has made us all uniquely in His image and it is the diversity of humanity that makes it so beautiful.

Until people of privilege feel compelled to make this problem of privilege their own problem and do something about it, systemic racism won’t end. We need to consciously have the eyes to see how our white privilege is affecting the lives around us. Until the issue is acknowledged and faced head on, no change will be made. Now whites, there is no need to get defensive. No need to despise your own race (that point about ethnicity being purposeful applies to you too). And even if you feel your blood boiling at the effects of your privilege, you can’t go pushing your way into every discussion on the topic and start dominating conversation like you have all the answers (yikes, that would just be another manifestation of white privilege… eyy yi yi).

We must become students.

We must become listeners and learners.

We have to become conscious and aware of the ways we are contributing to the system of oppression and disrupt these social norms when we see them. And if you don’t think you are contributing, you are. I’m not accusing you of being racist; I’m saying the problem of racism is much bigger than you and me. It has become institutionalized and ingrained so deeply into every aspect of our society. We have been trained to not see and simply overlook the ways we whites participate in systemic racism. So we actively have to learn to recognize the effects of our privilege. And by interrupting cultural norms we make the invisible visible.

Break the silence. And with that, a dialogue has to start. It is long overdo. The time was decades ago for the conversation to begin between whites and people of color. Rather than assuming we know all the answers, we listen. We listen to the voices of the minorities who have been kicked around because of our privilege. We listen to the experiences of those who have received unearned disadvantages because of white privilege. We educate ourselves. We remain learners, admitting we will never know all the answers. Instead of turning away or stepping back, we lean into the conversation as we humbly ask, tell me more.

– Riley Loftus

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