White but Not Privileged: How to Understand What Is Going On Right Now

I had an unusual upbringing. My parents were both mentally ill, homeless, and addicted to drugs. My siblings and I slept in a three drawer dresser (one drawer for each of us) in the back of a van my parents drove up and down the country. When my dad got too violent, maybe taking a knife to my mother, maybe tying her up and striking her, we would stay in a women’s shelter or a homeless shelter. Not for too long, though, because there was a constant need to outrun Social Services and the police.

The psychotic, dangerous road trips would always end with my father in jail, my mother in a mental institution, and my siblings and me in group homes or foster homes. These bastions had their own drawbacks, namely physical, sexual, and verbal abuse, but they were a short reprieve from hunger and homelessness.

Notably, I lived in a condemned house in Detroit in a neighborhood called 7 Mile in the 1990s. I have greeted a box of government cheese with tears of relief.

I have accepted that I would die from exposure to the elements, hunger, or violence more times than I can count, not fully understanding to this day how I am still alive. I have spent nights in homeless shelters, days on the streets, slept on snow-covered city benches and in abandoned buildings, feared for my life, and prayed to die instead of living another day in undignified hardship.

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I got this completely random text message from my sister as I was writing this post.

There is not a person on this planet that could call my life easy so believe me when I say:

if I can understand white privilege, so can you.

If you rail against the idea that you don’t benefit from white privilege because you have had a tough go of it, I’m sure that you have.

Poverty is not uncommon in this country. Mental illness is not uncommon in this country. Trauma, hardship, and struggle are a part of every person’s life. White people who resent being called privileged: I get it.

You may look at your life with its abundant struggles and genuine hardships (poverty, mental illness, trauma) and become angry at the audacity of the media or your “woke” friends or people of color calling you privileged.

But here’s the thing: you don’t have to have a charmed life to benefit from white privilege.

One to one, you, as a white person, may have it much worse than say, your Black neighbor.

Perhaps your Black neighbor went to private school and had two loving parents with stable jobs. All the while your parents split up, your dad drank too much, and you were sexually abused. Maybe your Black neighbor went to college, became a doctor, and married the man of her dreams. You had to go right into the workforce, maybe even dropping out of high school to get out of your abusive situation. You’ve been unlucky in love, unlucky in life. How could you possibly be privileged and not your neighbor?

This is what trips up a lot of white people when it comes to understanding white privilege.

You must first understand that the concept of white privilege doesn’t take anything from your experiences.

White privilege in no way means you had an easy life, were given everything, were born with a silver spoon in your mouth.

It says the struggles you had were not made harder by the color of your skin. 

I was a victim of violence, but not because of my skin color.

I was a victim of poverty, but not because of my skin color.

I was able to get a job, get housing, communicate with the police, and get medical treatment and the color of my skin specifically did not make those things harder.

The above is not the case for Black people in this country.

I would go a step farther and say white privilege means your own personal hardships weren’t the same hardships of your parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and so on. I was raised in a van and spent every Christmas visiting my mom in insane asylums. My great grandparents were middle class and had perfectly average Christmases.

But the parents and grandparents of Black people in this country have experienced a system that has not benefited and advanced them for hundreds of years. Racial inequality rages persistently, relentlessly through the decades. They do not have the privilege your children or their children have to outgrow it. The march of time does not take them farther from the problems of their ancestors, and when time will not march for them, they have to march for themselves.

There is a self-absorption that often comes from surviving devastation.

An inability to look beyond yourself and your problems because they are so hard, so time-consuming, so all-encompassing. “Don’t call me privileged just because I’m white,” is the cry of a person who can’t see outside of their own struggle (and ironically, their own privilege).

Fighting for my survival in no uncertain terms has sharpened an instinct that says “I have to take care of me and mine and the rest of the world can burn.” But when the rest of the world does, in fact, start to burn, look up and realize:

it’s not about you or me.

This is not about my past or yours or how many times life has been unfair to you or to me. This is a movement that exists in its own right. Your perception of your struggles being diminished is just that: a perception. It does not take priority over the struggles of the hurting and disenfranchised millions in this country.

Please donate to the George Floyd Memorial fund. Among other things, a portion of this fund goes to the Estate of George Floyd for the benefit and care of his children and their education.


52 thoughts on “White but Not Privileged: How to Understand What Is Going On Right Now

  1. Amazing and heartfelt post. Well said. I am so sorry for what you endured as a child, and it’s inspiring that you are so resilient, open-minded and compassionate. Thank you for sharing, and for spreading awareness ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My heart goes out to the child in you and the hardships she suffered.
    My mind commends the strong woman you became despite them.
    This is a beautifully written and heartfelt post.
    Thanks for sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is an awesome post. Im black and fortunate in many way. Ive always struggled to find ways to articulate white privileged to my white friends less fortunate than me. this is an amazing reference for that!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Well said! So so important right now! The world needs more understanding. I’m white British and could never understand what it’s like but I’m trying my best to educate myself and stand up with you. I will use my white privilege for good! xx

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Since you stopped by my neighborhood, I thought I’d visit yours! GREAT post. First off…so sorry for all the hardship you went through–and it does indeed sound like you made it THROUGH it to be here to tell your story. Secondly…you use your story brilliantly to illustrate what exactly white privilege is for those who continue to do an apples to apples comparison.
    Thanks for stopping by–I’m glad to “meet” you!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for taking the time to share your meaning of white privilege. I spent a couple hours on google last night looking up not only the definition of privilege but also white privilege and I have to tell you that you have done a better job of explaining the term than anything else I found.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Reblogged this on SPO_OKY and commented:
    If you want to educate yourself about white privilege then you should read this. If you read it and you still don’t get it then maybe you never will. Personally, I understood what it meant before I read this, but this post just clarified everything for me.

    Black Lives Matter!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh wow, what an incredible post. Thank you very much for sharing, especially the hard parts of your life. You sound so strong and have learned from your experiences. So compassionate and level-headed. May this issue get finally resolved.


  9. Excellent, really people don’t realize what this is all about. It is being afraid to live your life because of the color of your skin. While there are people like you that have lived through horrendous times, it was not made more difficult because they were white. Thank you for giving voice to that.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This.

    Beautiful. Succinct. Heartfelt. Gut-wrenching.

    You speak from a place of truth.

    It says the struggles you had were not made harder by the color of your skin.

    I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else put it so clearly or perfectly. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Good god, girl! Save a little wisdom, reason, and perspective for the rest of us, would ya? I mean, why would Tom write anything about this when you have said it all? In fact, I think I’ll just click “share” every time I need to express the truth on this.

    In fact, I just did.

    Like everyone else here said, this is it. The one.

    Thank you, I guess is all I’ve got. Thank you. ❤️

    Liked by 3 people

  12. White folks must pay for the sins of their fathers until the evidence of those sins has been completely eradicated. We must accept this burden until privilege is equalized until there is no longer privilege.
    Unfortunately, I believe that this process will take more generations than any of us can spare.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I admire you. I have a hard time just accepting skin color denotes a fear factor… what about just ‘being a female’ – in custody or on a vacant street after your 3am shift… a group of three men approach you (since we have to go there, 3 MEN of ANY race.) Life isn’t fair. In fact life is fucking unfair… for the poor, weak, ill, mentally ill… for children, sexual abuse, physical abuse, food shortages! Life is unfair! The elderly are treated like shit in this country… what about life just being so damn unfair… now we are the judge, jury, and prosecutor… and since we are, burning down innocent people’s businesses, this is OK? (Well, they have insurance… that’s bullshit.) None of this…NONE OF IT is due to a privilege of any sort… this is due to the fact that life is unfair, and not once has anyone brought up the wrongs done to many Americans. ‘We’ has been replaced by ‘they.’ So damn sad.


  14. Every single word! And I’ve done this “I have greeted a box of government cheese with tears of relief.” My sister and I were just talking about how we survived last weekend. This post❤️ And yes, there are still unearned privileges that come with being white even though we grew up poor. People assumed I came from money because I have a fancy last name. This fancy name was homeless but ‘they’ didn’t know that. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. WOW, please excuse the language, but you have been through hell and back a few times. I understand being victim to abuse. I do not talk about this on my blog because too many people I know read it, but I was both physically and sexually abused as a child. My mother being an alcoholic and addicted to any drug she did was in a relationship with a terrible man. We were with him from age 2 to 11 and these were the worst years of my life. I do try believing that what they put me through as a child made me the strong person I am today, but still feel angry when I think about those years. My mother has also suffered from mental issues that continue to this day. I remember a few years ago when she was very drunk, she came at me with a knife. The saving grace was there were already cops there and caught her before she hurt me.
    I do find what is going on in the country upsetting and unnecessary. The police thinking it is perfectly fine to kill unarmed and innocent black people is wrong on so many levels. I only wish people could be treated equally and no one would have to deal with any kind of violence. Living through abuse definitely keeps us on guard and trusting no one at all.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Alyssa, I’m right there with you ( 2-11 were the worst years of my life) Its a strange thing connecting with people who have shared that same taste of hell, and I love to see when it creates a sensitive creative wise soul like yourself. Thank God we aren’t kids anymore.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It is crazy to know there are many others out there that went through the hell we did, but I am so sorry you did. Sometimes I believe that the harder life was, the stronger we are in the present and the future. I am so glad childhood is far in the past because I wouldn’t want to relieve any of the it. I hear other people talk about their childhood and how much they enjoyed it and all I can say that is good for them and I am happy others did have a good childhood.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. What a powerful piece on understanding white privilege. This is an argument that comes up over and over again and all I can say is you’re absolutely right. If you understand white privilege even after surviving the childhood you had then everyone should be able to grasp it. Thank you for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

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