Garrett Buras, 19-year-old Southeastern student watched the 87th Academy Awards on Feb. 22, 2015, eager to see which movies and stars were going to take the big wins for the night. During the show, he logged into Twitter to see what other Oscar viewers Tweeted. Under one Tweet, he saw a hashtag that struck him: #WHITEPRIVILEGE. He was oblivious to the phrase.
A poll conducted on Twitter showed that 85 percent of 67 participants believed that white people have privileges which other racial and ethnic groups such as African Americans, Latinos and Asians. On the other hand, 51 percent of 49 participants voted that some white people do and some white people do not understand white privilege.
Millennial’s definition of white privilege is often described by examples. Ross Quinn, senior at NOCCA, is a Caucasian man who understands white privilege. He first became aware of it in theater. “I have been up against people of color who are actors. We could have equal amount of training and ability and being good for the part.” Quinn said. “But because the director was white, it probably just registered to them that I was better. We live in a world where white people and white culture are on a higher pedestal.”
Jesslyn Mitchell, a 24-year-old from Corona, California said racial advantage’s in society come from a specific ethnic group’s domination in a community.
“Privilege is being a part of the major culture, and always having your culture validated,” Mitchell said.
Even though some didn’t, Mitchell understood the white privilege trend on Twitter. “As black people, we have to know white culture and black culture to survive. They do not have to know those things for us.”
White privilege comes from the nation’s laws that were built to favor Caucasian people over black people, said Mitchell.
“From the top down the social structure, it has been to the benefit of white people, not black folks,” Mitchell said. “When it comes to the oppression of black people, that was due to policies like Jim Crow.”
According to Kate Kokontis, who dissertated Critical Race Theory in America, defining white privilege is simply having everyday advantages.
“You can walk down the street without being followed by cops, you can buy band aids in the store that are “flesh colored” and match your skin.” Kokontis said.
“There are things that ween from the consequences from assuming whiteness as a uniform normal thing.” The scholar added that this is the result of previous history in America. “They are things that come from the power structures that remain in place as a result of historical systems of capitalism, slavery, and colonialism.” she said.
However, though Black Twitter ranted about the white privilege they see in the media, some millennials believed that black people also have privileges. Forty-eight percent of 40 people voted on a Twitter poll that black people also are privileged. Arguments come up that affirmative action is one of these privileges. Yet, Derek Rankins, a member of the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond said this was not the case. “We need jobs, that’s not a privilege. How else can people feed their families?” Rankins said.
In order to understand white privilege, one must understand racism, he added. Rankins studied African American Diaspora at Tulane University. Rankins’s work with the People’s Institute helps institutions understand institutional racism and racial division in America. He found that people have the wrong concept of what racism means. “Some people believe racism is feelings and emotions. The feelings and emotions has nothing to do with racism,” Rankins said. “This is about systems and institutions that have determined us to a point that we know for every three African American men, one will have a relationship with the criminal justice system.”
Baby Boomers, millennial’s grandparents, lived through a segregated America. The issues that they faced during the Civil Rights era, the millennial generation faces though because white superiority has been reinforced, Mitchell said. “Our generation’s Emitt Till was Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland,” she said. “Black bodies are being killed and no one is being held accountable for it.”
Though the Civil Rights Movement ended 49 years ago, Buras, Southeastern sophomore, said we have come far in racism in America, but we have much further to go.
“There are people who are racists and they don’t think they are. They will be nice and friendly, but in their heart, they have prejudice in their heart,” Buras said. “There will always be some evil in this world.”
Another Twitter poll determined that 51 percent of 49 people voted that some white people do and some white people do not understand white privilege.
After learning more about #Whiteprivilege and #Oscarsowhite, Buras said the entertainment industry, over the last year, successfully worked on integration. “Through this year’s Oscars, we have more black actors, directors, and producers, which goes to show that there is improvement,” he said.
Quinn also recognized the entertainment industry’s push for integration and white’s awakening to comprehend their privileges. “There has been Hamilton (the musical), it is about diversity and calling out white privilege and calling out people who don’t get this opportunity.” Quin said. “Things like Hamilton and Get Out are widely popular among people of color and white people.”
However, Mitchell agrees that the industry may be making moves, but she does not want to give them too much credit. “The entertainment industry is just feeding the culture, in order to feed their own pockets,” she said. Social media was the engine she believed unmasks the idea of racism and white privilege to people. “Social media allows us to connect to people we would not have connected with,” Mitchell said. “People are starting to learn the racial social constructs of this society.”
Some people may be oblivious to it, but when it comes to older generations, we should not discredit their understanding of white privilege, Kokontis said. “The academic formations in colleges and universities had modes of critique that were initially a product of the 60’s and 70’s, attending to the root of systems of where systems of oppression and power began,” she said. “Things like black studies and women studies came into universities at a point in time. But it is in media, in the blog sphere, and talk shows, they pick up a critique of racism and misogyny.” With the new Trump Administration in office, Kokontis said that we are in a terrifying moment of overt racism.
“I feel anxious and frightened about the place that we are in. Yet it has mobilized a level of opposition that we have not seen on this kind of scale, in my lifetime, which is a good thing,” she said.
Working away from racism and white privilege may involve better education, Quinn said. “Education plays a big part… half of what we learn comes from school and the other half comes from our family.”
Quinn’s credited his high school education for teaching him about the lack of opportunity his minority peers have. “Coming to NOCCA has made me open my eyes to other people’s situation. There are people have to have night jobs to support their family and then come to school. That is something I never have to experience,” Quinn said,
“Being aware of other peoples ‘experiences make me realize my own privilege and aware of all the opportunities that a lot of other people don’t get to have.”
Rankins believes there is a way for this generation to close the gap on white privilege.
“Racism can be undone through community organizing. If we do not organize, nothing will change,” he said.