White privilege can be a controversial topic. After all, The Chat Connection is all about discussing and breaking falsely labeled taboos, stigmas, and misconceptions, one chat at a time!
Unfortunately, racial discrimination is real, and it happens everywhere and every minute of each day. And while often brought up in conversations around racism and discrimination, not all of us fully comprehend the concept of ‘’white privilege’’ and what it implies.
That’s why today, we’re going to discuss racial discrimination and the trauma associated with it from my perspective as a black woman. And to get a broader understanding of the issue, we’ll also get the perspective of Alex Ray, founder of Alex Ray Coaching and host of the Becoming Brave & The Queer Confidence podcast, about living in America as a white man and having white privilege.
Alex’s First Introduction to Police
Alex never really had a conversation about how to behave with a police officer with his parents as a kid, but he was always respectful to the police. His next-door neighbor’s son was a black police officer. As a result, Alex grew up thinking that anyone could be a police officer and was not aware of white privilege during police encounters. Sure, when he took his driving license, he was given some tips on what to do if police were pulling him over and was told to always be polite and calm, but that was pretty much it. Now that he drives, he naturally gets pulled over every now and then. And whenever that happens, he stresses, wondering what rule he has broken and whether he will be in trouble for it. Most people do, right?
However, for a person of color, the question that comes to mind in this type of situation isn’t whether you’ve been speeding or driving with a broken light. No, in this type of situation, you wonder what they’re going to try to blame you for something even if you haven’t done anything wrong! Indeed, all black people look alike is not just a sentence, it’s a reality as some law enforcement agents (along with some people in the community in general) automatically assume the worst based on skin color. Unfortunately, if you belong to the black community, you’re guilty until proven innocent and not the other way around.
When Alex Became Fully Aware of His White Privilege
One day, two weeks before the dramatic George Floyd incident happened, and at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, Alex was on Facebook Live chatting to his audience while walking down the street. He wasn’t wearing a mask as this was the early days of the pandemic, and wearing a mask wasn’t so prevalent then. A police car drove past him, slowed down, and pulled into a nearby street. Alex felt like he was being watched and wondered if not wearing a mask could be the reason the car had stopped in front of him. The police officer came out of his car, walked up to him, and asked for his ID. He explained he was looking for someone, and Alex was matching the description. What is important to note in this situation is that the police officer went out of his way to explain to Alex why he needed to see his ID. Alex wasn’t carrying any ID, so he asked whether he could show the officer his Facebook page instead, and the apologizing officer agreed (yes, that’s crazy!).
As the situation unfolded, Alex realized that he was being treated with respect, and this wouldn’t have been the case if he was black, especially when not being able to provide any ID.
How did he become aware of it, you ask?
One of Alex’s friends, who happens to be a black female, had been in a similar situation in the past and was treated in a completely different way. As a result, Alex was very aware, at that time, of the way police officers treated people of color. Having had this conversation with someone from the black community before helped him realize he was being treated totally differently in almost the exact same scenario.
Alex admits that he became fully aware of these double standards this year during this police encounter. After all, how would he have known before? Unless you experience it or know people who regularly experience racial discrimination and discuss the matter with them, getting to see things from their perspective, racial discrimination is not a priority because it’s not your reality. And while the dynamic coach had heard about the concept of white privilege before, he had never really gone through an experience that would make him realize in the moment that he, indeed, had white privilege.
Sure, Alex’s experience has helped him acknowledge the very existence of white privilege. Yet, as a white man, he admits that he still probably doesn’t entirely grasp the magnitude of the issue.
Applying for a Job as a White Man vs. a Black Woman
When Alex was looking for a job in a restaurant, he didn’t think twice about it. He entered a restaurant and told the manager he was looking for a job (yep, nothing scares Alex). He was told to submit his application online. When filling in the application, he was thinking about how much he wanted the job and how he was going to do everything he could to get it. Sure, he doubted his skills and abilities to get the job because of his lack of experience, but he did it anyway. After submitting his application, he was called in for training and was told by one of the employees that the place was too busy on that day for them to do any training. Note that poor Alex had been waiting there for 30 minutes (they didn’t even offer him any food!). He decided to go to another place he had applied to, fully dressed, ready to work, and was hired on the spot as the manager was impressed by the fact that he was already dressed for work (way to go, Alex!). All in all, he describes the whole experience as pretty simple and easy.
Sadly enough, the experience isn’t always as smooth for people of color. Indeed, as a black person, the application process doesn’t start with questioning your experience and skills. It starts with questioning your very name! Yep, your name can give away the fact that you’re black, and unfortunately, that doesn’t give you an edge — quite the opposite. As a result, some people use their middle name as their first name if it is more ‘’white-approved’’ to have a chance to go through the process, trying to ‘’hide’’ their blackness. True story! Then comes the part in the application process about your race, another real bummer... You start wondering whether you’re going to be given the same opportunity, salary, etc., if you’re honest.
And if you’re called in for the interview, the concern is not how you look in the attire. The concern becomes more about anything that has to do with the real you. It can be something as trivial as your hair, for instance. Indeed, hair that isn’t straight and sleek can be misconstrued as unprofessional to some people. As a result, if you walk into a job interview wearing an afro or dreadlocks, you’ll be wondering whether this could be an issue.
As you’re probably starting to understand, everything that makes you a black person, such as your hair, your name, etc., can become a major problem, and you always have to think about it. Indeed, when you’re a black person going in for an interview, you have no idea what kind of bias you’re going to encounter with the interviewer, the company, or the employees, and this can prove emotionally challenging.
Then, if you’re lucky enough to get the job, you might have to deal with racism and discrimination in the workplace daily. And this happens no matter your title and position, whether you’re a celebrity, an astronaut, a doctor, or a receptionist. Black becomes your only title.
Knowledge is Power
The truth is people who don’t experience racial discrimination can be naive and not see the problem because it is not part of their reality. If you found yourself in Alex’s shoes before his encounter with the police, know that nowadays, there are plenty of resources available for you to learn about white privilege, racial discrimination, and any other important social issues for that matter. I encourage you to listen to podcasts (including The Chat Connection of course!), read, and inform yourself rather than stay in a naive space. And while researching these topics, try to always keep an open mind and enjoy the learning journey ;) By researching and learning about these issues, you too, have the power to help break falsely labeled taboos, stigmas, misconceptions, and biases!