Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself: Understanding White Privilege

If one feels as if they have certain entitlements that allow that certain individual a higher status, it’s privilege. If one feels the same way while not belonging to a specific ethnic group (for instance, Black, Hispanic, or Asian,) then that’s something called White privilege.

If the individual is White, he’s born with it. He is born with the advantage of a society that clearly recognizes and accepts him in every facet of his being—his being a White male. His name is less likely to be Tyreke. His hair is less likely to nap up. His reputation is less likely to be smeared by a racial profiling.

His person is less likely to be subject to discrimination.

So, our subject, White male Tanner, decides to use this to his advantage in life. He enjoys this entitlement to the land, the Earth, to everyone who is not White male Tanner. How does White male Tanner express his privilege? Let’s go through a day in his life.

White male Tanner is at school. He has an Advanced Placement American History course that he signed up for to learn more about the ‘good ole days.’


This is privilege. There were hardly any ‘good ole days’ in America for poor Chinese forced there to work in dangerous mines, for African slaves and their Black descendents, for Chicanos or Ecuadorians or Latinas.

White male Tanner argues that it was tough cookies on Plymouth Rock when no one could harvest, that it wasn’t a walk in the park when white families were huddled together in one room tenements in New York.

This is privilege.

White male Tanner is allowed to take his Calculus test at a later date, because he has successfully convinced the new teacher of fake Boy Scout meetings, a false service with his youth group, and an impending baseball game. The boy behind him had 1 hour of sleep—at the most—studying for all of his A.P. classes, struggling in his quest to find a part-time job as well as a mountain high stack of scholarship applications to fill out. He calmly asks the teacher for an extension after White male Tanner.

The teacher takes the boy out into the hall and scolds him. Being lazy isn’t a reason to forego a test. Start focusing on your education, God knows you need it. It’s probably hard to live with a welfare queen for a mother and all of your family fresh off the boat but if you people work so hard on lawns, I don’t understand why you can’t work hard on your test. Look at (White male) Tanner. He needs this. He’s trying. He deserves it. ¿Comprende, muchacho?

White male Tanner can’t even believe it. Why can’t Manuel just try harder?

This is privilege.

He is not White male Tanner. He is not even Latino—He is Filipino. (He is not White male Tanner.)

This is white privilege.

Author James Baldwin once said, “Being white means never having to think about it.”

And it’s true.

White male Tanner has never been told to talk to his social worker (regardless of whether or not he has one.) White male Tanner has never been stopped by the police walking down the road with a group of his best friends. White male Tanner has never been yelled at, slowly, as if he can’t comprehend Basic English. White male Tanner has never been asked if he was sure he had the right class when he walked into A.P. American History.

White male Tanner has never had to worry about things like that. He has never been taught to do so.

In modern society, white privilege is everywhere. Here are some examples from a Peggy McIntosh article, Questions to Consider:

  • I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
  • I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
  • When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization”, I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
  • I can swear, or dress in second-hand clothes or not answer letters without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.
  • I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.
  • I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color, who constitute the worlds’ majority, without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.

White privilege is there when you shop for bandages or tights or makeup. The ‘nude’ shades more or less resemble pink fair skin. The ‘flesh color’ nylons are a “pretty” pale peach.

White privilege is there when you open up a children’s nursery rhyme book and read about purity, “as white as snow.”

White privilege is there when you think of all the racial slurs for other racial groups and those for White people and only come up with ‘cracker’ (of which origins are derived from rich white people poking fun at the poor white people who could not afford to own slaves.)

White privilege is on your TV screens, in your classrooms,throughout magazines, around the corner, and maybe in your own home.

It’s time to end the blindness.

“First, people of color get tired of being placed in the position to teach

white people about racism. Second, white people often have access to and

credibility with other white people, based on our shared racial identity and family,

social, business, faith and organizational affiliations to which people of color are

not privy. Third, white people created white privilege and most of the strategies

that maintain it. So we have the lion’s share of responsibility for ending it. Finally,

it will take many people stepping up to eliminate racism and race-based privilege.

People who step up get marginalized and punished for doing so. We need to

work to have white people be among the waves of people who step up and stand

strong for racial equity. If enough of us do that, we are unstoppable.”

– Maggie Potapchuk, Doing the Work:

Unearthing Our Own White Privilege

Published by

kiki nicole

Kiki Nicole is a poet currently residing in Portland, OR. Their work has been featured on The Pulp Zine, Bitchtopia Magazine, and Voicemail Poems. Find more of their writing at

One thought on “Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself: Understanding White Privilege”

  1. A little too whiny……I was always taught to focus on what I’m doing, not to worry about what others are doing. Do the best YOU can, teach your friends and family your values. Teach them while they are young.

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