I had heard a lot about straight white male privilege, and I guess made sense to me to some extent, but I don’t think I realised how pervasive it is. That is, until it’s staring at me right in the face.
I’m chatting with a couple of guys at a hostel in Canada. One, a Spanish gay guy, not particularly good looking or bad looking. The other, a straight white male, good looking and built. They both recount their experiences of hitch hiking. The Spanish guy? Couldn’t get a ride for an hour. The white guy? Got three rides in a row, all without waiting more than five minutes.
As I talk further with the good looking white guy, I begin to notice how fortunate he is. Not only does he have a fantastic time wherever he travels, meeting great people, but he has extremely picky tastes in women, yet still manages to pull in most places.
I’m at brunch with a black guy I met in New York. I ask him about Black Lives Matter.
“Black guys are getting shot by police for almost no reason.” I see he’s frustrated. He explains how black people don’t have a voice, and how from the top down, the government or police or whoever is in control is trying to keep poor black communities poor and marginalised.
He tells me of the crack epidemic – how just 30 years ago, crack was supplied by authorities to black communities, and then the police came down hard on crack usage.
“It’s institutionalised,” he exclaims.
“Sometimes I wish I was gay,” my attractive white male friend jokes. “Women are so difficult… You can’t be direct with them.”
Here’s where I stop him. “Trust me, you don’t wish you were gay,” I tell him. It makes me think. If I ever had a partner and kids, how would we travel? There would be so many places in the world where we would be persecuted for just being a gay couple, let alone a family.
He retracts. “Okay, I never thought of that. Maybe I don’t wish I was gay.”
I tell him how incredibly lucky he is. “Only a guy like you can be as picky as you are – because you’re a good looking, nice, straight, white man.” I tell him he’s lucky to have the genes he has and to be born where he was.
My black friend tells me how he’s been stopped and questioned just for just walking home late at night. He tells me how traditionally black schools never gave its students the chance to escape their cycle of low wealth and crime.
“Low income areas pay less taxes, and its those taxes that fund its schools,” he explains.
“Wait, so richer ares have schools that are funded better?” I almost couldn’t believe it. But it’s true.
But on top of that, how do you get good teachers into tough schools? And since there’s no real standardised syllabus that the teachers need to adhere to, teachers at rougher schools don’t have all that much incentive to teach.
I’m in shock that such a prominent country could have such major issues. “That’s fucked.”
I can see my charming Adonis of a friend thinking through how lucky he might actually be. He then reminds me as well to not play victim here – we’re both privileged.
“Look, you have the means to travel,” he says. We both grew up not only in developed countries and both have university degrees, but we both grew up with stable families.
“What do you mean by a stable family?” I ask.
“Both your parents were there,” he explains. Even in developed countries, so many kids come from families where one or both parents just weren’t ever there for their kids. And it might not define them and it doesn’t impact everyone in the same way, but it is a privilege that we both have.
“Hey, white guy!” my marginalised friend calls out to someone he knows but forgot his name.
“Imagine if I did that to you,” I retort. “Hey, black guy!”
He laughs. “Yeah you can’t do that.”
This makes me think. Yes, there is white privilege, but there’s also a double standard when it comes to race. It makes me think of when I’m trying to identify a person to someone else, and I consciously avoid mentioning their race even though I know it’s one of the easiest ways for someone to know who I’m talking about. Yes, race doesn’t define us, but if it’s just to help bring a person to mind, why is it wrong to say “the Asian guy”?
I’m definitely not a straight white male. But I still have my own privileges. And I need to remember that and keep myself in check.
But here’s to a Star Trek-ish future where gender, race and sexually really just don’t matter anymore.