The benefits of unravelling white privilege

What are the benefits of unravelling our own white privilege? I believe that there are many. The most obvious would be the ultimate elimination of racial inequality. Clearly, this would benefit society at large. But there are also personal benefits too. In this article, I’ll discuss both the societal and personal benefits of undoing white privilege.

Unravelling white privilege can be hard work. It can be embarrassing, awkward and uncomfortable. Seeing ourselves in a different light can be challenging. Accepting that we’re not perfect can be difficult.

So, why should we do it? Why should we go through these awkward and uncomfortable moments? What’s the reason? Well, there are both personal and societal benefits

Personal benefits of unravelling white privilege

There are many personal benefits to unravelling your own white privilege. I’ve focused on three: self-acceptance, perspective and empathy.

1. Self-acceptance

When we start to address our own white privilege, we begin to accept ourselves as we are. This happens because we start to see ourselves as perfectly imperfect people.

The process of unravelling our white privilege forces us to view society differently. We learn to see it as a system in which we exist. And we realise that this system has afforded us advantages because we are white. This leads us to accept that life is not a level playing field and we are not all treated equally.

Seeing the system as it is helps us accept ourselves. When we do this, we better understand who we really are, faults and all.

On top of that, it allows us to see others in the same way. Perfectly imperfect, faulty humans. And this leads us to treating others as equals. To truly accepting them as they are, regardless of race, colour or creed. To banishing all ideas of superiority or hierarchy.

This is the essence of self-acceptance and it is very powerful.

2. Perspective

With self-acceptance comes perspective. Seeing the system, realising our imperfections and accepting those of others compels us to become realistic. To see things as they are, to remove our rose-tinted specs. And when we are realistic, we gain a sense of perspective.

A sense of perspective means being able to see things as clearly as possible. Through the lens of reality rather than wishful thinking. For example, we know that our white skin affords us advantages, this is the reality. If accept it as truth then we gain perspective. This perspective allows us to acknowledge the problem and seek to solve it.

Conversely, wishing that we didn’t benefit from being white does nothing to change the system. In fact, it makes it worse because we are denying the problem. And if we deny problems then we’re doing nothing to solve them.

So a sense of perspective helps us to recognise problems as they exist.

3. Empathy

Another benefit to unravelling our own white privilege is building our empathy. According to Very Well Mind, “Empathy is the ability to emotionally understand what other people feel, see things from their point of view, and imagine yourself in their place. Essentially, it is putting yourself in someone else’s position and feeling what they must be feeling.”

When we unravel our white privilege we are bound to view life from other people’s perspectives. If our white skin benefits us, then it stands to reason that black and brown skin disadvantages others. This is a natural conclusion to draw. This compels us to think about what life must be like for others. To examine what those disadvantages look like. To learn how difficult it must be to face constant microaggressions. It compels us to think about what it must be like to have your life experiences diminished, belittled or ignored. What it must be like to regularly police your own tone of voice; to code switch etc. It makes us try and understand what it must be like to live with racism.

As white people we can never truly kow what it’s like to live with racism. But, when we try to understand how it affects other people’s lives, we build our own empathy skills. When we learn about the experiences of black people and people of colour then we cultivate empathy.

Establishing and developing empathy is another benefit of unravelling white privilege.

Societal benefits of unravelling white privilege

As well as benefiting personally, undoing our white privilege has wider benefits too. Those that benefit society as a whole. As more and more of us work to unravel our white privilege we will start to dismantle racial inequality. This would lead to a more equal world. So, the societal benefits of undoing white privilege are justice, equality and connection.

4. Justice

Justice is the ultimate goal. To live in a world where our skin colour is irrelevant would be right, honourable and just. And while we are a long way from that, it is possible.

Justice is about ending racial inequality in all areas of life. From education, housing and healthcare to jobs, boardrooms and political leadership. It would mean the end of unfair imprisonment and unequal sentencing. Racial justice would go a long way to eliminating other inequalities too, such as class and income inequality.

Doing our small part to unravel our own white privilege may well influence others to do the same. And if enough of us did this work, we might even reach the ultimate goal of racial justice.

5. Equality

Before we arrive at racial justice we must become racially equal. We cannot live in a just world until we are all treated as equals, regardless of our skin colour.

As white people we have an enormous amount of power here. Currently, our race sits firmly atop the racial ladder. Presently we occupy the highest rank within the racial hierarchy. This means that changing our view of race can have a massive impact on society at large. By accepting that things are not as we would like them to be we can set about changing them. And we can influence others too.

Ultimately this could lead to us living in a world where we are all seen as equals.

6. Connection

The feeling of connection that arises from unravelling white privilege comes directly from building our empathy. When we deliberately seek to put ourselves in other people’s shoes we try to understand the emotions that other people are feeling. This leaves us with a deep sense of connection to those people.

According to Very Well Mind, “Empathy allows people to build social connections with others. By understanding what people are thinking and feeling, people are able to respond appropriately in social situations.” On top of that “Empathy promotes helping behaviors. Not only are you more likely to engage in helpful behaviors when you feel empathy for other people, but other people are also more likely to help you when they experience empathy.”

Essentially, empathy builds connection. And connection is a fundamental need of all human beings. So, unravelling our own white privilege leads to a deeper connection with society at large.

Why the benefits of unravelling white privilege matter

The benefits of unravelling white privilege matter because the work of unravelling it is hard. Undoing our privilege is awkward and uncomfortable. The work is challenging and it never really ends. Faced with that knowledge, many people don’t want to even start.

So, it’s important to realise that we are doing it for good reason. That there are benefits not just for society but for us personally, too. In this way, it might make the idea of unravelling white privilege more appealing to people. The realisation that you have the opportunity to change both the world and yourself is appealing to many of us.

Summary

Unravelling white privilege is hard work. It can be embarrassing, awkward and uncomfortable. This puts many people off. So, it’s important to remember that there are benefits to unravelling our white privilege too. There are both personal benefits and societal ones.

The personal benefits include:

  • Self-acceptance
  • Perspective
  • Empathy

The societal benefits include:

  • Justice
  • Equality
  • Connection

For many of us, the realisation that you have the opportunity to change both the world and yourself is appealing and motivating. It more than makes up for any awkwardness or discomfort. So perhaps you’d like to consider unravelling your own white privilege?

Thanks for reading.

Want to know more? Sign up to my free 7-day email course An Introduction to White Privilege

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Helping people understand white privilege and stamp out racial inequality. Educator and aspiring thought leader.

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Natasha Crowther

Natasha Crowther

Helping people understand white privilege and stamp out racial inequality. Educator and aspiring thought leader.

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