‘White privilege’ is not the reason why you’re poor

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Listen up, I’ve got something to tell you. Come closer, as I’ll say this only once. White privilege is not the reason why White people are poor. Got that at the back?

Since last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, it seems some aspects of society are doing their very best to gaslight the Black community by encouraging Black people, or those willing to listen, to question whether personal experiences of racism are real or not. Regardless of generations sharing the same or similar experiences that include (but are not limited to) being told by well-wishing parents to expect to work twice as hard for half the reward, or how to conduct yourself when stopped by the police, such truths continue to be discredited – on both side of the Atlantic.

For the UK, one its favourite ways to water down people’s experiences has been to release a series of reports that only seem to throw oil onto an already sizzling fire. The report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities concluded that “institutional racism didn’t exist, but racism is still an issue.”

Yes, I’m still asking the universe to provide an answer – I won’t hold my breath that one will be provided soon.

In spite of that report being rejected by a number of organisations and charities, it was still deemed okay to release another one. This time the Commons Committee had a go after a group of MPs on the Education Select Committee claimed “the use of terms including ‘white privilege’ may have contributed to the ‘neglect’ of white working-class pupils in the education system”. Yes, you read that right.

White privilege is the basic fact that being White allows one group of people to live more easily in our current world and that they’re less likely to be discriminated against because of their skin colour. The phrase itself has only been widely used since 2020, as Sammy Wright, Social Mobility Commissioner for Schools and Higher Education pointed out: “To say that the use of the term, ‘White privilege’ (which has really only become part of the discourse in the last few years) has a role to play is to ignore how long term and systemic these issues are, and risks minimising the challenges of poverty for all ethnicities.” My point exactly. It’s laughable, except people’s inability to live to their full potential isn’t a joke.

I have no doubt that some people will believe the report’s suggestion. If you’re one of them, then let me put my argument across to you on why such a belief is not only dangerous, but takes away the responsibility of helping communities achieve social-mobility from those who can make a difference.

Why is it dangerous? Putting blame on wanting to address racial inequality and teach the importance of not succumbing to unconscious biases and to apply critical thinking fires bullets in the wrong direction. When claimed that such actions put White children at a disadvantage then not only does this cause resentment, but it fails to present real solutions to help children living in poverty. And that’s the real crime. 

Social mobility plays a huge part in helping individuals to beat the odds that have unfairly been stacked against them. The Guardian reports that social mobility in the UK has been on the decline with ‘more than half of people saying the government is failing to do enough to help the least well off.’ This poll, which took place in March 2019 by the Social Mobility Commission, found stark regional differences in people’s perceptions of their life prospects, with people in the north-east and north-west of England significantly less optimistic than their southern counterparts.

The chair of the commission, Dame Martina Milburn, went onto to say that the ‘survey was a call to action for politicians, who should start to reverse “the inequalities of generations” and give people an equal chance in life.’ 

Does that sound like anything to do with race? 

With limited tangible means to help individuals or households change or improve their social status, then the horror of living in poverty haunts for generations. The importance of social mobility is not just for financial gain. It’s having the freedom to achieve your professional ambitions. It’s knowing that hard work truly pays off, and that if you wish to progress into management or become a shareholder, your work reputation will surpass you and be welcomed. Instead of being told to fulfil a role that pigeon-holes you to ‘know your place’. 

Whether it sounds soppy or not, hope gives people a reason to exist. Without it, no one should be surprised that children from poverty-stricken homes achieve lower school achievements, and suffer from depression and anxiety disorders, the latter staying with them well into adulthood.

Of course, anyone growing up poor or residing in a town with low job/career prospects will scoff at the suggestion they are privileged. And that’s where the misunderstanding of the term begins, innocently or wilfully. 

If you’re still convinced that encouraging one race of people (White) to recognise how wider society favouring them has a devastating impact on those who are judged less favourably, I’ll allow a caller to talk radio station LBC explain it to you beautifully. 

As the radio host debated the Commons Committee’s findings, a young White man (who told us his ethnicity) explained that his white privilege meant getting away with carrying a small quantity of weed as a teenager as he was never stopped by the police. Unlike his mixed-race brothers, who are frequently stopped and searched, he did not have this problem. If he had been born with a parent who is Black, there is no doubt in his mind that not only would he have encountered the police more often than normal, he may have been arrested for possession and incurred a criminal record. All of which would have prevented him from becoming a lawyer. 

And there you have it. This caller’s white skin provided a protective barrier that dispelled any belief that he was capable of committing a crime. 

Let me be clear, white privilege is not for White people to prove they grew up disadvantaged. Nor is it to make them feel guilty. The phrase simply wants White people to take note of how their skin tone is more highly-regarded in comparison to other ethnicities. Once this is realised, White people can then use their newly-found knowledge to help balance the scales of equality. Being defensive does nothing to help poor White children and certainly doesn’t get rid of racism.

My argument is not meant to cause offense. However, I won’t stand by and let a group of MPs – some who may have voted to not feed poor children during the summer holidays – play cultural war games as households’ attempts to improve their lives slip through each generation’s fingers like grains of sand. 

Everyone deserves a fair shot at life. Blaming others who are also disadvantaged won’t improve your chances of living a better life. Having access to better education, after-school clubs to learn new skills, or being nurtured so you can achieve anything from a young age will all pay off not just for individuals, but also society. Partaking in the blame game runs the high-risk of perpetuating a cycle of poverty that becomes solidified with each generation, and those who have the power to make a real difference will simply sit back and watch the rest of us fight amongst ourselves.  

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