Standard etiquette is acknowledging white privilege

BY TAYLOR LONGMIRE '20

Standard etiquette when entering a room is to acknowledge the presence of all those with whom you interact. Making eye contact and giving a simple smile indicates recognition that you and another person are both human and both deserve the respect to know that. Likewise, if someone were to verbally interact with you, the proper response is to say something back.

A salutation like “Hello” should be answered with a “Hi,” a “thank you” with a “you’re welcome.” A “Hello, how are you?” is a question, not a statement. Therefore, one responds with “I am well, thank you.” This is not new. Even if you are shy or quiet, you acknowledge the presence of others. Manners are something we all are taught from a young age or we pick up from human interactions.

So, imagine a scenario in which you make eye contact with someone and you smile, but they do not smile back and instead look away. Imagine greeting someone with a “Hello,” only for them to walk past you without a response. Imagine attempting to hold a conversation, only to be ignored. Wouldn’t that make you feel confused? Uncomfortable? Make you question if you are the problem, not those with whom you are interacting?

Now imagine being the other person, the one ignoring. Who are you to ignore a greeting? Why does that seem ok to do? What type of person would be ok with making someone feel crazy or to make someone question their humanity? In other words, what privilege do you think you have that allows you to believe it is OK to disregard a human’s life? This is the feeling I have every morning when I wake up, and I am not the only one. The feeling of neglect. That the country I was born into doesn’t respect me, and refuses to acknowledge me, no matter how hard I try to interact with it, because I am Black.

It has come to my attention that there is an alarmingly high rate of people who cannot seem to understand the struggles of the African American/Black community. I suppose this is because strange fruit no longer hangs, but instead it lays in the middle of parking lots, untouched, left to rot (R.I.P. Michael Brown). Nonetheless, I would like to take it upon myself to address the multitudinous problems with white America in relation to the Black community and Black culture.

However, before I go any further, I do wish to clarify that I am also against white America’s attitude, and impulsive and rash actions, towards all marginalized groups. I do not wish to offend anyone in my writing; however, sugar-coating is just another word for appeasement, and I hope we can all agree that this is neither the time nor the place to do so. There are many things I would like to talk about, and plan to talk about, but before I can address the more complex aspects of racism, I must first address the issue of white privilege.

For some reason, white privilege is misunderstood by the same people who benefit from it, so let me start with this: IF YOU ARE WHITE, YOU HAVE BENEFITED AND ARE BENEFITING FROM WHITE PRIVILEGE, and here’s the biggie, EVEN IF YOU DON’T KNOW THAT YOU ARE. Just as racism is not an individual’s act of meanness, but instead an invisible system that still continues to affect the Black community, privilege is always occurring for all those who are white.

Being a student of color on campus, I joined the Association for Pan-African Unity. Why? Because, unlike my white counterparts, I have to look to find someone who looks like me. I do not have the privilege of being in a majority, of being “the norm.” What is worse, white privilege is so built into the norm that white people do not even notice. Or if they do notice, they are quick to remind themselves: “But I am not my ancestors. I did not enslave or harm any African Americans personally.” You can think that all you want but that is almost as ridiculous as me saying that because I was not enslaved, I cannot be affected by racism.

It is simply not true. Mount Holyoke, a college that is pretty isolated, still has a hair salon right across the street in the Village Commons. Yet, if I were to walk into that hair salon with my afro or my twists or my braids, there would be no one who would know how to do my hair. This would not be the case if I were white. If you get anything out of this, let it be that even something so simple as access to a haircut is indeed a form of white privilege, and it doesn’t stop there.

Just like knowing proper etiquette, the fact that white privilege exists is not new news. For years, and still today, Black people have been yelling at the top of their lungs that they are being treated unequally, but we have been drowned out by propaganda and the illusion of bliss created by white America. We continue to yell, sometimes we smile and sometimes it’s really hard to and we still do, yet white America keeps looking away. It continues to ignore and refuses to acknowledge. Yet, I still have hope, and will always have hope, that change can occur.

To those who are people of color and are reading this, stay strong, keep your head up, don’t let that crown fall. To those who are white and are reading this, thank you in advance, because I know after reading this there is no way you can ignore your privilege. I know you will now begin to see your privilege in your day-to-day life. And I hope it bothers you, and you begin asking the question white America refuses to acknowledge answering ... Why?

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