There is a lot of talk at the moment about ‘white privilege’. Your children will be encountering the term in school, and in mainstream media like BBC Newsround. The subject evokes strong emotions from a range of people – some of whom disagree with the use of the term at all.
At Barnardo’s we believe, as the UK’s largest children’s charity in the UK, we have a responsibility to raise awareness of all issues affecting children - no matter how difficult or uncomfortable. Four in five of our service users are white - and we know only too well the inequality and disadvantage they face daily.
For the one in five Barnardo’s service users who are Black, Asian or minority ethnic, the colour of their skin is an additional factor that negatively affects them and their families in a multitude of well documented ways.
Helping children and those who nurture them, to understand what white privilege really means will not only prevent future generations from growing up to ignore race as an issue - but to be actively anti-racist through their actions.
What is ‘White Privilege’?
One of the many things ‘white privilege’ means is that there are issues and topics that white people often don’t have to think about, including the realities of racism. We can’t control our ethnicity - but being more conscious of how racism does and doesn’t affect other people helps us to make things fairer for everyone in society.
Talking about white privilege means looking at how our own actions maintain and support racist systems and structures - regardless of intent, and that’s going to be uncomfortable. Sit with that discomfort. Expect hard work - white privilege is reinforced in all aspects of everyday life, and understanding and unravelling it is a constant process of learning and changing your behaviours. You’ll likely make mistakes - and that’s okay. But it’s important to do this - it’s the right thing to do.
We’ve spoken before about how systemic racism affects children and young people across the UK - Black Caribbean children are more likely to be disciplined, young carers can struggle to access support, and Black children are disproportionately likely to be arrested. But it’s crucial that we look at the flip side of this - while some people are clearly suffering because of institutional failures, this means that there are others who benefit from these oppressive systems. We’re asking - what is white privilege and how can you use your privilege for good?
You might have heard the phrase ‘white privilege’ before - it’s very common across the pond in the US. You might also think that it doesn’t exist in the UK. But racism is very real here too, and it’s not always as visible and obvious as physical or verbal abuse - it exists in our institutions, and it affects our children and young people.
White privilege is the multiple social advantages, benefits and courtesies that come with being a member of the dominant race.
This doesn’t mean that, as a white person, you haven’t worked hard for what you have, or that you haven’t suffered. In reality, society was designed by, and to benefit, the small subsection of people already in power. Because of the intersectional nature of society, this means that it’s incredibly likely you have experienced some form of oppression - the gender pay gap is still 18.4%. After housing costs, the proportion of working age disabled people living in poverty (26%) is higher than the proportion of working age non-disabled people (20%). 35% of LGBT staff have hidden or disguised that they are LGBT at work because they were afraid of discrimination. However, it doesn’t mean that your skin tone is one of the things making your experiences harder - and your experiences of oppression are not going to be exactly the same as those experienced by people of colour. For example, while white British women are paid on average £11.21 per hour, Pakistani women make £10.10. BAME* young carers and their families identified language barriers as one of the key reasons they’re unable to access support. 12% of BAME LGBT employees lost a job because of being LGBT, when compared to 4% of white LGBT staff.
In the UK, it is assumed that white identity is the default - we see this in the justice system, where 94% of police officers are white, and there are 2,564 white court judges but only 30 are Black. In education, 92% of teachers are white. Only 1% of children’s books feature leading characters from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.
What does everyday white privilege look like?
Hypothetically, you wake up in the morning, in a house that you are more likely to own, where you’re more likely to have enough space for everyone you live with.
You start getting ready for a day of work (because you’re less likely to be unemployed than people from ethnic minority backgrounds), where you’ll be paid on average 23.1% more than Black workers with the same qualifications. It’s likely that your manager, director, and senior officials are white too. If you work in a FTSE 350 company, it’s also likely that you won’t have any ethnic minority representation on your board at all.
You feel safe at home and in your local area - unlike 37.4% of Black people and 44.8% of Asian people, and when you’re on public transport, you won’t experience a hate crime because of your skin colour - but you might witness one against a person of colour, because hate crimes on railway networks increased by 37% in England between 2011 and 2015.
You help your children get ready for school, where they’re likely to be taught by white teachers, and see plenty of examples of people like them achieving great things in history and literature. Over the years, they’re more likely to avoid being excluded, achieve better results at GCSE and A-Levels and go to a Russell Group University than their Black or Asian peers.
If you’ve committed a crime, you’re more likely to be arrested by a white police officer, reviewed by a white judge, and you’re more likely to get off - because the rates of prosecution and sentencing for Black people were three times higher than for white people.
Your ethnic background also plays a role in health and life expectancy; Black African women not only have a mortality rate four times higher than White women in the UK, they’re also seven times more likely to be detained under mental health legislation in hospitals in England and Wales. The rates of infant mortality are also up to twice as high among Pakistani, Black Caribbean and Black African babies.
You can generally assume that when you apply for a job, you’ll be treated fairly, and your name won’t mean that you won't even be considered for the role - or if you get into a job, you won’t have to work much harder to get recognition. You’re more likely to get promoted, and less likely to face disciplinary action. When you interact with institutions like the police, the private sector, or the Government, you’re more likely to be treated with respect too.
These are just a few of the experiences that those from a visible ethnic minority have to deal with regulalry - you may have even failed to notice - until now - that you don’t’ have to deal with the same barriers. It is important to be aware that being born with a certain skin tone affords people certain advantage in life that people of another skin colour are not afforded. By creating greater awareness and understanding we help to build a fairer and more equitable society for future generations.
What can parents do?
If you’re a parent or carer, grandparent or guardian, we’re produced a helpful guide to speaking to children about the subject of ‘white privilege’. Teaching your child about the world - about who they are, what they can achieve, how they should treat others, what’s right and what’s wrong is a core part of nurturing. We believe educating children about white privilege is a part of that, and so is talking to them about how to be actively anti-racist.
Care experienced young people from our Brent services worked together to create this helpful guide for talking to children and young people about white privilege.
- Be open to start the conversation with others who are interested and willing to learn, even if they don’t understand.
- Share fact-checked resources, examples, information and statistics with others.
- Look after your mental health, and take breaks where needed.
- Keep cool - stick to the facts and show some patience.
- Pause the conversation with someone refusing to listen - suggest they continue their research.
- Make assumptions - just because someone is white, it doesn’t mean they haven’t faced challenges.
- Entertain heated arguments.
- Tolerate racial slurs or abuse.
It’s important to do your homework, and not to expect people of colour to educate you on this - asking them to explain how institutions disadvantage them and relive, often traumatic, experiences can be painful and time-consuming. There are plenty of resources, and we’ve included some below.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race and About Race podcast by Reni Eddo Lodge
Knowing what it is is only the first step - now it’s time to think about what you can do to lessen or end it.
- Continue to educate yourself - unlearning takes time and dedication
- Listen to and amplify Black voices and experiences
- Teach your white friends, family and colleagues about their privilege
- Campaign for change - sign petitions and open letters
- Confront racial injustices, even when it’s uncomfortable
- Let your cash do the talking - take part in Black Pound Day and support organisations doing the work
Our hope for a better future for all children is the source of our inspiration. But we can’t achieve this ambition if Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic children continue to be held back by systemic racism.
We will be the change we’re committed to seeing in the world - will you join us? We’re challenging you to do at least one actively anti-racist thing this week - let us know what that will be by tweeting us, or leaving a comment on our Facebook page.
*Individuals may choose to identify themselves in different ways, including as Black, Brown, BAME, as ‘people of colour’ and/or as members of Global South Communities.