Systemic racism. It was embarrassing to watch the Chief of Police stumble over the presence of systemic racism but, sad as it might be, she may have the questionable benefit of innocence. While she recognized the presence of racism in the police force, like many whites, she has had no idea what "systemic racism" was.
Indeed, we are taught to see racism in individual or group acts of violence against persons or people of colour. When pressed, we might find a policy or principle that subtly discriminates, for example like facial recognition software. This narrowness permits us ignore the implications of our membership in the dominant white race, the automatic privilege that our skin colour bestows upon us.
As soon as the notion of white privilege is introduced, whites deny it - they honestly don't believe that this type of conferred privilege exists. "I worked hard for what I have", they say, "I don't have any privilege, I'm mortgaged for everything I have." Some will go so far as to claim that people of colour "have more advantages than they do" or that they have more protection under law.
White privilege is like that. If you are white and don't think that you are privileged because of the colour of your skin, you don't know what "white privilege" means. You likely don't know what systemic racism is either.
When I and my friend became lost in the countryside, I had no fear of driving into a farmyard, getting out of the truck and walking to the door. I even opened the porch door and went to the open door beyond. I could be certain that no one would meet me with a gun. My friend who is Cree did not feel the same confidence.
When I go into the bank to negotiate a loan, I can expect that the person across the table is likely my colour and understands my culture and my predicament.
White privilege means that my people are usually still the heroes in Canadian history books. If we are WASP, It means my culture is reflected by the place names on maps.
White privilege has meant that no patient has ever refused to have me as their physician because of the colour of my skin. It means that practically never have I been submitted to the beady eyes of the store walker. I can be certain that police have never stopped me because of my race.
The sense of belonging to the human circle should not belong as a privilege to a few. It should be an unearned entitlement of every human being. At present, since only a few have it automatically, it is both an unearned advantage and, in fact, confers unwarranted dominance.
In order to change the system, we cannot merely disapprove of "white privilege", although it helps to have key individuals change their attitudes. The first giant step towards change is admitting that it exists. This is why, for the police to shed racism, it is important for the RCMP top chief to admit that systemic racism exists - and for her to do that, she must recognize the presence of white privilege.
It serves us well to be oblivious about white advantage if we are white - by being oblivious, we can maintain the myth of our meritocracy, & the myth that democratic choice is equally available to us all. People of colour may tell us about white privilege but until we become sufficiently aware of it and willingly - and humbly - give up the unwarranted advantage that white privilege confers, systemic racism will continue.
Inspired by White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh, printed in "Peace and Freedom" July/August 1989