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Unpacking White Privilege: A Multifaceted Perspective

I entered the world with a complexion deemed ‘white’ and was adopted into a family of the same skin coloured background. Throughout my upbringing, I identified solely as ‘white,’ oblivious to the heritage of my birth parents. Discovering the Māori lineage, especially from one side, has been a source of pride and has clarified the nuances of my identity.

Reflecting on my childhood, 60+ years ago, I recall yearning to participate in the rich cultural expressions of Māori traditions. Unfortunately, at that time, it wasn’t commonplace for white children to engage in such cultural activities, nor was it actively encouraged. Despite this, I never questioned my desire, fortunate to have a Māori best friend (Blanche RIL) who welcomed me into numerous cultural events with open arms.

The realisation of our perceived differences emerged when my friend hesitated to play one day. I later learned that she had been denied a spot in the school choir because hers would have been the only ‘brown’ face. This revelation left me perplexed, as the colour of our skin had never been something I deemed noteworthy or deserving of commentary. In my eyes, we were just two children bound by a profound friendship.

Tragically, my friend departed from this world far too early, a fate shared by too many Māori, a sombre consequence of the enduring legacy of colonisation. I carry her memory with me, missing her presence even today and yearning to share my experiences with her. I know she would be deeply saddened by the ongoing challenges faced by Māori here in AoNZ.

I grew up however under the protection of ‘White privilege’ a pervasive and often invisible force that permeates multiple facets of life, influencing opportunities and experiences in profound ways. This privilege manifests itself in several aspects, shedding light on disparities in job opportunities, housing prospects, online representation, and everyday encounters.

White privilege is evident in the job market, where individuals of certain ethnic backgrounds may face fewer obstacles securing employment. The inherent bias that exists often provides advantages to those who fit within societal norms, inadvertently disadvantaging others.

Housing discrimination remains a significant issue, with white privilege influencing access to quality housing. This can include disparities in mortgage approval rates, the prevalence of discriminatory practices, and systemic barriers that limit housing options for marginalised communities.

A simple Google image search highlights the prevalence of white privilege, as the majority of faces displayed are often of a particular racial background. This digital disparity mirrors broader inequalities, shaping perceptions and reinforcing societal norms that can be exclusionary.

White privilege extends to the freedom of moving through public spaces without being subjected to suspicion based on one’s skin colour. The experience of not being followed or scrutinised in a shopping mall represents a privilege that, unfortunately, not everyone enjoys.

The privilege of not having one’s intelligence questioned or being treated as more dangerous by law enforcement based on appearance is a stark reality. White individuals often navigate spaces without the burden of stereotypes that can lead to unwarranted assumptions and biased treatment.

Perhaps one of the most profound aspects of white privilege is the luxury of not facing abuse or discrimination solely based on skin colour. The privilege of moving through life without the constant threat of racially motivated harm is a reality that many individuals do not share.

In unravelling the layers of white privilege, it becomes apparent that these advantages are deeply ingrained in societal structures. Recognising and addressing these disparities is essential for fostering a more equitable and inclusive world.

Indeed, the capacity to dismantle privilege lies with those who possess it. Meaningful change involves acknowledging and incorporating the principles of equity. The aim isn’t to strip the privileged of their advantages but to ensure that everyone, regardless of their background, stands on equal ground. The fear often expressed by those in privilege—that they may lose out when others are granted equal standing—is a reflection of the discomfort associated with shifting power dynamics. In reality, creating a more equitable society ensures that privilege is no longer a necessary construct, allowing everyone to coexist on a level playing field. It’s essential for those with privilege to recognise that promoting equality doesn’t diminish their opportunities but enriches the collective experience for everyone.

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