And thank you for the civil follow-up; it is also much appreciated.
First, to answer your question about what constitutes “whiteness,” of course, it’s not up to me exclusively define that. However, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that race is usually defined by others’ perception of us, just like gender is.
The thing with America, though, is that in order to be considered “white,” you must lack an identifiable race — that is, one that’s different from exclusively caucasian.
If you’re mixed race, let’s say with a black mother and white father, you still have some degree of white privilege — at least more than a person with two black parents, or two brown parents.
I think there’s much to be said about the different, specific experiences of mixed race Americans. And because none of us are one-dimensional beings, we all experience different types of privilege (or lack thereof) that are all intersecting.
However, it’s a certainty that the life experiences shaped by privilege — subconscious or not — of, for example, a queer, black, transgender woman are going to be 180 degrees different than those of a straight, caucasian (not of mixed-race), cisgender woman. The black woman in this scenario is (statistically speaking) significantly more likely to be violently attacked and brutally murdered just for walking out her front door, than the white woman ever will be (this is fact, not speculation). That the white woman doesn’t have to reasonably fear this as much as the black woman, is privilege in action.
Sometimes it’s very easy to lose sight of, or forget how “easy” some things are for us (speaking as a white person here) than they are for other minority or marginalized groups.
Privilege is complex, and it varies depending on our other identities. That said, in America, being any amount of white will benefit you in some way.
I do recognize that ‘privilege’ is considered a “loaded” term— especially in the workplace — but it’s loaded primarily when someone doesn’t understand the deeper meaning. And when properly understood, it shouldn’t be loaded or triggering, because it’s not about shame; it’s about empathy and understanding.
I hear you, and I get your frustration, though, because the same types of things used to be my frustrations as well. For me, it took having a transgender child to open my eyes to the ways in which I experience privilege, being a cisgender woman (i.e., I was assigned female at birth, and I’ve never had an issue with that. As cis, I’m society’s “default norm,” so to speak. I can see people who look, act, present, and express like me basically anywhere I go.)
Not the same for my trans kid.
That’s a whole other story, but the concept of privilege is the same. I have 3 kids. My older two, a son & daughter (both cisgender) don’t have to fear verbal abuse, physical intimidation, or arrest, just for trying to pee in a public bathroom. They can use public facilities like bathrooms or locker rooms without people staring at them, “clocking” them to try & decide whether they’re in the “correct” bathroom or not, and so on.
My third child who was assigned male at birth but showed & told us they were female from the age of 2.5 on (and is now 13, still female) does have to worry about these things. So much so, that she often avoids public bathrooms altogether, which puts her more at risk of recurring urinary tract or bladder infections. (This is common among trans people).
My older son & daughter who are cis don’t have to worry about their validity as being male or female being based on whether they “pass” as non-trans, or whether they’ve “had surgery” or not. They don’t have to worry about strangers or even friends asking them “what’s your ‘real’ name?” the way people ask trans folks, as if the name they have now is fake, and as if it’s any of their business.
I don’t have to worry that my older son & daughter would be required to undergo a full psychological evaluation in order to receive basic or even emergency medical care, because they are seen as the gender they identify as, not as some “misguided freak” in need of psychiatric care first and foremost.
My trans teen doesn’t get to assume, like my older two, that everyone she encounters will automatically understand her identity, and won’t think she’s confused, mistaken, misguided, or bound for hell.
There are thousands of these types of privileges. I never would’ve even given them a 2nd thought if I didn’t get a glimpse into what life is like for marginalized folks. It has really opened my eyes. And like I said, it’s not about shame. It’s about empathy, compassion, and understanding — especially of the things that make us angry on a surface level. It’s always worth it to dig deeper and look for the “why.”