Leave it to an eighth-grader to explain a concept that many adults still struggle with.
For a contest at his school in Atlanta back in May, 14-year-old Royce Mann read a slam poem about his "white boy privilege." The whole thing is impressive not just because Mann manages to describe what it means to be privileged but because he does it with a type of clarity and nuance that’s rarely seen in heated conversations about race.
Perhaps the most illustrative line: "I know it wasn’t us eighth-grade white boys who created this system, but we profit from it every day. We don’t notice these privileges, though, because they don’t come in the form of things we gain, but rather the lack of injustices that we endure."
What Mann is describing here is why the term for this idea is "privilege" over, say, "oppression." Many people often react to the term privilege with defensiveness: "It’s not my fault that white people in the past enslaved black people, or created a criminal justice system that oppressed them."
But people aren’t saying it’s one person’s fault. By its definition, privilege is about how white people benefit — consciously or not, purposely or not — from a system built to benefit them. It’s not about whether one specific person who’s alive today created that system.
If white men can acknowledge that privilege, everyone can start from the same basis — that the system is tilted against minorities and women — and be better equipped to come together and help fix it.