This essay is part of our 21-Day Racial Equity and Social Justice Challenge during Week 1: How Racism and Bias Shows Up for Me. It is written by Briana Snyder, a member of YWCA Dayton’s Board of Directors and immediate Past Chair of the Board’s Advocacy Committee.
She is founder and owner of Knack Creative, a commercial photography and video production company. She holds a bachelor’s degree from University of Dayton and a master’s degree in international and comparative politics from Wright State University. She is passionate about working towards equality and social justice.
I have worked very hard for what I have achieved thus far in my life, including obtaining a Master’s degree and starting multiple businesses. Those resources have allowed me to create opportunities for others, to start conversations and to build things where they hadn’t existed before. However, I am also aware that those achievements have been bolstered by privilege.
To me, acknowledging the existence of white privilege does not diminish any of my achievements. I am able to hold both ideas in my head at once: I am someone who works very hard to achieve her goals, and I am someone who continually benefits from a system of deeply-ingrained assumptions and biases.
As a white woman, I have a certain level of freedom as I move through the world. I am given the benefit of the doubt in situations where a woman of color might not. I have been able to pass unquestioned through doors that others might not have as easily entered though.
White privilege is inherently that freedom of choice and of movement. Almost anywhere, I can operate with the assumption that my needs will be met. Crucially, white privilege is the freedom to choose to disengage with the issue of racial equity itself. As a white woman, I could easily enjoy the benefits on the other side of those doors without ever pausing to question the system. Or, I can choose to recognize that system for what it is and participate in trying to make things better.
I cannot tell you exactly what drives me personally to make the choice to engage. I was not raised in a very diverse community, and these concepts weren’t ones I grew up understanding. I was, however, raised in a community of faith. I was taught early that the greatest virtue is found in loving others as one’s self and in treating any person — stranger or friend — how I would like to be treated.
We can always choose compassion. We can decide that when another person tells us that a system that has always seemed fair enough to us responds differently to them, we will react with the level of grace that we would hope someone would extend to us.
And as we continue to do the work of seeking more knowledge and deepening our understanding — like we are doing right here, by choosing to participate in this Challenge — we can more clearly see the inequities for ourselves. We can move from sympathy to empathy and speak out ever more boldly.
We will never do wrong by choosing more empathy and compassion. Doing so might actually be our only path towards progress.