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  • Writer's pictureBeth Pandolpho

According to Claudia Rankine, A Better Term for "White Privilege" is "White Living"

Updated: Aug 7, 2021

Poet and educator, Claudia Rankine is a wise and generous teacher who illuminates the meaning of "white privilege" in a way that, for me, doesn't raise defensiveness because of the weight of the truth she offers. In this podcast, she explains it this way:

"Before, I thought of white privilege as white power. What does it mean to be able to own the space- to walk in and be taken seriously, to be the one that presumably is the president, is the judge, is the doctor - whether or not that's the case, the assumption is that and so I wondered what was that? What did it mean to be in the world as that person? Once I started having the conversation, I realized that many of the white men I spoke to heard privilege as an economic term. And that was an education for me, because for me, economic privilege comes along sometimes with white privilege, but white privilege was really was about this ability to be in the world and to be able to move around without being treated as a potential criminal. In her book, Just Us: An American Conversation, she writes, "I would have preferred the term 'white living' instead of white privilege."

In the podcast, she then goes on to tell this story, "You know, we had a funny thing happen in our house where I took the dog for a walk and I forgot to turn off the alarm. And when I came back, there were all these police here, and I had to put in our code to open the door and get in the house. And then my husband just happened to drive up at that moment, and he's a white male and the policeman turned to him and said, 'she said she lives here.' And even after I opened the door, walked in, turned the alarm off and came back to them, they said, 'She said she lives here.' So that's what I mean, that they didn't ask him to prove that he lived there. But there is an assumption that this space belonged to him, and my claims would need to be backed up."

Rankine's stories are forever burned into my consciousness, as are the anecdotes she shares in her book, Citizen and in the OnBeing Podcast, How Can I Say This So We Can Stay in This Car Together. To listen to Claudia Rankine is to be forever changed. . . for the better.

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