Earlier last week, media exploded with a video interview of Samuel L. Jackson correcting KLTA entertainment reporter Sam Rubin, who is white, for confusing Jackson for Laurence Fishburne, another prominent black actor.
First, let me define the two terms. White privilege refers to the set of societal privileges that white people benefit from beyond those commonly experienced by people of color in the same societal circles. This includes unconscious or unintentional advantages that white people may not recognize they have.
Prejudice is simply a preconceived notion by someone without sufficient knowledge of the subject.
For example, because white culture is the dominant or preferred culture, white people are not bombarded with one set of images or forced to learn about others’ cultures and can oftentimes go their whole lives without different cultural contact. That is an unconscious and sometimes unintentional privilege. Without that contact you build a set of preconceived notions and there you have it, prejudice.
Three weeks into the spring semester, and on multiple occasions, I have already witnessed or been a victim to this same exact scenario of white privilege and prejudice.
A couple weeks ago, I was sitting with other students waiting for my next meeting when images of Cedric the Entertainer, who is a well-known comedian in the black community, popped up on the TV screen.
In a room full of white students, with the exception of me and one other, a white student mistook Cedric the Entertainer for Bernie Mac, who is another well-known comedian in the black community. When I corrected her, she responded by saying that the two comedians look alike and that is why she was confused.
To me, that’s like confusing Katy Perry and Britney Spears. They are two different people, with similar career paths.
But does that student ever confuse those two people?
Not to mention, Bernie Mac is deceased and Cedric the Entertainer is alive and well.
When I called the student out on her mistake, she became defensive and that is when the other white students decided to defend the first student and agree that the two men look alike. One student even went as far as to say that all black people look alike.
Or, there was the time when I had a meeting with a different white student, and I mentioned a friend who wears a turban. She asked me if my friend was the same person as another student who wears a turban.
I said no they are not the same person, but she insisted that they look alike.
What else could it be other than white privilege and prejudice when some of my own professors still confuse me for other black students and will repeatedly look me in the eyes and call me by another name?
What these scenarios show me is that people look at me and only see color. I am not ashamed of my black skin so, yes, please embrace it, but I will not be devalued or lumped into a group.
So this is what I have to say to those mistaken students and professors:
See us, not our color.