I’ve rarely heard white friends discuss their parallel experiences of first realizing their privilege. In fact, this summer was unprecedented in the sheer number of public figures and predominately white organizations that released statements or tweets acknowledging their role in perpetuating systemic racism. In private, I and many of my Black friends received more sympathetic emails or Black Lives Matter solidarity texts from our white colleagues than ever before. It seemed, suddenly, white people too were having their own version of The Talk.
And in popular culture, these awakenings are appearing with more frequency. In this season of NBC’s “This Is Us,” Randall’s white siblings, Kate and Kevin, are, as a result of the Black Lives Matter protests this summer, slowly coming to terms with how much their own white household, and their ongoing refusal to deal with racism, has harmed their African-American brother, who was adopted.
Without such recognition by our white family members and friends, racial inferiority is merely thrust onto Black people as a unique burden that we must bear, disprove of and reject. This innocence is at the core of white privilege, and by extension, white power.
Back in 2005, when Harry wore a Nazi uniform to a costume party, it would have been impossible to predict his trajectory. By last fall, however, his awakening was well underway, with him talking about how his marriage to Markle immediately changed his understanding of race. “I had no idea it existed,” he said of unconscious bias in British GQ. “And then, sad as it is to say, it took me many, many years to realize it, especially then living a day or a week in my wife’s shoes.”
Last night, he took it a step further. First, he noted how “the race element” distinguished the tabloid frenzy surrounding Markle from others in the past. “It wasn’t just about her, it was about what she represents,” he said. Next, he indicted his family for not taking on the racist attacks hurled at their own, and then linked their institutionalized reticence or refusal to intervene to Britain’s much longer history of imperialism.
“For us, for this union and the specifics around her race, there was an opportunity — many opportunities — for my family to show some public support,” he told Winfrey. “And I guess one of the most telling parts and the saddest parts, I guess, was over 70 female members of Parliament, both Conservative and Labour, came out and called out the colonial undertones of articles and headlines written about Meghan. Yet no one from my family ever said anything. That hurts.”