The difference between 'privilege' and 'prejudice'

Letter to the editor

Posted: Thursday, October 13, 2005

I have to respond to the person who wrote to the Empire feeling like he was being discriminated against. What I have to say may be uncomfortable or perhaps an "aha." It is called "Caucasian privilege." Before you react, this does not mean you are racist. It is important to distinguish between "prejudice" and "privilege." Racial prejudice is negative action directed against an individual, whereas privilege is a passive advantage that occurs as a natural expectation based on the color of your skin. Thus, a Caucasian person without being aware of it is treated a certain way, but may not be racist.

Along with being Caucasian is an unearned entitlement, patterns of assumptions and experiences, which are passed on and are not necessarily spoken about. They are societal actions, which work for you and not against you. This entitlement was not purposely created for fair-skinned people; it evolved through time and has been the foundation of American history and texts and most are not conscious that such privileges exist. These entitlements are imbedded into their everyday life experiences, which are taken for granted because the social systems work in their favor.

For the gentleman who thinks Sealaska is racist, what has been the norm for him, as a Caucasian male who has had in the past employment advantage is experiencing what it is like for people of other ethnic origins. The unspoken privilege, which favors Caucasians, has shifted, and in this case to Native privilege. For people of color, and in many cases women, homosexuals and poor, experiencing "silent" rejection is the norm; thus, it is necessary to challenge the system to be treated equally, heard and recognized.

For those who think Native organizations discriminate against Caucasians, just be thankful that your skin color and perhaps your gender are and will continue to be an asset for you. More important, when you look for work, or when you accept another job, you can rest assured knowing that some of your co-workers will not whisper behind your back saying you were hired because of your race. Nor will you have to spend the rest of your life proving that your talent and intelligence, and not your ethnicity or gender got you the job in the first place. Nor, will people publicly acknowledge that you "are an asset to your race."

Carmen Mastronardo-Katasse


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