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The Benefits of Being White Exercise

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by Paul Kivel

Tell the group that you are going to read a series of statements and that each white people to whom a statement applies should stand up after that statement is read. Tell the group that all the white people are being asked to participate, and people of color are being asked to observe.
Those who are physically unable to stand may raise their hand to indicate that they are part of the group standing. Each participant should decide for themselves whether the statement applies to them or not. If they are unwilling to stand for a particular statement that applies to them they may pass for that statement but should notice any feelings they have about not standing. The exercise will be done in silence to allow participants to notice the feelings that come up during the exercise and to make it safer for all participants. After a statement is read and people have stood for a few moments, ask participants to sit down and read the next statement.

Benefits of Being White Checklist

Please stand if:

1. Your ancestors were legal immigrants to this country during a period when immigrants from Asia, South and Central America or Africa were restricted.

2. Your ancestors came to this country of their own free will and have never had to relocate unwillingly once here.

3. You live on land that formerly belonged to Native Americans.

4. Your family received homesteading or landstaking claims from the federal government or you or your family or relatives receive or received federal farm subsidies, farm price supports, agricultural extension assistance or other federal benefits.

5. You lived or live in a neighborhood that people of color were discriminated from living in.

6. You lived or live in a city where red-lining discriminates against people of color getting housing or other loans.

7. You or your parents went to racially segregated schools.

8. You live in a school district or metropolitan area where more money is spent on the schools that white children go to than on those that children of color attend.

9. You live in or went to a school district where children of color are more likely to be disciplined than white children, or more likely to be tracked into nonacademic programs.

10. You live in or went to a school district where the textbooks and other classroom materials reflected your race as normal, heroes and builders of the United States, and there was little mention of the contributions of people of color to our society.

11. You were encouraged to go on to college by teachers, parents or other advisors.

12. You attended a publicly funded university, or a heavily endowed private university or college, and/or received student loans.

13. You served in the military when it was still racially segregated, or achieved a rank where there were few people of color, or served in a combat situation where there were large numbers of people of color in dangerous combat positions, or avoided serving in the military when young men of color had fewer options for avoiding service.

14. Your ancestors were immigrants who took jobs in railroads, streetcars, construction, shipbuilding, wagon and coach driving, house painting, tailoring, longshore work, brick laying, table waiting, working in the mills, furriering, dressmaking or any other trade or occupation where people of color were driven out or excluded.

15. You received job training in a program where there were few or no people of color

16. You have received a job, job interview, job training or internship through personal connections of family or friends.

17. You worked or work in a job where people of color made less for doing comparable work or did more menial jobs.

18. You have worked in a job where people of color were hired last, or fired first.

19. You work in a job, career or profession or in an agency or organization in which there are few people of color.

20. You received small business loans or credits, government contracts or government assistance in your business.

21. Your parents were able to vote in any election they wanted without worrying about poll taxes, literacy requirements or other forms of discrimination.

22. You can always vote for candidates who reflect your race.

23. You live in a neighborhood that has better police protection, municipal services and is safer than that where people of color live.

24. The hospital and medical services close to you or which you use are better than that of most people of color in the region in which you live.

25. You have never had to worry that clearly labeled public facilities, such as swimming pools, restrooms, restaurants and nightspots were in fact not open to you because of your skin color.

26. You see white people in a wide variety of roles on television and in movies.

27. Your race needn’t be a factor in where you choose to live.

28. Your race needn’t be a factor in where you send your children to school.

29. A substantial percentage of the clothes you wear are made by women and children of color in this country and abroad.

30. Most of the food you eat is grown, processed and/or cooked by people of color in this country and abroad.

31. The house, office building, school, or other buildings and grounds you use are cleaned or maintained by people of color.

32. You, other family members, friends or colleagues were ever cared for by people of color either at home or at a medical or convalescent facility.

33. You don’t need to think about race and racism everyday. You can choose when and where you want to respond to racism.

After the exercise ask white people to pair with other white people to talk about what feelings and thoughts came up for them participating in the exercise. Ask people of color to pair with other people of color to share what came up for them and what it was like to observe white people doing the exercise.

Reassemble the group and facilitate a group discussion of the feelings, thoughts, reflections, and insights that people want to share.

To conclude the discussion tell the group that the purpose of this exercise is not to discount what white people have achieved but to question prevalent assumptions that everyone started out with equal opportunity or that white achievement occurs on a level playing field.

Also remind them that although some of the benefits listed above are money in the bank for each and every white person some white people have bigger bank accounts much bigger than the rest. According to 1992 figures, 1 percent of the population controls about 48 percent of the net financial wealth of this country. In 1996, women generally made about 74 cents for every dollar that men made. People with disabilities, people with less formal education, and people who are lesbian, gay or bi-sexual face substantial discrimination.

Benefits from racism are amplified or diminished by our relative privilege. All white people benefit in some ways from whiteness, but some have cornered the market on significant benefits from being white to the exclusion of the rest.

Finally, point out that individual white people are not responsible for the circumstances under which they stood for particular questions in the exercise. They were born into and inherited a system which exploits people of color and provides benefits to white people whether they want them or not. Individual white people are not responsible for racism—but they are responsible for how they respond to it.