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Trailblazing gay basketball player and psychologist John Amaechi perfectly deconstructs white privilege in 180 seconds

Reiss Smith August 6, 2020
John Amaechi

John Amaechi broke down white privilege. (BBC Bitesize)

John Amaechi, the trailblazing gay basketball player turned respected psychologist, broke down the truth about white privilege – and why it isn’t something to get upset about.

“White privilege” began trending in the UK on Twitter after BBC Bitesize shared a two-and-a-half minute video of Amaechi deconstructing what it is – and just as importantly, what it isn’t.

Amaechi, who became the first NBA player to come out as gay (after his retirement) in 2007, begins his explanation by dismissing the idea that white privilege is an insult, or something that a person should feel bad about.

“Privilege is a hard concept for people to understand, because normally when we talk of privilege we imagine immediate unearned riches and tangible benefits for anyone who has it,” he explains.

“But white privilege – and indeed all privilege – is actually about the absence of inconvenience, the absence of an impediment or challenge and as such when you have it, you really don’t notice it.

“But when it’s absent, it affects everything you do.”

Brilliantly explaining the ways in which privilege is layered and relative, Amaechi speaks of his own experience.

Although gay and Black, Amaechi is able-bodied, meaning he has a specific privilege in comparison to his friends who are wheelchair users.

“I’ll be honest,” he says, “when I first met them I was completely ignorant about the everyday ways their lives are made harder through no fault of their own.”

Some of these ways, he says, are thoughtless, whereas some are down to the ways our society and our infrastructure is built around people without disabilities.

Understanding and embracing that he has able-bodied privilege, he says, doesn’t make him a bad person.

“But ignoring it raises the chance that my friends will be excluded in ways that are not obvious to me, and as their friend I can’t allow that.”

White privilege doesn’t mean you haven’t worked hard.

Similarly, Amaechi explains, acknowledging white privilege only serves to benefit those who do not have it.

“White privilege doesn’t mean you haven’t worked hard or you don’t deserve the success you’ve had.

“It doesn’t mean that your life isn’t hard or that you’ve never suffered.

“It simply means that your skin colour has not been the cause of your hardship or suffering.”

Amaechi adds: “There is nothing but a benefit to understanding our own privilege – white and otherwise.

“It brings us closer to those who are different. It helps us be vigilant about the ways we treat others different than us. It helps us make a society that is fairer and more equal.

“Having white privilege doesn’t make your life easy but understanding it can help you realise why some people’s lives are harder than they should be.”

As a bonus, John Amaechi broke down what anti-racism really means.

Though largely applauded, the video – predictably – garnered a backlash from racists eternally outraged by the very concept of white privilege.

In a follow-up video, Amaechi posited that those who were upset probably hadn’t watched his explanation before angrily bashing their keyboards, urging people to watch before commenting.

“I am privileged in so many ways… hugely so,” he says. “White privilege is just one of many types. It’s not special, it’s not unique.”

He signed off with a call for white allies to commit to being truly anti-racist.

“This is the only place of good conscience to be: on the other side of the fence to racism – anti-racism.

“It’s not radical, it’s not political, it just means that you are one of those people who are willing to create a barrier, a separation and a distinction between you and those – whether sophisticated or clumsy – who spout racist tripe.”

More: black lives matter, John Amaechi, white privilege

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