Last week we read Peggy McIntosh’s essay on white privileges, where the author details many situations in which she, as a white person, may enjoys some unearned privileges that most white people may or may not notice and pay no special attention to. Most scenarios that she talks about are: she can get certain public and private services easier than people of other races; she can do many things without being considered as an outsider etc. As a non-white myself, I have also been in some situations in my daily life in which white privileges manifest itself.
The most recent one that I experienced is during a time when I was in a Chinese restaurants. My friends and I are the only few non-whites sitting there, with other guests surrounding us are predominantly white. But to my surprise, the attitudes with which the waiters and waitresses treat us and other guests are slightly different. As we entered the restaurant, we were asked how many people do we have and then were led to a seat; for other guests entering the restaurant, the waitress greeted them with a warm welcome, followed by some caring “How are you” etc. before they were led to a seat. The waiters and waitresses are of course Chinese/Asian. After our dinners are served, the waiters and waitresses just left us finish our dinner without coming back; but for other desks, however, they came back several times and asked the white guests how’s the food, if they need anything else and things like that, sometimes followed by a small conversation. I was surprised by the fact that we were all guests at that restaurant, but somehow, I felt that those white guests were being treated more warmly and friendly, while my friends and I were basically left there alone, finished our dinner and paid for the check and go. Is it simply because they were white so that they deserved to be treated better? We paid for the same price, but the service we got were totally different—I just don’t understand that.
One interesting fact that’s worth noting is that the other time I was in an American restaurant, I felt that I was treated in a way no different than the way white guests were being treated. The waiters and waitresses always put on their smiles before coming to the table, asked if everything is OK, and cordially offered advice on ordering. Compared to my experience in the Chinese restaurant, I am a little confused—why didn’t the white waiters and waitresses here serve me the way those in the Chinese restaurants served me? So now it brings up an interesting question: is white privilege an inherent thing in the society, or is it a thing inadvertently given by others?