I am the direct beneficiary of White Privilege

My father grew up seriously poor, but when he died over 30 years ago he owned our family home, a two-story, four-bedroom house with a pool on the side of a hill in a beachside suburb of Sydney. He had a portfolio of investments and had put me through university.

To hear my dad tell it, he had dragged himself up by his bootstraps. Abandoned by his own father on the eve of the Great Depression, he was raised by a single mother in abject poverty.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, he lost an arm during World War II and returned home a barely educated, physically handicapped kid with no prospects whatsoever.

And yet, he made it. And he made it big! And I was the beneficiary of his hard work and graft.

But, God love him, the way my dad used to tell it wasn’t the whole story.

As a wounded returned serviceman, my father was entitled to a number of very generous benefits. For a start, our government gave him a medical benefits gold card (it was literally called a gold card). Every single doctor’s bill he and his family ever received was covered by the state. Every. Single. Penny.

But there’s more.

Veterans were entitled to no-deposit home loans on ridiculously low interest rates. Many were offered a “soldier settle block,” a land grant for them to build their houses on.

They were also entitled to free university tuition.

In other words, in return for his military service to his country, the government of Australia paid to lift my poor, unqualified, working class father into the middle class where I was raised with all the benefits and opportunities that comes from being the child of the Greatest Generation.

Don’t get me wrong. He worked extremely hard. But he would never have had the success he had without all the government support he received.

But wait.

After the war, Aboriginal veterans, who served the country as bravely and as selflessly as their white fellow servicemen, were offered nothing. Nada. Nix. And during their military service they were only paid roughly half what my father was paid.

Very few black Australian soldiers were granted a soldier settler block. They were not even entitled to full citizenship to the country they fought to defend. Most of them still had to live under the so-called ‘Protection Acts’ that imposed strict control over almost every aspect of Aboriginal life.

See, I am the direct beneficiary of white privilege.

It doesn’t matter if I’ve never thought a racist thought in my life. It doesn’t matter how heartfelt my opposition to racism might be. My government footed the bill to make me a privileged, educated, middle class kid and I have been afforded plenty of opportunities for advancement as a result. And my black counterparts didn’t get those opportunities through no fault of their own.

Sucks, doesn’t it? The system was rigged in my family’s favor.

Acknowledging this is only the first step in combating racism and inequality. There are still the seemingly insurmountable obstacles of our history of slavery, institutional racism, police brutality, etc etc. But while ever privileged white citizens can’t even see the inherent racism in the system they’ve benefited from nothing will change.      

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The views expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Morling College or its affiliates and partners.

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13 thoughts on “I am the direct beneficiary of White Privilege

  1. Thanks for the Aussie history lesson and your story. I too have benefited from my father’s lessons. As you may remember I’m a TO (theologian’s offspring). When my dad retired early he and mom lived on very little until he got his Social Security. His highest salary was just over )10,000 so his denominational pension wasn’t much. He taught me to understand the difference between want and need and to notice people and encourage them. My wife and I don’t have a lot of money in our golden years but we’re rich. If you’ve seen my Facebook picture you’ve seen that my grandchildren are of mixed race. I have learned a great deal about white privilege from their fathers. I know why Black Lives Matter. Peace.

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughts. It helps me know someone white really understands!

  2. Thanks Mike – we really need these alternative narratives being told.
    Have you read Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe? I highly recommend it – perhaps one of the most important books I’ve read regarding australian history (along with ‘The greatest estate on earth – how the aborigines made Australia’ by Bill Gammage).

  3. A very real and confronting truth!

  4. True enough for Australia but sadly not true in some parts of the world. My sister-in-law (in South Africa) is one of many white people told by her company that they will never get a promotion. My brother-in-law left because his sons could never follow in his trade, because apprenticeships were no longer available for white people.
    Not saying we can’t make amends to Aborigines here but headlines like this annoy me.

    1. One injustice is not compensated by another. But without a more profound understanding of humanity’s spiritual and emotional immaturity we human beings like children feel we need to pay back in kind. We want to ‘get even’. The alternative would be to treat everyone alike but if through social injustice some are deprived it is reasonable to help the.individual who’s normal development has been delayed or stunted as the result of deprivation ;without cutting off someone else’s wings. The human race is the same wherever its habitat.
      The Golden Rule applied universally would leave no room for tit for tat type of response. If we are to truly love our fellows we must genuinely forgive and keep our hearts free of rancor.

    2. Hey Clare,
      I appreciate your response what about the article. Would you be willing to explain what is it about the article that annoys you? I think that it’s important that we discuss certain social constructs and why they bother us.

  5. Not offering benefits to black returned servicemen meant that a whole generation of indigenous Australians started behind the eight ball while my white generation got to steam ahead. It’s an inadvertent form of social engineering whose effects will be felt for years to come.

  6. I grew up in NSW mainly. Dad was a minister.
    I remember one time when a group came to town who were trying to get Aborigines into local public swimming pools. They didn’t have any problems in our city and I was proud of that for years.
    I remember a couple of the Aboriginal kids from school. They were fantastic athletes and as the slowest runner in my year I admired them and was jealous.
    Many years later, through work, I travelled around NSW and visited places where there had been problems and drove by where ‘our’ Aborigines came from.
    I think that we were comfortable and apparently welcoming because we had ‘our’ Aborigines living 50 miles (80 km) away. Out of sight, out of mind.
    This brought some perspective.

  7. My dad also served in the war but never was involved in any direct action. He received a gold card as well. My family, with 5 children, also benefitted from universal child endowment that wasn’t means tested. There were also tax deductions for spouse and dependents so no income tax was paid and disposable income was likely 3% above earned income. Once married my mother never needed to get a job and could spend her days involved in church and volunteering. (Probably raising money for the poor Aboriginal children on missions!) Both my parents were remembered as hard working but no mention is made of the generous government support given to white middle class families.
    It’s disgusting how the Aboriginal veterans were treated.

  8. Good article, and very true, but ‘white privilege’ is to my mind an extremely unhelpful term to use.

    One problem with the term ‘white privilege’ firstly is that it is quite loaded and divisive, so isn’t helpful in changing peoples attitudes. But the main problem it implies that it is still mostly a racism problem.

    You are the direct beneficiary of racist policies and systemic discrimination, yes, but the ‘white privilege’ that was an outcome of that is actually a subset of entrenched economic inequality. This is why the situation doesn’t improve as general attitudes become less racist. In fact, if somehow everybody completely stopped being racist tomorrow, we would still have the exact same problems in outcomes for indigenous and other minority groups, because while they were started by racism, they are now maintained and exacerbated by economics.

    While calling out racism is good, we are missing a huge piece of the puzzle by not fighting entrenched economic inequality in all its forms (and the flawed political and economic ideologies that cause it), and the term ‘white privilege’ simply distracts us from the main underlying problems.

    1. I don’t disagree. But this article has been read thousands of times and has hundreds of shares on social media. So, while ‘white privilege’ might be a loaded term as you say it is not inaccurate and it attracts attention to an important issues. Yes, it does concern economic inequality. But it’s an inequality that finds its roots in racism. If a loaded term like white privilege gets the story read and encourages people to consider the reality of our situation that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

  9. I think one of the reasons that we don’t like to talk about privilege is that we (in the west) are trained to think individualistically. I’ve struggled with this. After all, I am not a racist. I am not rich. So there must not be a problem. Until we start seeing ourselves as part of a larger system, in which every group is not on equal footing, we will always have a large group of people who cringe and plug their ears whenever someones mentions privilege of any kind.

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