White Privilege Anxiety - What It Is and What to Do About It

Jordan Brown

My family is multiracial.

My dad is half-black, but I can pass as white.

And this gives me great anxiety.

We're at a turning point in our society, and racial tensions are higher than ever.

The thing is, the racial tensions were always there, but now they are coming to the surface.

This isn't what I normally write about, I realize this.

But I think it's important to consider the anxiety behind the many conversations around privilege that we are now having.

Mental health connects to everything.

White Privilege and Anxiety

I'm a social worker, but I don't consider myself an expert in privilege. There are people who, just because they happen to have a certain skin color, have not had the opportunities I've had. They should be the ones writing this right now.

This is just one perspective. My perspective.

Here's an uncomfortable fact. People with white skin, or lighter skin, or olive-colored skin like mine, have inherent advantages because of that reality. This gives me great anxiety, and I know it does for many, many others.

Why? Because it's wrong. It is unjustifiable that systems and institutions in the United States are made for people like me and run by people who look like me. It's wrong that I don't have to play a narrowly defined role to be safe in public spaces and the world at large.

If this gives you anxiety, that's good. It means that you're thinking about the great disparities that exist in this world. Anxiety isn't always a "mental illness." Anxiety also can be a good thing. It can be a sign that a change is about to happen, that a great shift is about to take place.

What to Do About White Privilege Anxiety

And here's the really uncomfortable part.

The anxiety will not fully go away until collectively we do something about the systems of racism that exist in the United States and around the world.

And that means making changes that will lead to a lot more anxiety for many before it gets better for all. To dismantle racist systems and rid the world of shame and anxiety, certain people must make their lives more inconvenient and uncomfortable so that others can have more freedom.

Where do you even begin with a reality like that?

This is What I'm Doing to Consider My Privilege

I'm educating myself beyond what I've learned in grad school and working in the mental health field.

I'm reading books and watching videos so I can fully understand the nature of my privilege. This makes me especially anxious because everything is based on skin color. My skin is even lighter than my sister's, so my experiences in this world fall along different gradients than hers.

And I'm listening more and more.

I'm talking less so that I can give voice to others who have been forced into the background. It happens automatically. Certain people naturally talk over others. And that's why it's so insidious. Privilege is getting something that you don't deserve just because you look a certain way.

And then I will act. When possible, I will be more uncomfortable so others can gain the power they should already have.

These conversations about race are making many people incredibly anxious.

But maybe we need a bit more anxiety for once.

Maybe that's how it feels before a societal shift takes place.