Privileges are opportunities and advantages that people who belong to the majority society, i.e. who are not marginalized, automatically receive and are therefore usually taken for granted.
The specific example of white privilege can be used as a proxy to trace criteria and mechanisms of privileged positions. For whiteness is primarily defined by the loss trace of non-whiteness. This means that white – like all groups – needs a counter pole through which it can legitimize its existence. Often, people are unaware of their privileges because they take them and the perspective that comes with them for granted and thus no longer perceive them.
The author David Foster Wallace developed a parable about this phenomenon in a speech delivered in 2005: “Two young fish are swimming along and happen to meet an older fish who is traveling in the opposite direction. He nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys. What’s the water like?ʻ The two young fish swim on for a while, and finally one takes one look at the other and says, ‘What the hell is water?ʻ”
Perspectives on the world are always limited, rarely objective, and never all-encompassing. It is only with an awareness of individual privilege, as well as an awareness of specific challenges – one’s own and those of others – that one can reflect and open discourse. In this context, white privilege can be multifaceted: White people are not questioned about their race by strangers in Germany. They are also not praised for their good knowledge of German. They do not have to wonder if they did not get a job or an apartment because of this facet of their identity. Being white is not an obstacle, being read as BIPoC is.