A Kids Book About: The Podcast

Ben Talks About White Privilege

Episode Summary

Ben Sand, author of A Kids Book About White Privilege, talks about how white people can investigate their privilege and use it to take action for good.

Episode Notes

Ben Sand, author of A Kids Book About White Privilege, talks about how white people can investigate their privilege and use it to take action for good.

A Kids Book About White Privilege (view book)

Full Book Description:

We’ve neglected the topic of white privilege for too long. This book directly addresses the myth that all children start from the same spot. White children growing up today need to see their privilege and learn how to use it for good. And maybe—just maybe— learn how to give it up.

About the Author:

Ben Sand is a social entrepreneur who is convinced we can bust through the tension if we think differently and act with courage. Ben leads an organization called The Contingent, which is building a movement of people trained for action: thecontingent.org.

*If you want to be on a future episode of A Kids Book About: The Podcast or if you have a question you’d like us to consider, have a grownup email us at listen@akidspodcastabout.com and we’ll send you the details.

Episode Transcription

A Kids Book About: The Podcast

S1 E021, Ben Talks About White Privilege


Matthew: What is white privilege?

Trent: I think white privilege means that Brown and Black people don’t get the same things that white people do, just because of white people’s skin color. 

Anya: White privilege to me means having an advantage just because of the color of your skin. 

Jacob: White privilege is when a person of a lighter skin tone is given preferential treatment or advantages in a specific situation—better than a person with a darker skin tone. 

Quinn: Uh it’s basically privileges for white people, that people with other races would not get because people can be quite racist sometimes. 

Ben: Well, you know, Matthew, when I look at my arm, it's kind of pinkish, reddish, beige, and yet when people talk about what color I am, they would say the word “white.” And a long time ago, grownups, decided to create labels for people. And they used colors of people's skin. And it just so happens that, for white people in particular, that's a group of people that over time in the history of the United States have had unearned privileges or unearned advantages, like they've had a headstart in a race. And so white privilege is this combination of trying to understand “What does it mean to be white?” and “How do we investigate these unearned advantages?” ...these headstarts that white people have had historically in our country.


Matthew: Welcome to A Kids Book About: The Podcast! I’m Matthew. I’m a teacher, a librarian, and I’m your host. The voices you heard at the top of our show were from Trent, Anya, Jacob, Quinn, and Ben. 

Each week we talk about the big things going on in your world with a different author from our A Kids Book About series.

Ben: Hello. I am Ben Sand and I am the author of A Kids Book About White Privilege.

Matthew: Listeners, I’m glad you chose this episode. It’s a topic that a lot of grownups are still working out because, I think, it’s not something that was acknowledged when they were kids. Speaking from my own experience, it definitely wasn’t something that was brought up in my home. And when you’ve gone your whole life understanding the world one way and then someone introduces new information that causes you to think about the world differently, it can be a bit disorienting. 

Ben’s book has caused a lot of grownups to ask a lot of questions.

Ben: One of the things that's been so interesting about publishing this book, A Kids Book About White Privilege has been, there are two groups of people. One is a group of people who are reading the book and enjoying the content and recognize that this isn't about any short sort of shame or guilt. We're not talking about those kinds of things with kids. 

And then there's another group of people, Matthew. Those are the people who haven't read the book who think that even talking about white privilege is a terrible idea. And so we've gotten a lot of negative feedback from some people that think that this is a bad idea to talk to kids about their ethnicity or the color of their skin. And of course, I think that's silly.

Matthew: The word “privilege” literally means a special right or advantage. And the catch is that privilege is given to a particular person or group, but others do not receive it. For example, If you are the right age and have earned your driver's license, you get the privilege of being able to legally drive a vehicle on a public road. If you are not old enough or have not earned your license, you do not have that privilege.

So when we talk about white privilege, we are talking about advantages granted to people with white skin solely because of the color of their skin.

Ben: So when we imagine the idea of privilege and investigate these unearned advantages that white people have had over time, sometimes those can be really small things and sometimes they can be really big. 

So for me, as an example of someone who is white, I am given oftentimes the benefit of the doubt that strangers might smile at me when I walk down the street or I might get invited to places that other people don't.

Sometimes it also can manifest in the kinds of jobs that people can get or the advantages that some people assume based off of the color of someone's skin. And when I think about privilege in particular for white people, there's also times where it shows up in ways that we don't even think about because we're white, like when you go to the grocery store and buy a bandaid, the flesh colored band aid oftentimes looks like a white person. 

And so it's sometimes can be things that are subtle in the way that we walk and engage the world. And sometimes it's even in the way that people think about products on the market and all of those things add up to a series of unearned advantages that white people have benefited from for a long time.

Matthew: So, the color of your skin may give you unearned advantages in some spaces. Likewise, we can say the opposite: the color of your skin can be a disadvantage in some spaces because of systemic racism and racial bias. We talk a lot about this in the episode with Jordan Thierry, author of A Kids Book About Systemic Racism.

Ben: The thing about white privilege is just because you have it, it doesn't make you bad or just because you haven't, it doesn't mean that you've had an easy life. 

And it also means that if you have it, you are going to be in the days ahead, given an opportunity to decide what to do with it. Some people might use those unearned advantages to lift themselves above others. And what we're investigating with this book is “How do we understand our white privilege and use it for good?”

Matthew: Okay, so… what are your thoughts so far? How does thinking about white privilege make you feel?

Trent: It makes me feel mad.

Grownup: Why?

Trent: Because I don’t know why it makes me mad. I think it makes me mad because Brown and Black people should get the same thing white people do.

Anya: Overall, sad, kind of angry. Because everyone’s human, everyone's different but um we’re all the same species. Just because some of us look different, just because of our skin color, um people get it easier than others, and I feel like that’s really wrong, and I feel like we need to fix it.

Ben: There are times when I can see some of the unearned advantages that I have because I'm white. And when I use that knowledge to serve other people and to lift other people up, that makes me feel good. 

But then there are times when I don't see some of my unearned advantages and someone points that out to me. And in those moments, I feel frustrated that maybe I'm not growing fast enough, because what I've learned is that white people really haven't spent very much time asking big questions about their whiteness. And so it's not a skill that we've been taught. 

And A Kids Book About is trying to teach a little bit of “how do we ask these new questions?”

Matthew: Coming up after the break: Ben gets personal about white privilege and we answer one of the questions you submitted. Stick around.


Matthew: Welcome back to A Kids Book About: The Podcast. On today’s episode we’re talking about white privilege with A Kids Book About author with Ben Sand.

Ben: Well, the leader of a kids book about Jelani is a really, really good friend of mine. And after George Floyd was murdered, we were watching what was happening and we saw all kinds of white kids that were protesting in the community. And we really thought, wow. Now's the time to talk to kids. They are ready to be in a conversation about their whiteness. And so that gave me the courage to write this book and I hope you enjoy it.

Matthew: Listeners, I don’t personally know you, so I’m not sure if you’ve heard the term white privilege prior to this episode. I’m not sure if you’ve brought it up with a grownup before. But I know that you’re here listening to this episode, and that tells me a lot. If the conversation so far has brought up a lot of questions in your brain, that’s excellent. Let’s keep exploring. Here’s Ben:

Ben: So I often will talk to kids about and ask them to think of all of the leaders in their life. And, in a way that is really not consistent with actually who lives in the world, I often hear kids tell me that the leaders in their life, whether that's a principal or a teacher or their parents boss, that those people are usually white.

And one of the things that we talk about is how important it is that, if you are white and you have some unearned advantages, or you are in a position of power, that now more than ever is a really important time to think about how do you give up that power to serve people of color who over time have felt discriminated against by white people.

This is a very courageous act and we're encouraging kids and their parents to consider operating from a place of humility and generosity to use the privilege that they have to serve other people.


Matthew: Quinn in Kansas shared a lot of great thoughts in the audio they sent in, but this question-turned-reaction is what I most want to play for you. 

Quinn: Um I don’t really know a question I would have about white privilege. Mainly, Why do people do it? It's kind of annoying. And it really gets on my nerves anytime somebody’s like, somebody’s, you know, does it.

Grownup: What do you mean?

Quinn: Anytime somebody really, like, gives special privileges to a white person because they’re white, that just makes me really, really mad.

Ben: Wow, Quinn. Thank you so much for sharing your feelings. I sometimes get angry when white people use their unearned advantages and, or give them away to other white people in ways that don't feel good for people of color. So I really can understand how it might make you really mad. 

I also think Quinn that if you can take that energy, that ball of energy that you feel inside of you and turn that energy into action. So that the next time you might have an opportunity to give a special privilege away to someone else, or even if you receive that special privilege, because your way that you might actually call that out in that moment, I suspect Quinn that you are the kind of courageous leader who could do just that.

Matthew: Jacob in Maryland shares next. 

Jacob: It makes me think about how this is all just something that is given to people by society. And I wonder what this world would look like or be like if there was such a thing as Black or darker skin tone privilege.

Ben: Jacob, one of the things that I imagine is that in our future: we're going to live in a world where the leaders and those who are in power look like the people who live here and. 

I also really wonder what it would look like if white people had the experience of not having the unearned advantages, how would they feel? What would they think? 

And sometimes I am afraid that white people don't put themselves in other people's lived experience or in other people's shoes where they would imagine what it would feel like if there was a group of people who didn't give them the same starting line, just because of the color of their skin. I think that a lot of white people would have really hurt feelings. And I think, honestly, your question is brilliant.

Matthew: To understand where Ben is now and how he came to view the world and his role in it, we have to go back a few years.

Ben:  I am a city kid. I've always grown up in this city and grown up in diverse environments. And I always knew even when I didn't have any words, that my experience as a white person was different than my friends, or even some of my family. But it wasn't until I was after graduating from college, I sat in a room with a group of black leaders who shared the history of what the history of our country from a white perspective and the history of our country from the perspective of people of color.

And it was in that real deep investigation where it really hit me: that the white experience has created these systems of advantage that are based on race. And I really felt excited that I had some new language to understand it, embarrassed that white people have done so many damaging things over our history, and also empowered to imagine how I could be a different kind of leader as a white person.

Matthew: Ben grew up in a racially diverse environment. We talked about diversity and inclusion on our previous episode with A Kids Book About author Charnaie Gordon.

We are all born into different and unique environments and experiences. And until you spend time in other places and trying other experiences, it can be hard to spot the unearned advantages Ben’s talked about. But they are there. In all places. Making it easier for some to succeed. And much harder for others.

Ben: So I grew up without a dad and I grew up really poor with no money. And I really had to spend a lot of my life trying to figure out how to make it on my own. And even with those challenges, I still can see so many examples of how I had unearned advantages that people of color did not have. And so just because you're white, it doesn't mean that your life is easy. My life growing up as a child was very hard. 

And so it's not just about what's easy and what's hard. It's about how we've created this world that we live in and how that world has created distance between what white people experience in the world and what people of color do. And I really want to encourage white kids to be the change.

Matthew: Before we go, I want to leave you with two very simple ways you can be that change. We can all help to be that change for one another, regardless of the color of our skin or the religion we practice, the relationships we share or the amount of money our family has. But especially if the body or circumstances you were born into give you privilege, these change-making suggestions are for you.   

Ben: When I think about what it means to have unearned advantages because I'm white, one of the ways that I tried to choose to use the privilege that I have to benefit other people, sometimes it has to do with relationships and making sure that the relationships that I have, or access to money or access to opportunities or access to empowerment, if I have access to those things, because those things tend to benefit white people, I really try hard to give those kinds of things away, whether that's opportunities or relationships. And so that is one way that I think kids and adults and parents can serve the world.

I think the other way is to recognize that when you're in a situation and white people are experiencing an advantage that people of color are not. Sometimes that could be in the way someone is treated at the grocery store. Sometimes that could be in the way that someone is treated in the community. It's really important for white people who are willing to be courageous, to step into those situations. And to say, “Hey,” to other white people, Hey, we're, “that is not a way to treat someone else regardless of the color of their skin.” And so we need some courageous people who are willing to share opportunities and relationships, and we need some courageous people who are willing to talk to other white people when they see white privilege in action that harms others.


Matthew: Thank you to Ben Sand, author of A Kids Book About the White Privilege, for joining us today. And thanks to our very special kid voices for helping make this episode what it is.

Trent: Hi, my name is Trent. I’m 7 years old. My favorite things are animals and reading. I live in Florida. 

Anya: My name is Anya. I am 13 years old, and I live in Maryland. My favorite hobby is to play video games and I also like listening to music. 

Jacob: My name is Jacob. I am 16 years old, and I live in Maryland. My favorite thing to do is reading. 

Quinn: Hi, my name is Quinn. I’m 11 years old and I live in Kansas. My favorite thing is playing video games. 

Matthew: Thank you, Trent, Anya, Jacob, and Quinn,! If you want to be on a future episode of A Kids Book About: The Podcast or if you have a question you’d like us to consider, have a grownup email us at listen@akidspodcastabout.com and we’ll send you the details. 

A Kids Book About: the Podcast is written, edited, and produced by me, Matthew Winner, with help from Chad Michael Snavely and the team at Sound On Studios. Our executive producer is Jelani Memory. And this show was brought to you by A Kids Podcast About. 

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