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White privilege is something every white person has, but it’s rare they talk about it, which only adds to the social and pay disparity between white people and people of color. This is why celebrities such as Ashley Graham, Anne Hathaway and Amy Schumer are using their voices and privilege to get real about their white privilege and how they can utilize it to lift up people of color.
Ahead, we’ve rounded up several celebrities who have admitted to their white privilege and how it played an integral part in their success. From models to actors to singers, These celebrities, including models, actors and singers, aren’t ignoring their white privilege but are more aware of it each day, including the role it has played in bringing the fame and positions of power they have.
Schumer acknowledged her white privilege in a 2018 Instagram announcing her boycott of next year’s Super Bowl. The comedian told fans that she would not do a Super Bowl commercial until Colin Kaepernick, who is famous for taking the knee in protest of police brutality and the treatment of Black Americans, was rehired by the NFL. Schumer’s news followed reports that Rihanna turned down an opportunity to perform at the Super Bowl because of the NFL’s treatment of Kaepernick. The Inside Amy Schumer star also called on Maroon 5 and white NFL to acknowledge their privilege and take a stand against the NFL too.
“I wonder why more white players aren’t kneeling. Once you witness the truly deep inequality and endless racism people of color face in our country, not to mention the police brutality and murders. Why not kneel next to your brothers? Otherwise how are you not complicit?” Schumer wrote. “I think it would be cool if @maroon5 backed out of super bowl like @badgalriri Did. I personally told my reps I wouldn’t do a Super Bowl commercial this year. I know it must sound like a privilege ass sacrifice but it’s all i got. Hitting the nfl with the advertisers is the only way to really hurt them.”
The comedian’s Instagram was met with mixed responses, but overall, fans acknowledged and supported Schumer’s effort to take a stand for people of color. “Amy Schumer made a good post about white privilege recently too. I know y’all don’t like her, but she said similar things in support of Colin Kaepernick, and the lack of solidarity coming from white players,” one person tweeted.
After Nia Wilson, a Black 18-year-old, was stabbed and killed by a white man on an Oakland, California, train in 2018, Hathaway took to her Instagram to call on white people to take a stand against anti-Black violence. She explained that white people, including herself, do not share the same fear of violence that Black people have, which is why it’s important for them to acknowledge their privilege and use it to uplift people of color.
“White people- including me, including you- must take into the marrow of our privileged bones the truth that ALL black people fear for their lives DAILY in America and have done so for GENERATION,” she wrote. “White people DO NOT have equivalence for this fear of violence. Given those givens, we must ask our (white)selves- how “decent” are we really? Not in our intent, but in our actions? In our lack of action?”
As a straight white man, Hammer knows he has loads of privilege, which is why his role in 2018’s Broadway play Straight White Men was an important way to understand his privilege and how he experiences life differently than people of color do.
“To me, the naturalistic three-act play feels like the straight white male of theatrical forms,” Young Jean Lee, who wrote the play, told Vogue. “I noticed that straight white maleness, which used to be the default, seemed to have become a label. And I noticed straight white men adapting to suddenly having to take on this label, the way marginalized people have had labels applied to them forever. And then I realized that I could make an identity-politics show about that—it seemed like a really difficult challenge.”
Hammer added, “The play is so brilliant and prescient and timely—it deals so well with the concepts of toxic masculinity and white privilege, which we’re finally reckoning with as a society. And I thought, Not only will I get to push myself and do a play on Broadway but I’ll also get to be part of something that really has something to say.”
On a 2018 episode of her podcast, Pretty Big Deal, Graham talked about her success as a curve model and why she credits it to her white privilege. The model explained that there have been generations of women of color with curvy bodies for years, but because she’s white, Graham received an opportunity that other curvy women of color often don’t.
“Being a curvy woman hasn’t been a new thing. There’s been a generation of women of color who have had our body type for centuries,” Graham said. “And here I am, a white woman in this day and age, getting praised for having a curvy, voluptuous body, and now I’ve been given a platform to talk about it. But if you talk about any curvy models of color, there aren’t any that have been given a platform like mine.”
This isn’t the first time Graham has talked about her white privilege. In a 2017 interview with New York Magazine, the model talked about how “crazy” it is that there are no curvy supermodels of color and how she’s trying to use her platform to invite women of color to the table. “I know I’m on this pedestal because of white privilege,” she said. “To not see black or Latina women as famous in my industry is crazy! I have to talk about it. I want to give those women kudos because they are the ones who paved the way for me.”
She added, “I’m getting a seat at the table we’ve never had before, and I’m also pulling up a couple of seats around me. I know this isn’t about me. Just one girl is not going to change the world.”
In a 2018 interview with Post Media, Handler talked about her recent revelation that “half” of her career is due to her white privilege. “Basically I’m going to hang myself out to dry first and talk about the fact that I didn’t realize that half my career is because I’m white and pretty rather than me picking myself up by my bootstraps and working hard, which I always thought was the reason,” she said.
Her realization came after she started reading books by Black authors, which explained to her the difference between her existence and the existence of people of color. “Finally, I had the luxury of looking around and reading some books by some black authors who explained to me what the difference is between growing up in this world as a person of color versus being white,” she said. “I just felt horrified and humiliated that I didn’t know more sooner. That documentary is about trying to find out why white people think affirmative action is a bad thing, why you would want to keep any of our brothers and sisters down and why we are in denial that we are all benefits of white privilege.”
In a 2018 essay on Good Reads, Watson acknowledged her white privilege and how she benefits from it. The realization came after she received criticism for her 2015 speech about feminism at the United Nations, with many calling her a “white feminist.”
“When I gave my UN speech in 2015, so much of what I said was about the idea that ‘being a feminist is simple!’ Easy! No problem! I have since learned that being a feminist is more than a single choice or decision,” she wrote. “It’s an interrogation of self. Every time I think I’ve peeled all the layers, there’s another layer to peel. But, I also understand that the most difficult journeys are often the most worthwhile. And that this process cannot be done at anyone else’s pace or speed. When I heard myself being called a ‘white feminist’ I didn’t understand (I suppose I proved their case in point). What was the need to define me—or anyone else for that matter—as a feminist by race? What did this mean? Was I being called racist? Was the feminist movement more fractured than I had understood? I began…panicking.”
In the end, the experience led Watson to question her own whiteness and how it’s benefitted her, whether conscious or not. “It would have been more useful to spend the time asking myself questions like: What are the ways I have benefited from being white? In what ways do I support and uphold a system that is structurally racist? How do my race, class and gender affect my perspective?” she wrote.
In a 72-hour livestream for her album Witness in 2017, Perry got candid about her white privilege. The singer landed on the subject after she was confronted about the cultural appropriation she performed for the music video for her 2013 song “This Is How We Do,” which saw Perry wearing cornrows and grills and eating watermelon. “In my intent to admire and appreciate a culture I actually did appropriate and I made a mistake. I’m juggling 7000 balls,” Perry said.
It wasn’t until Perry listened to the criticism from internet critics and her Black friends did she realize that her choice to wear cornrows was offensive. The singer also acknowledged her white privilege and how she’s learning. “She told me about the power in black women’s hair and the struggle and I listened and I heard and I didn’t know,” she said. “It’s hard to hear those clapbacks sometimes and your ego just wants to turn from them and I’ve had great teachers who hold me accountable like when I said I wasn’t a feminist… I have lots of white privilege.”
Witherspoon first became aware of her white privilege as an actor after a conversation with Mindy Kaling, who pointed out to the Legally Blonde star that none of the roles she has were handed to her. In fact, they were all roles Kaling wrote for herself. Another thing I think about a lot is how it feels to be a minority woman in America, so rarely seeing yourself onscreen, and it’s unconscionable. When I asked Mindy Kaling, ‘Don’t you ever get exhausted by always having to create your own roles?’ She said, ‘Reese, I’ve never had anything that I didn’t create for myself,'” Witherspoon wrote in a 2017 essay for Glamour. “I thought, Wow, I feel like a jerk for asking that; I used to have parts that just showed up for me. I can’t imagine how hard it is to write your own parts and simultaneously have to change people’s perceptions of what a woman of color is in today’s society.”
As a straight white male, Poulter is aware of his privilege, but he knows that the first step to a more “equitable society” is acknowledging it. “I’ve certainly felt guilty about that. But guilt for those less privileged and those who experience the prejudice from which I’m protected isn’t enough. Acknowledgement is the first step in hopefully using your privilege to realize a more equitable society. I’m trying to find ways to deconstruct that hierarchy as opposed to just enjoying the privilege and acknowledging the guilt,” he told The Guardian in 2018.
He added, “I’m keen to develop as an activist and involve myself in charities and organisations. And with my acting, it’s important that the projects I do have a sociopolitical impact. I try to be conscious about the message. As a white, straight, middle-class male, I’m aware of things I take for granted.”