MAGAZINE FEATURE

What Is White Privilege, Really?

Recognizing white privilege begins with truly understanding the term itself.
Illustration by Marcin Wolski

Today, white privilege is often described through the lens of Peggy McIntosh’s groundbreaking essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Originally published in 1988, the essay helps readers recognize white privilege by making its effects personal and tangible. For many, white privilege was an invisible force that white people needed to recognize. It was being able to walk into a store and find that the main displays of shampoo and panty hose were catered toward your hair type and skin tone. It was being able to turn on the television and see people of your race widely represented. It was being able to move through life without being racially profiled or unfairly stereotyped. All true.

This idea of white privilege as unseen, unconscious advantages took hold. It became easy for people to interpret McIntosh’s version of white privilege—fairly or not—as mostly a matter of cosmetics and inconvenience.

Those interpretations overshadow the origins of white privilege, as well as its present-day ability to influence systemic decisions. They overshadow the fact that white privilege is both a legacy and a cause of racism. And they overshadow the words of many people of color, who for decades recognized white privilege as the result of conscious acts and refused to separate it from historic inequities. 

In short, we’ve forgotten what white privilege really means—which is all of this, all at once. And if we stand behind the belief that recognizing white privilege is integral to the anti-bias work of white educators, we must offer a broader recognition. 

A recognition that does not silence the voices of those most affected by white privilege; a recognition that does not ignore where it comes from and why it has staying power. 

 

Racism vs. White Privilege 

Having white privilege and recognizing it is not racist. But white privilege exists because of historic, enduring racism and biases. Therefore, defining white privilege also requires finding working definitions of racism and bias. 

So, what is racism? One helpful definition comes from Matthew Clair and Jeffrey S. Denis’s “Sociology on Racism.” They define racism as “individual- and group-level processes and structures that are implicated in the reproduction of racial inequality.” Systemic racism happens when these structures or processes are carried out by groups with power, such as governments, businesses or schools. Racism differs from bias, which is a conscious or unconscious prejudice against an individual or group based on their identity. 

Basically, racial bias is a belief. Racism is what happens when that belief translates into action. For example, a person might unconsciously or consciously believe that people of color are more likely to commit crime or be dangerous. That’s a bias. A person might become anxious if they perceive a black person is angry. That stems from a bias. These biases can become racism through a number of actions ranging in severity, and ranging from individual- to group-level responses: 

  • A person crosses the street to avoid walking next to a group of young black men.
  • A person calls 911 to report the presence of a person of color who is otherwise behaving lawfully.
  • A police officer shoots an unarmed person of color because he “feared for his life.”
  • A jury finds a person of color guilty of a violent crime despite scant evidence. 
  • A federal intelligence agency prioritizes investigating black and Latino activists rather than investigate white supremacist activity. 

Both racism and bias rely on what sociologists call racialization. This is the grouping of people based on perceived physical differences, such as skin tone. This arbitrary grouping of people, historically, fueled biases and became a tool for justifying the cruel treatment and discrimination of non-white people. Colonialism, slavery and Jim Crow laws were all sold with junk science and propaganda that claimed people of a certain “race” were fundamentally different from those of another—and they should be treated accordingly. And while not all white people participated directly in this mistreatment, their learned biases and their safety from such treatment led many to commit one of those most powerful actions: silence. 

And just like that, the trauma, displacement, cruel treatment and discrimination of people of color, inevitably, gave birth to white privilege.

 

So, What Is White Privilege?

White privilege is—perhaps most notably in this era of uncivil discourse—a concept that has fallen victim to its own connotations. The two-word term packs a double whammy that inspires pushback. 1) The word white creates discomfort among those who are not used to being defined or described by their race. And 2) the word privilege, especially for poor and rural white people, sounds like a word that doesn’t belong to them—like a word that suggests they have never struggled.

This defensiveness derails the conversation, which means, unfortunately, that defining white privilege must often begin with defining what it’s not. Otherwise, only the choir listens; the people you actually want to reach check out. White privilege is not the suggestion that white people have never struggled. Many white people do not enjoy the privileges that come with relative affluence, such as food security. Many do not experience the privileges that come with access, such as nearby hospitals.

And white privilege is not the assumption that everything a white person has accomplished is unearned; most white people who have reached a high level of success worked extremely hard to get there. Instead, white privilege should be viewed as a built-in advantage, separate from one’s level of income or effort.

Francis E. Kendall, author of Diversity in the Classroom and Understanding White Privilege: Creating Pathways to Authentic Relationships Across Race, comes close to giving us an encompassing definition: “having greater access to power and resources than people of color [in the same situation] do.” But in order to grasp what this means, it’s also important to consider how the definition of white privilege has changed over time.

 

White Privilege Through the Years

In a thorough article, education researcher Jacob Bennett tracked the history of the term. Before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, “white privilege” was less commonly used but generally referred to legal and systemic advantages given to white people by the United States, such as citizenship, the right to vote or the right to buy a house in the neighborhood of their choice.

It was only after discrimination persisted for years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that people like Peggy McIntosh began to view white privilege as being more psychological—a subconscious prejudice perpetuated by white people’s lack of awareness that they held this power. White privilege could be found in day-to-day transactions and in white people’s ability to move through the professional and personal worlds with relative ease.

But some people of color continued to insist that an element of white privilege included the aftereffects of conscious choices. For example, if white business leaders didn’t hire many people of color, white people had more economic opportunities. Having the ability to maintain that power dynamic, in itself, was a white privilege, and it endures. Legislative bodies, corporate leaders and educators are still disproportionately white and often make conscious choices (laws, hiring practices, discipline procedures) that keep this cycle on repeat.

The more complicated truth: White privilege is both unconsciously enjoyed and consciously perpetuated. It is both on the surface and deeply embedded into American life. It is a weightless knapsack—and a weapon.

It depends on who’s carrying it.

 

White Privilege as the “Power of Normal”

Sometimes the examples used to make white privilege visible to those who have it are also the examples least damaging to people who lack it. But that does not mean these examples do not matter or that they do no damage at all. 

These subtle versions of white privilege are often used as a comfortable, easy entry point for people who might push back against the concept. That is why they remain so popular. These are simple, everyday things, conveniences white people aren’t forced to think about.

These often-used examples include: 

  • The first-aid kit having “flesh-colored” Band-Aids that only match the skin tone of white people. 
  • The products white people need for their hair being in the aisle labeled “hair care” rather than in a smaller, separate section of “ethnic hair products.”
  • The grocery store stocking a variety of food options that reflect the cultural traditions of most white people.

But the root of these problems is often ignored. These types of examples can be dismissed by white people who might say, “My hair is curly and requires special product,” or “My family is from Poland, and it’s hard to find traditional Polish food at the grocery store.”

This may be true. But the reason even these simple white privileges need to be recognized is that the damage goes beyond the inconvenience of shopping for goods and services. These privileges are symbolic of what we might call “the power of normal.” If public spaces and goods seem catered to one race and segregate the needs of people of other races into special sections, that indicates something beneath the surface.

White people become more likely to move through the world with an expectation that their needs be readily met. People of color move through the world knowing their needs are on the margins. Recognizing this means recognizing where gaps exist.

 

White Privilege as the “Power of the Benefit of the Doubt”

The “power of normal” goes beyond the local CVS. White people are also more likely to see positive portrayals of people who look like them on the news, on TV shows and in movies. They are more likely to be treated as individuals, rather than as representatives of (or exceptions to) a stereotyped racial identity. In other words, they are more often humanized and granted the benefit of the doubt. They are more likely to receive compassion, to be granted individual potential, to survive mistakes.

This has negative effects for people of color, who, without this privilege, face the consequences of racial profiling, stereotypes and lack of compassion for their struggles.

In these scenarios, white privilege includes the facts that:

  • White people are less likely to be followed, interrogated or searched by law enforcement because they look “suspicious.”
  •  White people’s skin tone will not be a reason people hesitate to trust their credit or financial responsibility. 
  •  If white people are accused of a crime, they are less likely to be presumed guilty, less likely to be sentenced to death and more likely to be portrayed in a fair, nuanced manner by media outlets (see the #IfTheyGunnedMeDown campaign). 
  •  The personal faults or missteps of white people will likely not be used to later deny opportunities or compassion to people who share their racial identity.

This privilege is invisible to many white people because it seems reasonable that a person should be extended compassion as they move through the world. It seems logical that a person should have the chance to prove themselves individually before they are judged. It’s supposedly an American ideal.

But it’s a privilege often not granted to people of color—with dire consequences.

For example, programs like New York City’s now-abandoned “Stop and Frisk” policy target a disproportionate number of black and Latinx people. People of color are more likely to be arrested for drug offenses despite using at a similar rate to white people. Some people do not survive these stereotypes. In 2017, people of color who were unarmed and not attacking anyone were more likely to be killed by police.

Those who survive instances of racial profiling—be they subtle or violent—do not escape unaffected. They often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and this trauma in turn affects their friends, families and immediate communities, who are exposed to their own vulnerability as a result.

A study conducted in Australia (which has its own hard history of subjugating black and Indigenous people) perfectly illustrates how white privilege can manifest in day-to-day interactions—daily reminders that one is not worthy of the same benefit of the doubt given to another. In the experiment, people of different racial and ethnic identities tried to board public buses, telling the driver they didn’t have enough money to pay for the ride. Researchers documented more than 1,500 attempts. The results: 72 percent of white people were allowed to stay on the bus. Only 36 percent of black people were extended the same kindness.

Just as people of color did nothing to deserve this unequal treatment, white people did not “earn” disproportionate access to compassion and fairness. They receive it as the byproduct of systemic racism and bias.

And even if they are not aware of it in their daily lives as they walk along the streets, this privilege is the result of conscious choices made long ago and choices still being made today.

 

White Privilege as the “Power of Accumulated Power”

Perhaps the most important lesson about white privilege is the one that’s taught the least.

The “power of normal” and the “power of the benefit of the doubt” are not just subconscious byproducts of past discrimination. They are the purposeful results of racism—an ouroboros of sorts—that allow for the constant re-creation of inequality. 

These powers would not exist if systemic racism hadn’t come first. And systemic racism cannot endure unless those powers still hold sway.

You can imagine it as something of a whiteness water cycle, wherein racism is the rain. That rain populates the earth, giving some areas more access to life and resources than others. The evaporation is white privilege—an invisible phenomenon that is both a result of the rain and the reason it keeps going.

McIntosh asked herself an important question that inspired her famous essay, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”: “On a daily basis, what do I have that I didn’t earn?” Our work should include asking the two looming follow-up questions: Who built that system? Who keeps it going?

The answers to those questions could fill several books. But they produce examples of white privilege that you won’t find in many broad explainer pieces.

For example, the ability to accumulate wealth has long been a white privilege—a privilege created by overt, systemic racism in both the public and private sectors. In 2014, the Pew Research Center released a report that revealed the median net worth of a white household was $141,900; for black and Hispanic households, that dropped to $11,000 and $13,700, respectively. The gap is huge, and the great “equalizers” don’t narrow it. Research from Brandeis University and Demos found that the racial wealth gap is not closed when people of color attend college (the median white person who went to college has 7.2 times more wealth than the median black person who went to college, and 3.9 times more than the median Latino person who went to college). Nor do they close the gap when they work full time, or when they spend less and save more.

The gap, instead, relies largely on inheritance—wealth passed from one generation to the next. And that wealth often comes in the form of inherited homes with value. When white families are able to accumulate wealth because of their earning power or home value, they are more likely to support their children into early adulthood, helping with expenses such as college education, first cars and first homes. The cycle continues.

This is a privilege denied to many families of color, a denial that started with the work of public leaders and property managers. After World War II, when the G.I. Bill provided white veterans with “a magic carpet to the middle class,” racist zoning laws segregated towns and cities with sizeable populations of people of color—from Baltimore to Birmingham, from New York to St. Louis, from Louisville to Oklahoma City, to Chicago, to Austin, and in cities beyond and in between.

These exclusionary zoning practices evolved from city ordinances to redlining by the Federal Housing Administration (which wouldn’t back loans to black people or those who lived close to black people), to more insidious techniques written into building codes. The result: People of color weren’t allowed to raise their children and invest their money in neighborhoods with “high home values.” The cycle continues today. Before the 2008 crash, people of color were disproportionately targeted for subprime mortgages. And neighborhood diversity continues to correlate with low property values across the United States. According to the Century Foundation, one-fourth of black Americans living in poverty live in high-poverty neighborhoods; only 1 in 13 impoverished white Americans lives in a high-poverty neighborhood.

The inequities compound. To this day, more than 80 percent of poor black students attend a high-poverty school, where suspension rates are often higher and resources often more limited. Once out of school, obstacles remain. Economic forgiveness and trust still has racial divides. In a University of Wisconsin study, 17 percent of white job applicants with a criminal history got a call back from an employer; only five percent of black applicants with a criminal history got call backs. And according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, black Americans are 105 percent more likely than white people to receive a high-cost mortgage, with Latino Americans 78 percent more likely. This is after controlling for variables such as credit score and debt-to-income ratios.

Why mention these issues in an article defining white privilege? Because the past and present context of wealth inequality serves as a perfect example of white privilege.

If privilege, from the Latin roots of the term, refers to laws that have an impact on individuals, then what is more effective than a history of laws that explicitly targeted racial minorities to keep them out of neighborhoods and deny them access to wealth and services?

If white privilege is “having greater access to power and resources than people of color [in the same situation] do,” then what is more exemplary than the access to wealth, the access to neighborhoods and the access to the power to segregate cities, deny loans and perpetuate these systems?

This example of white privilege also illustrates how systemic inequities trickle down to less harmful versions of white privilege. Wealth inequity contributes to the “power of the benefit of the doubt” every time a white person is given a lower mortgage rate than a person of color with the same credit credentials. Wealth inequity reinforces the “power of normal” every time businesses assume their most profitable consumer base is the white base and adjust their products accordingly.

And this example of white privilege serves an important purpose: It re-centers the power of conscious choices in the conversation about what white privilege is.

People can be ignorant about these inequities, of course. According to the Pew Research Center, only 46 percent of white people say that they benefit “a great deal” or “a fair amount” from advantages that society does not offer to black people. But conscious choices were and are made to uphold these privileges. And this goes beyond loan officers and lawmakers. Multiple surveys have shown that many white people support the idea of racial equality but are less supportive of policies that could make it more possible, such as reparations, affirmative action or law enforcement reform.

In that way, white privilege is not just the power to find what you need in a convenience store or to move through the world without your race defining your interactions. It’s not just the subconscious comfort of seeing a world that serves you as normal. It’s also the power to remain silent in the face of racial inequity. It’s the power to weigh the need for protest or confrontation against the discomfort or inconvenience of speaking up. It’s getting to choose when and where you want to take a stand. It’s knowing that you and your humanity are safe.

And what a privilege that is.

Collins is the senior writer for Teaching Tolerance.

​​​​​​​So, what can I do once I recognize my white privilege?

Beyond recognition, white people can use their white privilege in a way that is beneficial to all people. Here’s how.*  

 

Don’t take it personally or use discomfort as an excuse to disengage. 

Feelings of guilt or defensiveness are common responses, but ultimately, they’re counterproductive. Rather than centering your own feelings of discomfort, center the feelings of people of color in evaluating what to do with this information. If your instinct is telling you it’s more comfortable to retreat or reassure yourself that you are not racist, think instead, What actions can I take to help

 

Learn when to listen, when to amplify and when to speak up. 

When people of color speak to their experiences of oppression, it’s important for white people not to dominate the conversation or question those experiences. You can use your privilege to amplify those voices. Share the work and perspectives of people of color on social media. Credit colleagues of color for ideas. This not only helps marginalized people reach that audience but also helps spread their message from the source, rather than through the lens of a white person.

 

That said, there are also times when white people should speak up. It’s not fair to burden people of color by making them always take the lead on anti-bias work or intervening when something offensive is said or done. If you hear racist remarks, speak up. If you see opportunities to educate fellow white people about race, do so. As an ally, your privilege can be a tool to reach people who may be more likely to listen to you or relate to your journey in understanding your own relationship to race and white privilege. 

 

Educate yourself.

Just as you should not always expect people of color to take the lead on speaking out against racism, you also shouldn’t expect them to educate you on racism. While it’s OK to ask questions of those who have expressed a willingness to answer them, you have the power to educate yourself. Seek out books and articles on the topic written by people of color. Critically evaluate documentaries that surround topics like slavery, race, the U.S. prison system and more. We have more access to information created by people of color than ever before. Take advantage of it, and avoid burdening friends or coworkers of color with constant questions about their experiences. 

 

Educate fellow white people

Share what you’ve learned. Push through discomfort and demand courageous conversations in your circles. Do not let peers get away with problematic remarks without making a serious effort to engage them.

 

Risk your unearned benefits to benefit others.

You have most likely seen a viral video featuring Joy DeGruy talking about her biracial sister-in-law using her white skin privilege to question why Joy was receiving undue scrutiny from a cashier. She risks her comfort and her easy transactions with the store to point out this unfairness and ultimately receives support from witnesses and management. 

There are other ways to do this in our daily lives. It can be as simple as intervening if you see a boss or fellow educator treating someone differently because of their racial identity. It can mean advocating for a coworker to receive equal pay or opportunities. It can mean being an active witness when you see people of color confronted by law enforcement or harassed by bigots and letting them know you are there to support them and record the interaction if necessary. And it most certainly can mean engaging directly in anti-bias work, such as instilling more inclusive practices at your school or business or working with people committed to allyship and anti-racist activism, such as SURJ

 

*Some of these steps were adapted from suggestions in Emily Chiariello’s “Why Talk About Whiteness?”

Unpack the concept of whiteness and white privilege with yourself and with your students.

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21 COMMENTS

I am a 51 year old white male living in south Louisiana. Something happened to me recently that brought home white privilege for me. I was walking out of Way-Mart with my purchases. I have a distaste of their practice of checking receipts as customers leave and I was in a hurry. As I left the employee asked me if I had my receipt. "I sure do!", I responded, and continued walking to my car and... nothing happened, just like it should have. I think the reason some white people fail to recognize their privilege is that it often manifests itself as the day to day response and interactions with others that everyone SHOULD be able to enjoy. After I got back to my car, I asked my wife if that interaction with the Wal-Mart employee would have ended the same if I had been a 20 year old African or Latino American, neither of us could say that we were certain it would have. White privilege is not something that should be taken from white people it should be extended to everyone. When those of us who are white recognize that it exists, we move closer to making our world less privileged but more just and equitable without taking a thing away from ourselves.
I completely reject "white privilege" as a legitimate construct. The very term is offensive and racist. Anecdotal evidence from a college professor does not constitute the legitimacy of the term. Neither does any of the other "evidence" provided in your article. Instead of assuming white people receive benefits from their whiteness, why don't you ask, "Could there be other explanations for why minorities experience some of the so-called results pointed to in this article?" That seems to me a much m ore thorough look into the issue. For example, the only color lending institutions care about is green. When running a credit check on a prospective buyer, if that check demonstrates the borrowers ability to pay the loan back, the lending institution will lend the money. They simply don't make money unless they lend money, so it would be counterproductive to exclude a prospective customer based on nothing but gender/skin color/race, etc. Also, when it comes to law enforcement, if you have the majority of people committing crimes in a certain area to be people of color, it certainly makes sense that those are the people who will be scrutinized more heavily. This is no way constitutes giving people of a different race less scrutiny as "white privilege." As whites are the majority in this country, it makes sense that department stores will display those items that sell best in a more prominent place. Again, this doesn't constitute "white privilege." This entire concept is nothing more than social Marxism. In the 21st century alone, this king of thinking has led to the deaths of over 100 million individuals. When will people learn that dividing people by race, ethnicity, religion, gender, etc. is not helpful. As a matter of fact it is extremely detrimental to the well-being of our society. I whole-heartedly reject it and encourage your readers to do the same.
I joined this site just to comment on this subject. Babylonbee is right on target with the argument. Race is a recent construct to help create further divisions among us. We need to eradicate ideas of race as a method of identification. Legislative acts like 'affirmative action' create an environment where one person can get picked just based on the color of their skin, giving rise the concept that race actually divides us and creating anti-minority sentiments. Furthermore, comments about 'white privilige' helps foster anti-caucasian racism that feeds the perpetual fire. It is an old adage that states "two wrongs don't make a right." This issue of blaming one group for any problems another might have is redicoulous anyway. It is true that a very racial slavery existed in America, as well as other regions, prior to the events of the Civil War. The last known American slave, a man named Sylvester Magee died in 1971. Desegregation of schools started in schools started around the same time. More and more people have grown up in a time where race was little more then a subject for a comedy skit. I, myself, came from an area of high racial diversity. Even my home was racially diverse as my sisters and I were adopted. In areas of high racial diversity, the real separation can be seen: socioeconomic class. Those who have grown up or currently reside in impoverished conditions are at a huge disadvantage over those that had resources. To touch on BabylonBee's statement again, the idea of race is detrimental to societies especially when it takes the focus of the issue of poverty and class division. Two different children belonging to different races but sharing similiar conditions of extreme poverty are not likely to care who is better represented in the shampoo isle but it is true that if one of those children are 'white,' they won't find any kind of special program or specialized federal grant that helps poor 'whites.' Through the act of trying to make up for our ancestors mistakes, we are creating a continuation of racial segregation and with it a continuation of racial deprivation. All people are created equal and nobody should be judged, good or bad, by their gender or by the color of their. To truly eradicate racism, people like you and organizations like tolerance.org need to stop creating some magical illusion that race is actually a thing. I also reject this redicoulous construct of race and any kind of racial provlidge. I advise readers to do the same. As far as you and your .org go, If you feel like you need to still have some sort of reason for your existence, preach about tolerance of other cultures. Cultures that people subscribe to do separate and define us. It is our social right to create an identity though the subscription to several cultures and subcultures. These groups can have strong opinions that create some indifference between other groups and themselves. Each has the right exists and to have those opinions and organizations such as yours could stop creating illusions of race and start illuminating facts about cultures that helps create a deeper understanding of traditions unfamiliar to our own and with it remove the fog of the unknown that creates some of these ignorant fears of others. People of 21st century, we are better than this. No More Race
White privilege is an asinine concept. It can be summed up by stereotypes (unfair or not) and majority preference, calling it white privilege is a mistake.

" It was being able to turn on the television and see people of your race widely represented."

This country is 61.3% white and has been much higher in our history, the fact that the market(movies, shows, etc.) appeal to a white audience is a market trend based on an attempt to appeal to a white majority.
There are countless stereotypes(many based on facts) that generalizations about blacks and do them no service excelling in our society. They are unfortunate but a anthropologic fact of human nature. An article on how we can break down stereotypes of the black community would be an article that is worth a read and constructive, however making victims out of the black community and martyrs out white people is absolutely ridiculous.
I believe that some essential background knowledge as not been considered in the above comments. In today's America, we do not have equality. Because of the inequalities, programs and assistance is necessary in order to achieve equality; equality being the ultimate goal in society (which will not occur overnight and has not gotten much better in the past 60 years). These inequalities are a direct result of slavery. If you are someone who is having trouble understanding the history behind white privilege, I would recommend seeking out more information on American history and specifically, the way racism and cultural bias has been deeply embedded into our society. There is a great documentary called 13th (it's on Netflix) that outlines how the justice system has been built up against minorities. There is also a 30 day free course called DoTheWork put together by Rachel Cargle that does a great job of informing white people of the societal norms that perpetuate racism.
Lastly, I think it's important to note that the sensitivity and discomfort that white people feel when reading articles, watching documentaries, and participating in discussions can be explained by the term "white fragility." This term is very complex and I encourage you do to your own research on it but it basically describes the exact feelings that are being expressed in the comments above. It's natural to feel uncomfortable and want to push back and make excuses for why the white people of today are not wrong or privileged or doing anything to perpetuate racism, but the fact is that if you're not educating yourself or questioning the systems that are in place that are facilitating cultural bias than you are contributing to racism in America. It is impossible to say that you believe in equality but not in changing the systems that are in place that white people unfairly benefit from. It is easy to justify the norms, systems and privileges that are in place in America that benefit white people. It is much harder to examine and question everything that you know about the world in order to come to an unbiased view of today's America.
While I understand the thought process behind this, White Privilege is an inappropriate term.
Where is my privilege when I apply for a position in a non-profit that helps those of color? The term White Privilege is offensive at best.
The reason I came across this article was I was doing a search for the definition of White Privilege. It was said that Not Voting was White Privilege. I am not sure what that means. If I don't vote it will be OK because a white person will probably get the job anyway? I am sure that they are plenty of intentionally ignorant (if they put their fingers in their ears and say lalalala while someone is talking, they can say they didn't know) people who will say "Of Course! That is exactly what that means!" Oh come on, if you are reading this I am assuming that you have some intelligence, enough to at least realize that most people aren't voting color. Oh, there are some, several, many that are, but I can't see that this is the norm and hasn't been for awhile.
The more I think of the term, I realize I am being considered a racist by default. Apparently other white people think this is ok, however, I do not. I am a well raised person who has been taught that everyone has their purpose and are important to life. Being told I have White Privilege is offensive and should be one of those terms to be thrown to the back of the closet and left there.
I knew I would see some comments of people "completely rejecting" white privilege. Which is completely ironic, since by completely rejecting white privilege, you are thus using your white privilege. Part of your white privilege is your ability to deny its existence and ignore its affects it has one your life and those around you. It's always funny when I see that happen.
Perhaps I’m not understanding the articles I’m reading here properly, but it really sounds to me like the writers are suggesting that the solution to white privilege is to create a society in which white people are not treated as well rather than one in which people of color are treated better. Secondly, considering the frequency with which the term is used by academics it still seems to be a rather vague concept lacking a firm definition and applied with a broad brush to millions of people with neither context or nuance. For example, there is no attempt to examine varying degrees of Priviledge amongst whites and how it changes in direct proportion to the accumulation of wealth and power. In fact I would argue that low income whites(there are many) taste very little of the white privilege you are talking about outside of band-aids which match their skin tone. As a low income white male I can assure you that my white skin did not protect me from the threat of having my water turned off when I was late on a bill recently. My whiteness did not convince the family court judge to waive my child support obligations. It did not convince the bank to extend me a mortgage since my child support made my debt-to-income ratio too high. My whiteness does not protect me against being reprimanded and written up if I am late to work. I am not afforded any special pricing at the grocery store nor am I allowed to go to the front of the checkout line.
People deserve equal freedoms. I think we are better off abolishing existing laws that create unfair advantages than creating new laws which attempt to force equality from up high. Equal freedom is allowing a fair chance at both success and failure. Forced equality is a form of intolerance, because it disregards our differences and discourages us from being our unique selves.
This article was very disappointing. The reason to me is simple. You are letting people of color off the hook for their situation. Of course there has been and more than likely continues to be some amount of systemic racism. Your example of "White Privilege" are ridiculous. Hair Products, is that the best you can do. You actually mention it twice.

Racial division and Identity Politics have become a cottage industry in this country. The facts are simple, if you walk into a store in Kenya, I would believe the Hair Products might be different. A terrible example, but you used it twice. I would suggest all of the leaders and a vast majority of the business owners in the country would be people of color. Do you think that is accurate. If not let's try a different country. How about Mexico. Ever shopped in a store in that country? All of their products are heavily directed toward Mexicans. Despite the fact that many White Americans live there. A majority of their businesses are owned by Mexicans, despite the fact that many White Americans live there.

There is no question that Black people were brought here against their will and enslaved. Slavery was a horrible thing and I'm happy that the practice was abolished and Black people were granted equal rights. I'm happy that Martin Luther King led a valiant effort to make sure Black people had equal rights to education, public services, employment, and housing selection. I'm certain I've left much out in this brief listing of his substantial accomplishments.

Martin Luther King wanted equal treatment via the laws of the land. Those laws have been changed. I don't believe he would be sitting around today talking about "White Privilege".

The time for making excuses is over. What's done in the past is not part of the future, and the sooner we stop making excuses for outcomes, the better chance we have at addressing the real problems in the Black community. Many of which have been caused by poor public policy. Didn't Barack Obama teach us anything? A man can and will be judged for his abilities and can rise to incredible heights no matter what obstacles lie in his path. Please don't misunderstand the word "Man", it is a neutral use in this case. There is no question that the parent lottery provides great advantages to people of all races, but even those obstacles can be overcome. We need to stop making excuses and start preaching perseverance and hard work as a pathway to a better life. Fly straight, work hard, and treat people with respect, and you have a really great chance to do well in America, no matter what race you happen to be.
BabylonBee: I agree, the term "white privilege" is offensive and racist. But you can't just reject it or deny it because you don't like it. Nomorerace: I agree that race is not "real"; however, it is a powerful social construct (not recent - it originates from slavery) and it has real effects. It doesn't work to just shwoosh it away. As white people we can't just be colorblind - oh I'm not racist, I don't see color. The late Ruth Frankenburg has an appropriate phrasing for this: you are power evasive. BabylonBee and Nomorerace: Do you think that if we white people avoid talking about the issue of race that racism will disappear?
Hello, I am a 50 year old white male seeking to understand. I teach at a community college so I feel I should try to educate myself, even though this type of lesson is not something I could justify adding to my curriculum. It is too far from my scope, which is industrial trades related. However, I could benefit from some understanding of the concept. I hope someone will respond to my asking the obvious. If the concept of white privilege is meant to help, then why call it something that is so off-putting to those you seek help from? Namely white people. And, why is the obvious disparity in the population of whites compared to blacks not mentioned in the normalizing of white privilege paragraphs? Supermarket product placement is marketing, is it not? For the purpose of selling the product.
epope2: To quote MLK: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." As a white man I recognize the negative effects that racism has on me; indeed I hate the racism that is literally in me. That's why I am always trying to learn more about how racism functions to disadvantage people of color, so that I can take appropriate steps to dismantle it. As a white person, I have a particular role to play in this work. I think many white people would like to help, but they get blocked by the guilt they feel, and often it is unconscious. White privilege is an uncomfortable reality, but perhaps it would help you to understand more about how, as the article states, it is a systemic issue and no one person should be blamed for it. To your point about whites' numerical "advantage," I think the privilege of being a member of the "norm," or "dominant culture," is such an invisible privilege. Usually, only people who fall outside that norm recognize it when they have to choose between loving themself and their own identity, and twisting themself up in a way so they can fit in and "get ahead." As white people, we don't have that conundrum. The article, as I understood it, was trying to help us understand that white privilege goes far deeper than simply skin-color band-aids and product placement in grocery stores.
Bulldog91, Thank you for the response and I truly am trying to understand, but the concept of white privilege doesn't pass the smell test. Of course some racist policies have been enacted and enforced, but those are gone, and if not should be asap. No reasonable person would disagree. However, there are too many possible explanations for too many of the examples for me to willfully ignore. The evidence I have seen thus far leads me to the conclusion that the concept of white privilege is based on how people feel about the things they perceive or more specifically how they are told to perceive something without alternatives. Furthermore those people seem to me to be urged not to give the benefit of the doubt, seemingly because they don't receive it, and even worse, to not forgive. I fear that this is leading us to war with each other. I mean, what's next? After you can't take to each other, and refuse to forgive. BTW I changed my name because it displayed my email. Thank you, and I came here after an altercation with a family member, that I am very upset about, so I am serious about learning.
First, thank you for the article. I find it reasonably written. Aside from my own enlightenment, my purpose for listening to and learning from the viewpoints of others on this subject is for the purpose of defending myself against classroom bias, as I am known to play the devil's advocate.

I understand cultural baggage and am willing to accept white privilege as a knapsack within that construct, but I do have a few questions for the advocates of W.P.

First, are you advocates of machine scored race, gender, orientation, ethnicity, and national origin blind admissions, testing, and applications in multiple facets of life? If not, why not? If you would not accept blind results without a perceived benefit for your own group, are you not advocating for a substitute form of group privilege?

Second, if you believe you are harmed by W.P., could you not advocate for yourself by using online resources to seek mortgages, housing, jobs, financial opportunities, and educational choices while revealing minimal demographic information. If you set out claiming to be the world's victim could it become a self-fulfilling prophesy? Rather, if you embrace the world, some are going to like you, some are going to dis-like you, and the majority are going to be more or less neutral. Why isn't the great majority who either like you or are neutral to you enough?

I can' make sense of the sentence "Nor do the close the gap when they work full time, or when they spend less and save more." Do you think the privileged have magic money that grows in spite of working less, saving less, and spending more? Can you not go to any financial services website and be offered the same selection of funds and accounts that the privileged are offered? Do you not have equality of financial choice?

How do you explain the successful assimilation of large immigrant groups from Cuba, Vietnam, India, Taiwan, and China into the USA? How did they overcome W.P.? Why didn't any of these groups complain about the location of hair care products in the grocery store?

Will you participate in an experiment with me? Next time you are behind the wheel of a car, try to identify the skin color, age, gender, and ethnicity of the person driving the car in front of you. It will be very hard to do in daylight and pretty much impossible to do at night. This is the exact same view police officers have when they decide to turn on the blue lights and pull someone over. They usually do not know the color of someone's skin until that person rolls down the window.

What correlation do you expect between the description given to police by victims of a crime and the person who is ultimately arrested for the same crime? I expect a very high correlation. Are you expecting something different?

Finally, if a light skinned person told you that they are proud of their heritage, would you be offended and if so, why?
Let me try my best to respond to your questions Dr.B. It seems as if we are coming at this issue from fundamentally different lenses. I don't see myself as an "advocate" of white privilege. The examples you bring up such as machine admissions, using online application forms, etc. imply to me that you think white privilege is the opposite of affirmative action. So if one "advocates" for the concept of white privilege, they want black people to "get even," even though they may be underqualified. This is obviously not fair for the white individuals who are negatively affected. But white privilege is so much deeper than that! I don't expect to be able to get that lightbulb to turn on for you because it takes a lot of work, but here goes nothing...
So I'm a math teacher - public school; I've taught grades 6-12. The district in which I teach is similar to all the other districts in the nation in that we have what we call a racial achievement gap. I think you know what that means. There are 10,000 things that can explain the achievement gap. Some of these explanations could be termed "deficit theories." The essence of this argument is that there is something wrong or missing from the culture or practices of students and parents of color that causes low achievement. As a teacher who has failed to successfully teach so very many students of color, it is tempting to blame the kids (I have!) and their families when they don't learn - after all, I care so much, work so hard, and I try my best not to be racist. I bet most people, if they were put in my position or were to observe what goes on in my class, would also blame the kids. But Dr.B - I don't blame the kids, and I don't blame myself either! Over many years I have been able to understand that racism is deeply embedded in our society...
I want to argue that there are many other factors, which relate to racism and white privilege, that contribute to the achievement gap. If I can see how the achievement gap is caused by racism - indeed that it is a manifestation of racism - I can stop blaming black people and saying they deserve to be low-class citizens because they don't want to learn.
First, teacher attitudes. The strengths of minority students often aren't recognized. Relationships matter. White teachers who don't understand the experiences of their students of color aren't going to be able to teach them as well. Second, consider the profound inequalities in education funding between inner-city and suburban school districts. Third, identity issues. Have you heard of "stereotype threat"? This is a phenomenon whereby student of color is afraid to try hard to achieve because of the fear of failing and confirming a negative stereotype. Here is an example of white privilege: I don't have to worry that someone will see me fail and attribute it to my race. There are so many more things I could mention but let me talk about one more for you Dr. B. There is a researcher named Ogbu who has an explanation for why African-American students in particular experience less success than most any other racial group. He identifies "community forces" arising from how the minorities interpret, respond, and adapt to US society and their minority status. Ogbu differentiates between two types of minorities: voluntary and involuntary. A group that exemplifies the voluntary minority, or voluntary immigrant, is the Vietnamese. Strong in their own sense of identity, they tend to be more open to learning how to use dominant culture ways of knowing to get ahead. Contrast this with involuntary immigrants, like most African-Americans (who came to the US by force), who tend to have a fundamentally oppositional outlook toward the dominant culture. I wonder if this can provide an explanation for those who look at black people and wonder "Why won't they just assimilate? Don't they know what is good for them? We white people have no way to understand what it is like for the black man in this country, to feel the pain of racism and to be so despised and misunderstood.
In conclusion, we can't undo racism with any affirmative action or even slavery reparations...it's going to take all of us uncovering all of the ways in which the ideology of white superiority and black inferiority has invaded our brains. It's so difficult because the reality that we see constantly reinforces this faulty notion. When you see inequality, ask not "what is wrong with those people," ask instead "how can this be undone?
Oh, I forgot to address the last question, would I be offended if a white person expresses pride for their heritage? I think many white people in the USA are being power evasive when they tout their heritage from this or that European country. One could call it "mee-too-ism," i.e. "Why shouldn't I be proud to be white, when all the minorities always talk about the importance of being proud of their race/culture/ethnicity?" This standpoint to me is disingenuous because it brazenly ignores the fact that an ideology of white superiority reigns, which bestows privilege to the white race. I understand people have pride in their identity; that's great. But the meaning of this act of expressing pride in one's own race or ethnicity changes based on where you exist along the axis of power. So if you are keep yourself ignorant of this on purpose I'm not offended but I'm irritated. If you're just ignorant then hopefully you have an open mind, so you can learn about how this makes you look to people of color.
I am disgusted by a lot of these comments. Those of you who deny, reject, or incredulously, are offended by the term "white privilege" are very obviously white yourselves. The only way you'd understand is if tomorrow, you happened to wake up black (or any minority) and spent some time through the eyes of a non-white person.

NOMORERACE: Using your example of 2 kids of different races both growing up in extreme poverty, maybe they would or wouldn't care about the hair products available. But society cares about what races they are. So if 1 kid was white and the other black, the white kid is more likely to get hired. And the black kid will make an average of $.76 to the white kid's $1. The black kid will be more likely to be "stopped-and-frisked." It's not a magical illusion, it's real.

Justmyopinion-did you actually say this is letting people of color off the hook for their situation? What situation is that exactly? And why are people of color "on the hook"? Also I agree that in a Kenyan store, the hair products might be different. Which might have something to do with the fact that literally 99% of Kenyans are black. Yes, the majority of Americans are white, but there is certainly a healthy mix other races as well.

As I read these comments, I am saddened by our collective lack of empathy. Can we recognize that, for white folks, changing deeply rooted and often unconscious patterns of thought is difficult while also acknowledging the vast and long-standing injustices suffered by people of color? Must this be cast as a zero-sum conflict? Is it not possible to have empathy for all people affected by the legacy of how humans have (mis)treated each other in the past and continue to do so today?

As a middle-aged, white male, I work on raising my awareness, challenging my beliefs and unlearning things I have been taught my whole life. It is not easy to recognize how one's past actions often contributed to a system of oppression and inequality, much less realize that one still has more such work to do. This work warrants neither praise nor pride nor guilt; I simply try to be patient and kind with myself. That said, I recognize that the difficulty of making these changes is but a whisper in the wind compared to the ubiquitous and grievous hardships that people of color have no choice but to confront on a daily basis. Both things can be true at the same time.
What happy horse shit. Life is simple treat others as you wish to be treated. Stop cultivating Victims. Be kind and shun these moronic measurements and judgements of racial identity. Yes u know who really get special treatment? Attractive people. You know who is inherently unattractive ? Whinnying victims who think the world isn’t fair. Move on if this is in your curriculum you are wasting everyone’s time.
RitajeFitzpatrick I hate to break it too you, darling, but I'm black and all myself reject the idea of "white privilege". Does that make me privileged all of a sudden. The biggest reason why this notion is complete bullshit is that it makes racist generalizations of not only white people, but non-whites as well.