White Privilege

The term “white privilege” means that all or nearly all whites enjoy certain privileges in society. A privilege is defined as something an individual has that is unearned and undeserved.  Are whites indeed privileged in America today?

On any given night, there are an estimated several hundred thousand homeless white people and many millions who are impoverished. Since the mid 1970s, the bottom 50% of American families, the majority of whom are white families, have seen no increase in their real income. These facts alone would seem to disprove the contention that almost all whites are privileged.

Besides its inaccuracy, I oppose use of the term because it is inherently divisive. It pits groups that should be working together to wrest wealth and power from the tiny few who are truly influential and powerful. It therefore makes it much more difficult for poor, working, and middle-class Americans to join across racial lines to take our nation back from the 1%. The more frequently progressive and Democratic candidates for public office use the term, the more likely Republicans will win elections across the country.

Those who champion the expression “white privilege” acknowledge there are poor and struggling whites, but argue that at any particular income level, Americans of color have it worse. One commented that homeless white panhandlers may get more handouts than black ones. Another argues that the disproportionate number of unarmed blacks killed by police is evidence of white privilege.

There are many other facts documenting the racial injustice that permeates American society. African-American college grads are paid about what white high school dropouts earn. Black men are more likely to go to prison at some time in their life than to graduate from college. The horrifying recent experience of the mostly black and Latino residents of impoverished Flint, Michigan, almost certainly wouldn’t have occurred if they were white.

Nevertheless, I reject these examples as collective proof of white privilege because I don’t believe whites are getting something they don’t deserve.  Instead, I believe Americans of color are being oppressed. Why does this distinction matter? The terminology determines the solution.

If you believe whites are privileged because they are less likely to be shot by police, then a perfectly reasonable solution is to direct cops to start shooting more unarmed whites. In contrast, if you believe the problem is racism and unwarranted fear, you train cops better, you recruit more minority officers, you try body cameras, you take guns off the streets so police aren’t as scared, and you prosecute fearlessly killer cops.

If you believe white panhandlers are privileged, i.e., getting something they don’t deserve, because they are getting more and bigger handouts, you might direct people to stop giving to them or to give them less. While this might even things out among homeless people, it would not improve the terrible situation confronting homeless Americans of color. If, on the other hand, you believe the problem is racism and ultimately a criminal indifference to the plight of all poor people, you would fight for more funding for shelters and to help the neediest get back on their feet.

If you bemoan privileged white high school dropouts who are getting paid the same as or more than black college grads, you would insist that the 25-year old who worked her way up to being manager at a mall outlet be put back in the ranks of sales assistants. If you believe that what is keeping black college grads down is the absence of enough good jobs as well as nepotism, prejudice, and racism, you would champion programs and policies that lead to more good jobs in America and would take very seriously all claims of discrimination in hiring and the workplace.

If you believe the reason blacks are more than 6 times as likely as whites to be imprisoned is white privilege, you might support increasing 6-fold the number of white prisoners. If you believe this disgraceful fact results from racism and indifference, you would support ending the drug war, increasing funding for public schools in minority communities, and greatly reduced sentencing for all but the most violent crimes.

If you believe kitchen faucets in working-class white communities haven’t been delivering toxic water because of white privilege, you would call for a moratorium on water purification tests and safety requirements in every community. If you believe the Michigan governor and his crony were criminally indifferent (at best) to Flint residents due to corporate greed, racism and indifference to the poor, you would prosecute them criminally and demand every victim be afforded the opportunity to sue for compensatory and punitive damages.

African-Americans, Latinos, and native Americans are oppressed in America today. We have a collective duty to ensure that they live in safe communities and have complete access to all the things that make life worth living. To do this, we must improve their economic situation and the way they are treated not reduce the circumstances of poor, struggling, and working-class whites.

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6 Responses to White Privilege

  1. Pingback: The Morning Show March 7 -11 | Halitics

  2. Shade says:

    “Because I don’t believe whites are getting something they don’t deserve” is the best the best argument you have made that White Privilege is the incorrect term.

    Even then, I don’t think you as a White person should be telling Black people how they should express what they feel about what they experience and see. Their eyes see White people doing the same things as Black people & not going to jail, Black children in run down schools while White children are in good ones, and only Black neighborhoods with no jobs, crumbling infrastructure, & poor shopping. The list goes on & on. To many Black people, White Privilege versus racism may be a distinction without much of a difference, but they choose the term “White Privilege” because racism is often so subtle that it is hard to prove as causal. Statistics alone prove that overall White people are more privileged.

    To compound the problem, to many ears your insistence that Blacks and others not use the term “White Privilege” or “Black Lives Matter” is taken as yet another White person saying “Blacks are too uppity”. Worse, the Black people you offend with what is often taken to be racist remarks are people that we depend on to vote Progressive. I am therefore quite willing to embrace the terms Black activists have chosen, and to do other things that will help unwind any hard feelings the use of these terms might cause to poor White voters (who due to religious convictions, racism, poor education, and fear of losing their menial jobs, seldom support Progressive politics anyway).

    To me the claims of “White Privilege” and “Black Lives Matter” are a demand for affirmative action towards undoing what has obviously been a racist situation that has festered for many years. Your idea that we should just end racism and then raise all boats would tend to keep Black populations disadvantaged much longer. If we only pass laws to prevent racism, there will be little funding available to quickly redress the current situation. Without governmental direction, any increased private sector development that our Progressive politics might garner is more likely to occur in outlying more rural areas than in blighted urban areas that already are known to have a number of problems.

    I say let’s end the claims of “White Privilege” not by telling people to change their words, but by changing the realities on the ground that drive people to say such a thing! To take affirmative action, Federal money might be granted or loaned at low interest rates to help build & equip better schools, provide education, build shopping centers, transportation, and other infrastructure, and to increase jobs in repressed Black communities. To help solve the political palatability aspect, other funds can and should be targeted to other repressed populations too, such as in rural mostly poor White communities (i.e. the coal states). However, overall, due to past and still ongoing racism, there needs to be a conscious effort to flow more than just the pro-rata amount of money into our currently repressed Black communities because, as Black activists say: “Black Lives Matter!”.

    • Shade says:

      To me the term “Black Lives Matter” vs “All Lives Matter” carries ​a ​similar connotation difference as does “White Privilege” vs racism. ​I thought you would feel the same, but perhaps you don’t.

      Obviously, as ​we ​discussed before, ​it is not that White lives necessarily hold any special privilege​; the differences observed is often due to racism. And all lives do ​obviously ​matter. However, Blk activists want us 2use the term “Black Lives Matter” to accentuate​ that in the U.S., it is often Black lives that we don’t treat as if they matter. ​And as with term “White Privilege’ vs the term racism, I’m willing ​to ​concede the point.​​

  3. Jay Gamble says:

    Unfortunately, you are mislead in your assessment. White privilege is not a replacement for racism. You’re right, wording is key. To many people don’t even understand what “racism” means. But white privilege not only can encompass racism-it can not. The most basic analogy is the handicapped. If you go to a mall and there is no ramp for someone in a wheel chair, it doesn’t mean you purposely said screw the handicapped-but you are in a position where YOU don’t have the slightest concern or understanding of what they may go thru because you are able bodied and have no need to. It’s a completely different word, meaning, and system. Oppression and racism may run concurrent, but are not synonymous to each other.
    So while article attempts to shift focus onto the system (I hope that was the point) , any person who has seen the privileges of being a minority in a store and being followed while the young, loud, teenage, rowdy,white group gets thought of as “teens being teens” and not even noticed-you’ll quickly understand the privilege people are speaking of.
    Whites are innocent and get the benefit of the doubt until proven guilty. People of color get no understanding and society must err on the side of caution.
    Look at drug use, crime, judicial system, school, etc.


  4. halginsberg says:

    Thanks Jay.

  5. Gabby says:

    Very well said Jay.

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