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Misunderstanding White Privilege

by on December 27, 2016
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Sometimes the words used to describe an issue are often poorly thought out or over simplified to try to explain a complex issue into a few simple words.  Some of these that come to mind are the paleo/caveman diet, the term “theory” used in the context of Scientific Theory, and of course white privilege.  All of these words have shown to have a tendency to give people a different impression of what their meaning is and often lead many people to not understand the true meaning of these terms.

I admit to not being aware of how white privilege is discussed on mainstream media so it may be accurately portrayed in that regard, but what I hear from many of my white friends and relatives is something along the lines of this:

“I grew up poor and was given no privilege.”
“I have earned everything that I have received in my life and wasn’t given any handouts.”

“I had to work hard to get where I am today!”

This line of thinking is of course what intuitively many may think white privilege means.  But in fact it means nothing of the sort.  White people tend to take it as a personal attack in the sense that it implies that they didn’t have to work hard to get what they have achieved in life.

It’s actual definition is actually much more nuanced and complex than what its implied or intuitive label leads people to think it means.   There really isn’t one specific definition as it describes a complex cultural institution but I do like this explanation best:
White privilege is a set of advantages and/or immunities that white people benefit from on a daily basis beyond those common to all others. White privilege can exist without white people’s conscious knowledge of its presence and it helps to maintain the racial hierarchy in this country.” 

The most important thing to understand about the above definition is that it is a generalization of the framework of our societies culture.  It doesn’t mean that white privilege occurs in every circumstance or every situation.  What white privilege means is that it happens so pervasively and so often that is has measurably proven harmful effects on non-white people in this country to the point where it is a problem that needs to be pointed out so that it can be discussed and addressed, both on the policy level and on the American conscious level.

As you can see it has taken quite a bit to unravel what the term white privilege refers to.  But in the most generalized sense I did my best to portray its meaning for readers who may be curious in understanding its meaning.  But providing its meaning is just one part of it.  It is also important to explain how this is occurring with empirical data to back up the claim that it happens on such a scale that something needs to be done about it.

This privilege starts to show up at a very early age:

” According to the report, black children make up 18 percent of preschoolers, but make up nearly half of all out-of-school suspensions. “

It then continues to happen outside of school and into the workforce:

“The resumes with white-sounding names spurred 50 percent more callbacks than the ones with black-sounding names.

After responding to 1,300 ads with more than 5,000 resumes, the researchers found that the job applicants with white names needed to send 10 resumes to get one callback, but the black candidate needed to send 15 for one.”

There is widespread rampant white privilege shown in police interactions even when correcting for country crime rates and violent crime rates:

“African American and Latino drivers are nearly twice as likely as white drivers to be asked during a routine traffic stop for ‘consent’ to have their car searched. Yet white motorists are 49% more likely than African American motorists to have contraband discovered during a consent search by law enforcement, and 56% more likely when compared to Latinos.”

It also happens in the judicial system:

” The gap in incarceration rates between White and African-American defendants increases by 18 percentage points (compared to a mean incarceration rate of 51% for African-Americans and 38% for Whites) when moving from the 10th to 90th percentile judge in the racial gap distribution.”

I only posted 4 pieces of evidence that empirically prove the existence of white privilege, just to avoid being over wordy and to give people an easy to read and understand guide on what all this means in context.   This is by no means all the evidence as there are plenty more studies and data collections that show this.

The most important thing to remember about the issue of “white privilege” for white people to remember is that this is not to assign blame, shame or guilt, but to address these issues and become the people that advocate for changing this part of our culture.  And having privilege is also not a reflection on someones character or intention.  It is about observing, recognizing and acknowledging that these advantages do exist for us because we don’t suffer from this discrimination.  Acknowledging this issue and confirming it is the first step in addressing solutions to fix this.  This is all that white privilege is, a campaign to get white people to admit there is a societal and cultural benefit for them in being white.

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