White Privilege. This concept incites rage for many and relief for others.
White Privilege was a term coined by White feminist Peggy Mcintosh in 1983. She describd White Privilege “as an invisible package of unearned assets white people could count on cashing in each day, but about which they were "meant" to remain oblivious. She said “White privilege was like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.."
The following are some examples of white privllege:
The website “Teaching Tolerance” further elaborates by saying that “white skin privilege is a transparent preference for whiteness that saturates our society. White skin privilege serves several functions. First, it provides white people with 1. “perks” that they do not earn and that people of color do not enjoy 2. it creates real advantages for White people. White people are immune to a lot of challenges 3.White privilege shapes the world in which we live — the way that we navigate and interact with one another and with the world".
The ideas above have recently re- entered popular discourse. And I’ve been trying my best to find the right words to describe my thoughts on “white privilege” as it is one of the pillars of modern progressivism.
To help me I’ve read the works of writers such as Ta-nehisi Coates and others who believe white privilege is deeply entrenched in North America particularly in the United States. These authors believe we live in a society that privileges people for being white and as a result gives them advantages to the detriments of Black people. On the other hand I have watched the cultural commentary of Ben Shapiro and read National Review, an online newspaper that asserts that white privilege is not as pervasive as Leftist claim, harms black people and is rather offensive to white people.
I believe White Privilege exists. For me White Privilege is best articulated as: having your personal identity precede over your racial identity.
One incident from my life best demonstrates this sentiment: I was having a conversation with one of my favourite teachers and he asked me if I get annoyed with other students, who happen to be black, who misbehave. His point was that they make “good” black people like me look bad. And that their actions will be used to affirm negative stereotypes people have about black youth.
Initially, what he said pissed me off. What do the actions of others have to do with me? But he’s right.
Every black person knows the feeling of watching a person who happens to be black talking too loud or lacking decorum and feeling annoyance or indignation. And why is that? It is because we know the actions of one person will be used to confirm people's negative attitudes about black people.
Booker T Washington exemplifies this sentiment in his autobiography “Up From Slavery":
“I knew that, in large degree, we were trying an experiment- that of testing whether or not it was possible for Negroes to build up and control the affairs of a large educational institution. I knew that if we failed it would injure the whole race. I knew the presumption was against us...All this made a burden which pressed down on us, sometimes, it seemed, at the rate of a thousand pounds to the square inch”
Black people walk the tight balance of navigating our individual identities along with our racial identity. White people deal with that burden but to a lesser extent.
For example, rapper Eminem rapped about lining up the victims of the Columbine shooting and shooting them one by one as well as killing his mother.These lyrics will never be used to depict young white men as violent. And why should it? This is Eminem’s lyrics not his peers. Black kids don’t get this luxury. The lyrics of black rappers who’s cheques are signed by white owned corporations are used to undermine black youth.
Furthermore, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Harvey Weinstein and other men who are white have stepped out on their wives. In fact white men have a brutal history of sexual violence against non European women as a result of colonization. Nevertheless the sexuality of white men will never be labelled deviant. Black men don’t have that luxury. Rappers who objectify women are said to reflect black men and black culture by political commentators such as Bill O’Reiley and Sean Hannity.
The late Rob Ford was featured in a video that allegedly showed him smoking crack. His personal vices will not affect the chances of other people who are white getting leadership positions. Hell, his brother is currently the premier of Ontario.
White Americans are not expected to explain the Opioid crisis ravishing through predominantly white communities. There are minimal headlines about the lack of values or moral corruption among white people that has resulted in the Opioid Crisis. In fact it's not referred to as a white problem but as an American problem. Even the utterance of "white community” sounds odd because it's understood that white people are individuals.
I recently watched a video by Scott Rhode. He is a political commentator and recently created a video critiquing "black culture". He attributed the disparities between black and white americans to “black culture” and said the music black people produce, Hip Hop, is partly to blame for these disparities.
He came across as condescending and obnoxious. However, his critique of Hip Hop and Black Americans highlights the issues I addressed above.
Hip Hop has reached global popularity. It is enjoyed in places as diverse as Palestine and South Korea.
According to many reports the number one purchasers of Hip Hop albums are suburban white kids. A lot of these youngsters use African American Vernacular English, wear Hip Hop inspired clothes, have the audacity to use the n word, and consume African American art. Yet they don’t necessarily bare the stigma that comes along with Hip Hop.
When I observe the differences in the way problems that affect black people vs non-black communities are discussed I can only be frustrated. Imagine if the Opoid Crisis was simply explained as white people having bad values. Imagine if the reality of strained mental health was discussed in the case of inner-city shooters like it is for white men who shoot up schools. The way black communities and cultures are patholigized and implied as uniquely bad is beyong infuriating. As a result, I think it's healthy to lament the exhaustion and tiredness that sometimes comes along with it.
Nevertheless, I think we have to be honest and practical. People don’t check their privilege they pass it onto their children. I don’t believe white people have to recognize their privilege for black people to do well.
White Privilege doesn’t improve predominantly black spaces
My problem with the conversation around White Privilege is that I don’t know what I should expect it to produce. Besides morality what incentive do members of dominant society have to give up privilege? What are we leveraging in order for the relationship between people of African descent and others to change in North America? Like if a white person says they have privilege then what? How does white people acknowledging the privileges I mentioned above improve the quality of life for black people, the quality of predominantly black schools, families and our neighborhoods?
I've been around white people that affirm the concept of White Privilege and frankly they're annoying. They remind me of the prevalence of microaggressions and tell me I have less opportunity then them. This doesn't inspire me. It doesn't inspire my peers also. It can be very disempowering.
Makes White People the Standard
A negative consequence of focusing on “White Privilege” is that it makes white people our measure of success. It creates tunnel vision and a specific focus on white people.
Amy Chua highlights the plight of many white Americans in her latest book “Political Tribes:
“The result of all this is that working class whites have among the lowest upward mobility rates in the nation. Notsurprisingly, when surveyed about the prospects of children today, whites were overwhelmingly more pessimistic than Latinos and Blacks. Just 24 percent of whites believed in the next generation would be better off financially or the same as their parents, compared to 49 percent of Blacks and 62 percent of Latinos.
Here is a chart of household income by ancestry I found on Wikipedia:
Household Income by ancestry
1. Indian American : $110,026 (2016)
2. Jewish American : $90,221 (2016)
3. Filipino American : $88,745 (2016)
4. Australian American : $81,452 (2014)
5. Israeli American : $79,736 (2014)
6..Russian American : $77,349 (2014)
7.Greek American : $77,342
8..Lebanese American : $74,757
9.Sri Lankan American: $73,856
10. Chinese American: $73,788 (2016)
The plight of many white people and success of many non white groups demonstrate that the racial hierachy is not so entreched as to prevent Black people from maximizing our potential. White Privllege is not an insurmountale obstacle.
The privlleges I mentioned above don't need to be eradicated in order for "Black" people to be competitive.
Hyper-focus on white Racism
White Privllege also creates a hyper-focus on white racism. As well it also implies that white people are the only perpetrators of anti black racism despite the fact that Arab, Asian and Hispanic cultures are just as anti black if not more so than White American culture. They're often less remorseful about it.
Most Black People are doing well
Black people are doing better than a lot of us realize. Especially when you recognize the gains Black women have made in education and entrepreneurship.
According to Brookings, “Black Americans are more prone to exaggerate the extent of African Americans trapped in inner city poverty. With many in a 1991 Gallup Poll suggesting that 1 in 3 African Americans live in poverty when the figure is actually 1 in 5. Less than a quarter of the Black American population.
A new report by the American Enterprise Institute, “Black Men Making it in America,” uses Census data to show that African-American men are succeeding in the United States:
Nevertheless, the size of the black underclass is still larger than we want it to be. We have real problems that need real solutions. We must improve the quality of life for the most vulnerable among us.
Anti- blackness is real. But a constant focus on the actions of white society clouds a lot of our vision to other factors that contribute to disparities- larger proportion of single parent homes and internal attitudes that are counterproductive to healthy communities. I think it's fair to heed suggestions to examine our cultural values and what we tolerate and celebrate in regards to family, education, wealth creation and business.
The "success" of non white groups and struggles of the white working class demonstrate that our status is not completely determined by racial hierarchies. That should excite us.
We have agency and more importantly we have power to create the communities and nations we want to see. The world is moving forward. We are in the midst of a tech revolution.
I fear if we continue to encourage our young people to lead with conversations on White Privilege, Cultural Appropriation, and Microaggressions that it will do nothing to improve the plight of the Black underclass.
I think diligence in stamping out cultural vices, addressing internalized anti blackness, building a black economic base, strengthening black families, outlining specific systemic barriers we want addressed, controlling our media depiction, reducing the high level of homicide and crime in low income black communities, reducing Mass Incarceration, paralleling an Afrocentric system along an integrated education system will yield more results.
Until the ink drips,