Thoughts on “White Privilege”

by walterm on September 28, 2017

Yesterday, in a discussion about racism with some Facebook friends, the subject came up regarding “white privilege.” The term has been bandied about the past year or so by radical far-left progressives as a pejorative to shut down any discussion about race by white people. The sense in which the term is used is that whites enjoy a special advantage that non-whites do not enjoy. It is the ability to move about the world in a “normal” way of inherited, elevated status, not having to worry if someone is being prejudiced against them, which extends to every aspect of life whether personal/social, professional, or educational. Black Americans (from hereon “blacks”), in this context, have never, even to this day, felt like race distinctions are something that have been completely overcome. Blacks sense we will, at least for the foreseeable future, be seen as black first, and then as persons second, in that we have yet to be seen as just normal, everyday people where there won’t be any reservations in social, professional, or educational contexts.

While I have never truly thought about white privilege until now, I do believe it has merit, but with some reservations. First, as a black man who moves almost exclusively in “white” circles here in Southern California, I am constantly aware I am different from most everyone here. I have not experienced any overt prejudice, and very little covert prejudice, but indeed I sense I’m a bit of an oddity because there aren’t many other blacks here. I don’t feel most of the professional white people I come in contact with are more privileged than me, as I have been quite successful in my career and have consistently been in the top 5% of earners for some time now. Perhaps when you earn a certain degree of success, other successful people tend to look at you as one of them and color tends to fade away, though not entirely.

Second, the charge of white privilege tends to be used by the younger, progressive set who feel their future prospects are not as good as they should be, or those who may be older and are bitter about the past. It really seems to be coming mostly from academia and is stirred up by various progressive groups such as Black Lives Matter and other far-left social media groups. It is quite surprising because blacks in America have simply had no period of greater opportunity than now. Yet there are still huge inequities as blacks continue to lag behind whites by every economic measure, particularly in urban areas. There is also the narrative, which is provably false, that police are killing black men at higher rates and are regularly brutalizing black men. So clearly there is discontent within the black community and the notion of white privilege and police brutality are clearly present in their conscience.

In the discussion, I encountered a few whites who pushed back on the notion of white privilege, citing how they came from very humble beginnings and never had anything handed to them that they didn’t work hard for. They cited how their parents had low-level jobs and constantly struggled to make ends meet, so there was no “privilege” in being white. Yet I found this pushback to be a bit disingenuous. Their parents did have some degree of privilege by virtue of being white. I noted how if you look at all of the wealth in Newport Beach and Corona del Mar, virtually none of that wealth is shared by blacks. Within any population where you have competition you will always have inequality with those of great wealth, those of very little wealth, and those in between. The key here is that the parents of my interlocutors here did not have to compete against blacks because blacks were almost completely excluded from the opportunity to build wealth up until the 1960s. And whereas their parents did not have property to bequeath to them in Newport Beach or Corona del Mar, other whites did bequeath their wealth, experience, and business acumen to many of those now calling those two cities home.

Now there are some notable exceptions of black success in the 1900s prior to the landmark Civil Rights legislation of 1964, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Marian Anderson, and Nat King Cole, to name a few. But again, they were exceptions. And they could never move about America in the same way as whites. There were simply places where, with all of their wealth, they were not allowed. They were never “equal” to whites even with their great success, and their wealth was always to some degree controlled and managed by whites (who often cheated successful blacks who knew little about money).

So on the hand, we have those asserting the notion of white privilege, which still exists, but only to a degree. These are people who have all the freedom to write about their thoughts and present them in the public square with no fear of reprisal. These are people who can be (and some already are) doctors, lawyers, tech entrepreneurs, or anything they put their minds to. Yet they still have that queasy sense of white privilege even when they have achieved success for themselves. And then you have the whites who counter this assertion by noting how hard they and their parents have had to work to achieve success without feeling any sense of privilege. So they don’t understand why anyone would make blanket statements about whites, in general, having some sort of elevated status.

The issue, I think, is those who assert white privilege look at the historical context and feel after almost 400 years of slavery, followed by the systematic discrimination of Jim Crow, that blacks can’t simply turn it off, and lingering racism in mostly covert forms continues. The plight of blacks in urban areas with high murder rates, high crime, high prison rates, and the narrative of police abuse contribute greatly to this perception. Whites tend to see this as not a problem they have directly caused as of current, though they acknowledge some racism still lingers beneath the surface. Nonetheless, they feel blacks should be able, as a people, to overcome these inequities through persistence and determination, and to cognitively grasp that there are no true barriers preventing them from succeeding other than those they place for themselves. And certainly bitterness, anger, or jealousy over what has happened in the past will more than likely not propel them to success as these sentiments only drag people down.

So we find a number of blacks, who have more opportunities than ever before in history, are finding it hard to throw off the past, believing white privilege continues to haunt them and keep them from moving forward. Whites, on the other hand, feel they have done everything possible to make a more fair and equitable society, and for the most part have little guilt about white privilege as a current day factor. I think whites are largely correct that though blacks may still feel a sense of whites being entitled, there are many blacks today that are better off than many whites. I think whites, instead of being reactive towards the charge of white privilege, should exhibit sensitivity and empathy towards blacks because blacks have been through much as a people, and that will not simply pass away in the span of fifty years of civil rights. Yet while I also think blacks are correct there are remnants of white privilege, I would argue it is not a significant barrier to black success. What is needed in the black community is to accept that the world is fallen and will never be perfect, even if slavery never existed. We are among the fallen also. This would mean finally putting away the excuse of white privilege and moving forward without the steady drag of resentment that will only continue to hold us back.


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