What exactly is white privilege?
Let me be clear. I do not expect anything positive to come of me broaching this subject because race matters are so volatile. I am very hesitant to speak about race in public forums because in racial discussions people generally convey polarized opinions based solely in their own experiences, and then ultimately fail to listen to the positions of others. However, this subject necessitates that we address the matter. Hopefully, I can raise awareness on white privilege by exposing different forms of the phenomena to prove that it does exist because the refusal to believe in its existence only further propagates the matter.
Until recently, I had never heard of white privilege, but the concept of this term is very familiar. And, I think that Black people, in general, have been cognizant of this phenomena for a long time though it previously was not given a name. The idea of white privilege encompasses both the advantages that White people are afforded simply by being White and the consequent sense of entitlement that some White people have because of it. White privilege is not always a conscious decision by the majority to unfairly receive the benefits of being in Caucasian, but that does not mean that there are no inherent advantages to being White. Being a member of the majority allows White Americans to live a certain lifestyle and have expectations that other people are not afforded. And, members of the majority receive several tangible and intangible benefits simply by being the majority. Chris Rock, a famous Black comedian said in jest that, there’s a one legged, homeless White guy in the crowd (of one of his stand-up routines) that would not trade places with him, and he’s rich. That is how good being White is. And, Rock is not far off base. White men still are the highest earning group of people even when other races and genders have comparable educational accomplishments and societal backgrounds. Despite the “findings” of The Bell Curve, studies by numerous scientists and scholars have found that intelligence and the consequent ability to succeed are not linked to any racial group. Though there is a connection between heredity and intelligence, there is no genetic predisposition that is expressed more consistently in any group of humans, and similar levels of intelligence are found across all races (In English, no race is any smarter than any other one). Therefore, pay rates should not be disproportionately distributed to the people of any one ethnic group or sex. Black men make 75 cents to every dollar a White man makes, Hispanic men make 67 cents to that dollar, and White women earned 78 cents to every dollar that White men earned. Higher pay and many other resultant advantages are still afforded to White people more readily than they are to other groups of people. And, having a higher income means having better choices in life. White people enjoy living in better neighborhoods and utilize all the subsequent surrounding security, better schools, and nicer restaurants that are established in those neighborhoods. Having the right skin color provides more financial stability which allows more access to better amenities. The higher salaries paid for a better standard of life for White people and their families. This is the essence of white privilege. The Bell Curve has been discredited, and people of all races have been scientifically proven to have similar levels of intelligence, so if these people also have similar education, comparable experience, and indistinguishable titles, the disparity in income has to be attributed to preferential treatment.
This flesh colored band-aid only matches one type of skin color.
And, there are even more advantages to being White than the obvious advantages of better salaries, better neighborhoods, and better schools. More subtle and imperceptible benefits are also incurred. White Americans enjoy a culture that caters exclusively to them. Consider this, Band-Aid, which was founded in 1920, only made “flesh” colored or “nude” bandages until 1951 when the first Disney bandages were introduced. These flesh colored Band-Aids were a peach colored variety that only matched the skin color of one particular group of people. The idea that people with darker skin tones desired to have a product that represented them was not addressed until the 80′s when clear bandages were introduced. But, though clear bandages match every skin color, they do not camouflage wounds the way that the flesh colored ones were intended to by blending in with “fairer” skin. Most people, or more specifically most White people, do not see why such a small subject as Band-Aids has caused so much turmoil. Therein lies the complexity and the profundity of the idea of white privilege. People who are born White rarely consider the plight of other races because American society is set to accommodate them. Meanwhile, people of other races become disillusioned by the lack of compassion and equality shown by White people. Imagine wearing a product for years because of its utilitarian aspects, and then finding out that it was made specifically for another type of person. People of the majority can safely assume that when they pick up a product, it was made with them specifically in mind. When a White person applies for school, a job, or a loan they will most likely be seen by someone of their color. When they have to speak to an authoritative figure in a company, they can assume that they will speak with someone who looks like them. This is an advantage. White people can assume that they will be helped by someone who sees a reflection of themselves when they are in stressful situations, and therefore may have an unspoken connection with that person that a person of color may not have. Several studies show that people with ethnic names are less likely to be called for job interviews. Caucasian people do not have to worry about employees following them around stores because of preconceived biases, or being profiled for crimes because of their ethnicity. That is a distinct advantage over people of color who enter many situations where judgments have been made about them despite their accomplishments and background. White people can expect that there will be no discrimination simply because of their appearance. They know that they will be judged on their own merit and not on the performances of previous workers from their respective race. White people are also presumed to be non-threatening. White privilege (and being a woman, so gender privilege too) allowed Jan Brewer enough access through security to point her finger in the face of the President of the United States while scolding him publicly. Any man would have immediately been seen as a threat and taken out by the Secret Services. But, even a minority woman would probably have been quickly apprehended. Black and Hispanic women are stereotyped as angry and unpredictable. And, Asian and Middle Eastern woman could be deemed terrorists and arrested. Jan Brewer exploited the advantages that her skin color (and sex) gave her and undermined the authority that is inherent in the position of President Obama. Believe it or not, she was applauded for this by some conservatives, and to add insult to injury, she said that she felt threatened by Pres. Obama. White privilege allowed Rep. Joe Wilson to yell, “You lie!” at President Obama during Obama’s healthcare speech. It allows Donald Trump, a civilian, to publicly call for his birth certificate. No president has ever been so publicly disrespected, and no other president has been African American. There has always been a certain level of decorum that was upheld when addressing the president. White privilege affords these people the “courage” to do things that they would never dream of doing if the president was White. The aforementioned White men and woman are so accustomed to feeling superior to minorities, that even though Barack Obama is the leader of the free world, they think that they are above him and have the right to speak to him in any way that they please.
Who looks threatening here?
White privilege has inundated the fabric of this country because White people still hold most positions of power in the country. It courses throughout some of our most hallowed institutions like the judicial system. 51.2% of the active U.S. circuit court judges are White men, and 25.3% are White women. And, the examples of the disparity between the way White people and minorities are treated are rife within the courts. Kelly Williams-Bolar, a Black mother of two, was convicted of a felony because she used her father’s address as her place of residence so that she could give her kids a better education. The school district spent thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to hire private investigators to follow Williams-Bolar for months. They accused her of defrauding the tax payers of upwards of $40,000, arrested her, and kicked the children out of school. Casey Anthony, a White mother of a small child, was found not guilty of any serious crimes with the death of her own daughter. Her daughter went missing for 30 days before the authorities were alerted to the situation. Her car was in tow with trash, duct tape, chloroform, hair that was comparable to her daughter’s hair, and the smell of decomposition emitting from it. She was found to have searched chloroform on the internet, and her ex-boyfriend sent her at least one message about using the chemical to solve her problems. Granted, most of the evidence was circumstantial, but how many mothers would wait a month to report their child missing? And, how many law-abiding citizens have chloroform, duct tape, and something rotting in their trunk? Troy Davis (A Black man) was accused and executed for the murder of a police officer without any physical evidence linking him to the crime while Samuel Crowe (A White man) admitted to the murder of a co-worker and escaped the death penalty. Crowe said that he hit the man in the head with a paint can, poured paint on him, and beat him to death with a crowbar. He was granted clemency by the governor and is now serving a life sentence. To this day, selling the raw, powdered form of cocaine carries a penalty that is two to three times less severe than selling crack cocaine. Crack is a cheaper and more urban drug than raw cocaine, thus the harsher penalties unequally affect minorities more than the majority. Being White can be a great advantage in the court system. And, take into account that being White means having a better job, better financial standing, and more resources to fight criminal charges once you are thrust into the judicial system.
But, White privilege does not only reside in the arenas where we as Americans consume, govern ourselves, and work. No, White privilege has an even more attenuate approach in everyday life. The effects of socialization and stereotypes on American society is apparent in the entertainment that we choose. And our avocations reflect our haughty ideals about White people (privilege is founded in our conceptions about the superiority of White people) and their perceptions of themselves. The highest rated and the highest grossing movies are those that feature White people as the protagonists. White privilege insures that the White people assume top roles and get top pay. Plus, the constant stream of White heroes reinforces a standard that Caucasian people are better people. Even in the movies that have minority stars, those stars are subservient and saved by White people. Morgan Freeman was nominated for his second Oscar in Driving Ms. Daisy, where he played the chauffeur of a elderly White woman. He was berated and belittled by her constantly until they developed a friendship later in the movie. Viola Davis was nominated for an Oscar for The Help where she played a maid during racially volatile times. In order to get any civil rights, she needed “the help” of her white employers. The critically acclaimed and highly awarded Amistad was a realistic depiction of slavery and a collection of slaves that overthrew their captors. But, though they fought and freed themselves from oppression, the story was not complete until an inexperienced altruistic attorney won their freedom from the law. In fact, the story of this collection of slaves who freed themselves from oppression was an afterthought in the movie.
White privilege is real. It gives people of the majority obvious advantages in the real world, and it bolsters the tenet that White people are superior which ultimately exacerbates the problem. White people may not openly recognize the benefits that come with being a member of their race, however that does not mean that they do not reap them. Being White in America is an advantage. The idea of White privilege is akin to being on a moving sidewalk in the airport. Everyone is moving in the same direction, however the person on the conveyor belt does not have to put forth much effort to get to the same place that other people are desperately working to reach. Higher salaries are an advantage. Better neighborhoods are an advantage. So are better school systems. Being interviewed or being judged by someone who can relate to you is beneficial to you. And, having benefitted from a system that helped your advancement does make you a bad person. But, failing to recognize that the same system is stopping people of other races from reaching their full potential is detrimental to the health and the public perception of our country. And, there can be no equality in America until there is a shift in the mindset of the American majority.