Over the past two weeks, I’ve had full conversations with two different white males from two different walks of life… both of whom believe that there is no such thing as white privilege. Today, I’m going to talk about why I have been getting offended the more I think about it.
Understanding White Privilege
In both conversations, both individuals seemed taken back that I would even suggest that white privilege is real. After thinking about those conversations night after night, I realized that they denying white privilege while completely misunderstanding what white privilege actually is.
It has suddenly become clear that they do not fully understand how society gives them privileges that they currently enjoy. I dare even say that they’ve been miseducated on the subject. They are unable to connect racial inequalities from the past to their current stature in life.
I find it very funny how they both displayed an ignorance to the topic of white privilege. They don’t detect any hints of it. Nor do they believe that they personally have benefited from race-based privilege.
That, in and of itself, is a privilege. By denying, or refusing to see, the injustice, they don’t actually have to confront it. Nor will anyone really call them out on it. To be fair (I guess), this is no fault of their own. This, unfortunately, is how American ideology has served the underprivileged from hundreds of years. It’s ingrained into privileged brains.
Who Benefits From White Privilege?
I think there is also this notion that white privilege only extends to the rich and upper-class… which is ridiculously false. Laughable, even.
There is this mindset that privilege doesn’t actually apply to working-class white people, so it’s improper for people like me to even remotely consider them falling under that privileged umbrella.
I was reading this article that stated it perfectly:
J.D. Vance, the author of Hillbilly Elegy, a memoir of an economically struggling and largely white small town in Ohio, articulated a version of this thesis in a podcast with Vox’s Ezra Klein.
Vance invoked the hypothetical son of an unemployed West Virginia coal miner who resides in an all-white economic wasteland. This son, confined to a pocket of poverty, tastes no hint of his supposed privilege. Thus, Vance told Klein, “If you’re asking [him] to check his privilege … you’re asking just too much from basic human cognition. That kid cannot look at his life and say about a group of people that he doesn’t understand, that he doesn’t even interact with a lot day to day, that their lives are much worse than his, and I think that’s one of the things that the modern discourse around racial privilege and racial disadvantage misses.” (Source: Why do so many white people deny the existence of white privilege? – Brando Simeo Starkey)
He continues: “But Vance’s argument is wanting. For one, American culture, not impoverishment, has taught white folk to misunderstand white privilege. Individual white people shoulder no responsibility for creating white privilege, but denying its presence prolongs its life span. And that does warrant criticism. Granting the white working-class this moral reprieve absolves them from culpability.
The False Narrative: Skin Color Plays No Factor
As I continued this conversation about white privilege with one of the individuals, he was quite adamant that skin color doesn’t necessarily prevent people from being rich or poor. If I wasn’t so caught off-guard by this mindset, I would have explained to him the following:
- When you turn on the tv or watch a movie, you will always see your skin color widely represented. That’s privilege.
- When you ask people to close their eyes and picture Jesus – more likely than not, they’ll picture a white man with blonde hair. That’s privilege.
- When I look around my own office and see only 3 or 4 people that look like me amongst nearly a hundred people… that’s privilege.
I can also provide some historical examples of white privilege:
- Jim Crow Laws – Jim Crow laws were a collection of state and local statutes that legalized racial segregation. Named after a Black minstrel show character, the laws—which existed for about 100 years, from the post-Civil War era until 1968—were meant to marginalize African Americans by denying them the right to vote, hold jobs, get an education or other opportunities. Those who attempted to defy Jim Crow laws often faced arrest, fines, jail sentences, violence and death.
- Housing Discrimination – There can be no question that access to housing remains unequal. Despite long-standing laws guarding against discrimination, members of disadvantaged groups have a harder time finding a high-quality place to live in a high-opportunity neighborhood.
- COVID 19 – More Black Americans are dying during the pandemic than White Americans. Blacks, relative to Whites, are more likely to live in neighborhoods with a lack of healthy food options, green spaces, recreational facilities, lighting, and safety. These subpar neighborhoods are rooted in the historical legacy of redlining – which is the devaluation of assets in black neighborhoods. Additionally, Blacks are more likely to live in densely populated areas, further heightening their potential contact with other people. They represent about one-quarter of all public transit users. Blacks are also less likely to have equitable healthcare access—meaning hospitals are farther away and pharmacies are subpar, leading to more days waiting for urgent prescriptions. So, health problems in the Black community manifest not because Blacks do not take care of themselves but because healthcare resources are criminally inadequate in their neighborhoods.
White Privilege – It’s About More Than Money
The individuals I spoke with both contended that there is no privilege that white people have that black people cannot get themselves. One would also refute all of my statements by relating everything to money. But it’s about more than money. It’s about perception and opportunities that he is clearly unaware of.
- Black females quite often do not have cosmetic makeup that matches their skin tone. Meaning that some of the best products that white females use on their skin is not even available to non-white users. That is privilege.
- Natural looking hair on both Black males and females are deemed unprofessional and “nappy”. Hence why you rarely see Black men and women with natural hair in professional settings. That is privilege.
- Most television shows feature white protagonists. It’s not nearly as often that one will see a non-white protagonist in normal circumstances. That has been a long-standing privilege ever since the first movie was ever shown.
- Growing up, I would often be said that I “talk white” because I spoke eloquently. That is privilege.
- Sometimes people believe that non-white people that are successful got there because of thing such as affirmative actions or the Rooney Rule in the NFL… not because of skillset or talent. That is privilege.
- Black households have to teach their children about discrimination because of skin color. That is privilege.
Need I go on?
So Where Do We Go From Here?
How do we improve? How do we move forward. These have been questions plaguing our society for decades. Centuries, even. But it’s gotten it’s long overdue attention ever since the Black Lives Matter movement hit a peak in 2020.
If you’re white and looking to help fight for the equality of all races, the first step comes with acknowledging that white privilege exists. The examples I went over today describe the common disadvantages that are faced by people of color, but they don’t even begin to underscore the results of those disadvantages.
Here are five things you can do when acknowledging your privilege:
- Acknowledge that white privilege 100% exists, especially in the United States.
- Listen to the BIPOC community as we tell our stories. Do not meet our stories with combative or defensive responses… just listen.
- Commit to the fight. While you may not feel you’ve benefitted from white privilege, there are millions of white Americans that have. Commit to the BIPOC that you’re going to fight anti-racism.
- Talk with other white people about systemic racism. Educate them. It’s important to have these conversations, even when you’re uncomfortable.
- Examine your life and your situation and see how you may have potentially played a part in the systemic racism that Black Americans face every day.
To The Individuals I Had These White Privilege Conversations With
If you’re reading this right now (and you know who you are), I want you to know that I do not consider either of you racist. However, I am truly offended that you refuse to even remotely acknowledge the fact that white privilege is ingrained in our society, and you truly have benefitted from it. You really have.
White privilege might be a hard concept for you to understand, or even decide to take action upon, but I implore you to ask yourself this: “If my skin wasn’t white, would I be in the same position that I am right now in this moment?”
Truly answer this question and you might begin to have a better understanding as to why I wrote this article in the first place.