When speaking of privilege, most tend to think of benefits or advantages that are afforded to a specific group of people. There are also the rights and advantages enjoyed by those that have achieved or were born into, a certain economic or social status. Recently, the use of the phrase “White Privilege” has become a common practice when discussing how Caucasians benefit by simply being ‘white.’ Even more commonplace is the adamant denial by whites that their skin tone affords them any benefits or advantages.
Although we live in a post-slavery and Jim Crow era, the mere existence of those institutions laid the groundwork for the birth of current-day White Privilege. White privilege is not being born into money; white privilege is being born into the racial normalcy where your race is over-represented on television, in movies, newspapers and billboard ads. Until recently, blacks and other minorities had no expectation of seeing anyone other than whites in print ads or other media. The release of “The Black Panther” unveiled hundreds of commenters who simply could not understand the ‘hype’ and ‘big deal’ being made by blacks over the movie. Most were unable to understand the joy and excitement of the black community because they had spent their whole lives having superheroes that looked just like them. Caucasian colored skin is the standard when describing “Flesh tone” colored items such as clothing or Band-Aids. That white mothers can purchase dolls for their children without having to search for a store or manufacturer that produces or sells a black or Hispanic doll is an affirmation that Whites in America are born into a society that reaffirms and validates their social inclusion. That in and of itself is a very valuable privilege. One that is usually denied.
White privilege is synonymous with American culture, to which whites operate as its cultural and intellectual vanguard. Because of their dominant status, they tend to define and dictate what “American” is. And, as a result, their privilege is natural and invisible to them. On one hand, they are aware of this country’s history and understand that it was built on a system of racism and white supremacy. Yet, on the other, they will vehemently deny benefiting from the very same system whose primary purpose was to elevate them above other races. You will often hear “I live paycheck to paycheck” or “I grew up poor and have had to work for everything I have when they ask, “Where’s my white privilege.” These are only a couple of the most often used arguments by those in denial of their inherent privilege. When discrimination in employment practices is mentioned, they’ll resort to mentioning Affirmative Action in their attempts to debunk their privilege. Everyone would like to believe they deserve everything they have worked hard for, acknowledging they were somehow given an advantage; in their mind in some way diminishes their achievements, every achievement is admirable, however, to deny the advantage is repugnant.
When it is pointed out that Affirmative Action is necessary to battle white privilege and in order to afford minorities fair opportunities for employment and to prevent race-based discrimination, the hard work of the black job candidate is somehow lost and their achievement is reduced to “because they’re black.” With the only difference between the white job candidate and black job candidate being race, the qualifications of the black candidate are reduced to them being ‘given’ a job. The mindset seems to be that when all else is equal, they are/were more deserving than their black counterparts. And the irony in their use of Affirmative Action as a talking point to debunk the idea of white privilege is that most studies, including one performed in 2006 by The University of Michigan Law Review, found white American women to be the biggest benefactors of Affirmative Action. In addition to benefiting from their white privilege while denying its existence, they also benefit from programs intended to counteract it.
Strangers in Their Own Land
The conversations about benefits, advantages, and opportunities and who does/doesn’t deserve them oftentimes becomes skewed. The denial of White privilege is seen in Arlie Russell Hochschild’s “Strangers in Their Own Land.” She interviews White middle-class and working-class residents of Louisiana about their disillusionment with the government. Their anger is derived from the belief that the government grants refugees, immigrants, blacks and other minorities benefits and addresses the needs of those minorities before theirs. This is referred to as “cutting the line.” With no indication of why they believe they should be at the head of the line, to begin with, this implicit assumption – I am entitled to be addressed before everyone else – is indicative of their sense of white privilege. The fact that government studies show that whites outnumber all other racial/ethnic groups as the leading recipients of food stamps and Medicaid is lost on them.
That white privilege can be denied is absurd. Recently, Amber Guyger, an off-duty police officer, was sentenced to 10 years for murdering her unarmed black male neighbor in his own apartment while in 2016 a black man was sentenced to 45 years for killing a police dog should serve as proof of their privilege. If you examine the US Department of Justice statistics, you’ll find that black defendants are given longer sentences than their non-black counterparts. That a white male that was ‘armed and dangerous’ and a known mass murderer (Dillon Roof) could be apprehended and safely escorted to jail (after his trip to Burger King) while unarmed Walter Scott, who was fleeing from the police, could be shot down screams of white privilege. That the Barbeque Becky’s, Permit Patty’s and others like them, exist screams of their privilege. They claim that white privilege does not exist, yet use their white privilege to have law enforcement respond to their frivolous complaints. There is an anticipation and expectation of a certain set of results that is based solely on the color of their skin. Under this racial framework, whites tend to believe that the system is operating perfectly well, as it lends advantage to them and places people of color at a disadvantage.
The Lion has learned to Write: Bo Ajala