The use of the word “privilege” has become more relevant these days. It is something that many people, particularly in the elite and middle classes, benefit from unearned. Privilege has enabled white people to feel superior to black people for many decades. And this has yet to change.
White Privilege Throughout the Years
“I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.”
“I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the ‘person in charge,’ I will be facing a person of my race.”
These are just a few examples of white privilege in a paper titled “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies” written by Peggy McIntosh, a women’s studies scholar, in 1988. Many people unknowingly use this to take advantage of several situations. And in situations like those, some of us think that they somehow become the authority.
Francis E. Kendall, author of “Diversity in the Classroom and Understanding White Privilege: Creating Pathways to Authentic Relationships Across Race” defines white privilege as “having greater access to power and resources than people of color [in the same situation] do.” It happens when white people are not questioned by their achievements or mistakes. It happens when black people realized that being black alone can make other people hate you. It happens when whites are accepted in a community without being harassed, while blacks are always made to feel unwelcome.
It doesn't end there. White privilege happens when whites are less likely to be presumed guilty, less likely to be sentenced to death, and more likely to be portrayed fairly. On the other hand, black people are arrested, tortured, and even killed without due process. White people are also less likely to be followed, interrogated, or searched by law enforcement compared to black people because they look “suspicious.”
Tons of statistics have shown how white privilege has gone too far. It was reported that black people were more than nine times as likely to be stopped and searched by police as white people from 2018 to 2019. They were more than five times as likely to have force used against them by police and over three times as likely to be arrested. Equality and Human Rights Commission also reported that black workers with degrees earn 23.1% less on average than white workers.
Another study conducted in Australia also revealed how white privilege can manifest in daily interactions. The experiment involved people of different racial and ethnic identities who tried to board public buses, telling the driver they didn’t have enough money to pay for the ride. The researchers documented more than 1,500 attempts. The findings showed that 72% of white people were allowed to stay on the bus while only 36% of black people were extended the same kindness.
However, the use of the term ‘white privilege’ was only viewed as “a subconscious prejudice perpetrated by white people’s lack of awareness that they held this power” after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But before that, it was generally referred to as legal and systemic advantages given to white people by the US.
While white privilege allows white people to have basic rights and benefits simply because of their skin color, this doesn’t mean they haven't suffered hardship or that they don't have a tough life. According to the BBC, an operational business division of the British Broadcasting Corporation responsible for the gathering and broadcasting of news and current affairs, activist JT Flowers says the term is often misunderstood.
"You might be a white person and still be poor with a lack of access to education or face a language barrier in the workplace. It doesn't mean you can't be disadvantaged in another way. It just means with respect to that one particular thing - your race and skin color - you do have the luxury of not being able to think about it,” Flowers said.
Why White People Ignore the Existence of White Privilege
Unfortunately, many white people do not believe that a thing such as white privilege exists. American culture has taught them that the racial inequalities black community are experiencing can’t be traced to their past or present behavior. They believe that everything that’s beneficial to them is not because of their race. Many whites display ignorance and raise questions like, “What is this privilege of which you speak? I do not detect a hint of it. Perhaps you are being lifted by a race-based privilege because surely it is not I.”
Such ignorance has encouraged them to exhibit racist and sexist views, thus, becoming a tool of racial discrimination. In the book “The Racial Contract,” author Charles Mills argues that this ignorance produces “the ironic outcome that whites will, in general, be unable to understand the world they themselves have made.” Without accepting this privilege, white folk never have to confront it.
A recent study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science analyzed how confronting white prejudice can reduce racist and sexist views. According to Phys.org, an internet news portal that provides the latest news on science, the study was participated by 161 white college students. The findings showed that white people seek to identify and regulate their own biases about multiple groups of people when confronted after expressing a bias about African Americans, Latinos, and women.
"Many people are reluctant to confront instances of bias because they worry about backlash from others. But we found that confronting prejudice can be a powerful way to reduce not just one but multiple types of prejudice. We all have the ability to make a change and sometimes speaking out against small instances of bias may make a big change,” Kimberly Chaney, a doctoral graduate student in social psychology at Rutgers University-New Brunswick's School of Arts and Sciences, said.
Co-author Diana Sanchez, a professor of psychology, said that there’s still a lot to understand about confronting prejudice. "Confronting someone is challenging, but we hope that knowing that it can be effective might make people more willing to step up,” she said.