The idea of “white privilege” draws attention to the unfair social advantages that white people enjoy relative to non-white people. It is a concept that permeates every aspect of society and is present in all of the key institutions and systems that keep it running in addition to interpersonal relationships.
Despite the term’s long history, it has recently gained attention as a result of incidents like George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
Explore the Contents
- 1 Meaning of White Privilege
- 2 Examples of White Privilege
- 3 How White Privilege Affects White People
- 4 Acknowledging White Privilege
- 5 A Word From Verywell
Origin of the Term
Peggy McIntosh, a scholar and activist, first used the term “white privilege” in her paper “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” from 1988. White privilege, as she described it, is the tacit advantage that the dominant culture has over people of color.
“In other words, the various social groups in society do not share power, advantages, and other advantages equally. White people specifically have the advantage in terms of white privilege.”
Reactions to the Phrase
White privilege can make people feel defensive and even outraged if they have never heard the term before. White fragility is the phrase Robin Diangelo used to describe this phenomenon, and the emotions range from mild ones like shame, guilt, anxiety, avoidance, and discomfort to severe ones like shaming, covert violence, intolerability, invalidation, and weaponizing privilege (i.e. calling 911).
However, for some people, the thought that someone might be given special treatment simply because of the colour of their skin is unsettling and can cause feelings of shame, guilt, and confusion.
If you are white and believe that white privilege does not apply to you, you are probably wrong.
Meaning of White Privilege
You might recoil at the idea that you are privileged because of your race if you are white and have always felt that others have an advantage over you, perhaps in terms of wealth.
White privilege is a benefit that shields white individuals from all forms of racial and ethnic discrimination.
White privilege simply means that any difficulties a white person may or has faced are unrelated to the colour of their skin. This does not imply, however, that white people have not faced or cannot face difficulties in life.
Examples of White Privilege
It can be helpful to consider instances of white privilege in daily life in order to comprehend it in action. The examples that follow are taken from Peggy McIntosh’s work.
- If you’re white, picture yourself going shopping and looking for a foundation brand that complements your skin tone in the cosmetics aisle. Do you worry that your colour does not actually exist? Probably not. White privilege is what this is.
- What if you’re hunting for underwear or shoes and come across anything in the hue “nude”? Are you left wondering why you aren’t considered “nude” according to a particular brand? Most likely not.
- Think about entering a store. Do you presume that coworkers who are observing you could be worried that you might steal something since you can’t afford it? Once more, probably not. When you enjoy white privilege, these kinds of concerns are not an issue.
- Imagine for a second, if you are white, that you are going for a job interview and it is clearly mentioned that certain hairstyles, such braids or dreadlocks, are inappropriate at work (styles that are traditionally worn by Black people). Do you feel that you are being subjected to discrimination based on your race when this hairstyle restriction is brought up? If not, that exemplifies how white privilege works.
- Additionally, have you ever been concerned that the way your natural hair grows out of your scalp is considered unprofessional? If not, you are engaging in white privilege and are a person of color.
- Do you ever wonder why no one in a book, movie, or television show that you are a white person watching or reading looks anything like them? If not, that exemplifies how white privilege works.
- What if you’re white and you’re watching the news? Wouldn’t you feel misrepresented by the media and invisible in the constant stream of inspiring and uplifting stories? Moreover, this is white privilege.
Freedom and Perception
- What if you’re white, relocating to a new neighbourhood, enrolling your kids in a new school, taking a solo walk, or heading to Target? Do you worry that being a different race would negatively affect how others will view you or how well they will accept you? If not, white privilege is at play.
- Do you ever wonder if people think you sound articulate enough when you speak when you are interacting with your coworkers and are white? If not, white privilege is at play.
- Are you concerned that others might assume that you only achieved your goals through the use of affirmative action if you are white and have recently been accepted to college, hired, or promoted at your place of employment?
- Are you concerned that if you succeed or are a high achiever, people will be surprised or comment on how well you represent your race? If not, that exemplifies how white privilege works.
- Assume you are a white parent preparing your child for adulthood. Do you feel the need to explain to your child the possibility of discrimination based on skin tone? If not, that exemplifies how white privilege works.
- Do white people have to worry about their kids being bullied or getting sent home from school because of their hair texture? Probably not.
- Do you truly, viscerally worry that violence by law enforcement or other parties would prevent your child from returning home?
- Do you worry that you might be stopped for questioning if you’re driving through a wealthy, predominately white neighbourhood because your skin tone is perceived as threatening or out of place? This phobia will not apply to you if you are white.
- Do you think that your race might put you at a disadvantage or that you might be treated unfairly if you need to ask the police for assistance or find yourself in a situation involving the police? Alternatively, that is also an instance of white privilege.
How White Privilege Affects White People
White people frequently become defensive when the subject of white privilege is brought up, which is a significant problem that arises in talks about it. They could become unresponsive and stop speaking or listening.
This may be especially true for white people who experienced poverty as a child or who believe that their circumstances have been particularly difficult. They are left wondering how they are privileged at all. The expression gives the impression that life is simple, but it really just refers to benefits related to race.
White Privilege Doesn’t Invalidate Struggle
White privilege does not imply that white people have never faced hardships or experienced upsetting things. It merely implies that their troubles are unrelated to their skin tone.
Is one kind of conflict worse than another? That would be a matter of opinion because all struggles are legitimate, but no one would dispute that being poor or going through trauma are difficult circumstances regardless of a person’s race.
White Privilege Ignores Implicit Bias
The reality is that growing up white means spending the majority of one’s life not having to think about race. White people don’t notice it because everything is designed for their convenience. They possess the ability to be “normal,” or in the initial state.
A White people minimise BIPOC experiences and disregard implicit biases when they claim to be “color blind” or to not notice differences in skin tone.
White Privilege Is Not About Blame
The White privilege does not mean that white people should take responsibility for their advantages. How are you to be held accountable for something you have never had to think about?
The idea behind the phrase is to educate white people about their systematic advantages over non-white people and how they can work to ensure equality.
Acknowledging White Privilege
The first step in supporting the cause of racial equality for all people is to admit that white privilege exists. The aforementioned examples highlight some of the daily challenges that people of color face, but they barely scratch the surface of their effects.
When it comes to generational wealth (and in particular, property ownership), the experience of violence, and other measures of quality of life, there is a gap between those with white privilege and those without.
So here are some things white people can do to recognize their privilege:
- Recognize the existence of white privilege.
- Examine what is happening in your own life, consider all that you might be doing to encourage or sustain it,
- And take concrete steps to deal with it on a personal level.
- When BIPOC call your prejudices out or share their experiences with you, pay attention to them.
- When someone points out your ignorance, try not to take it personally. Decide to listen to them out instead.
- Think about your feelings if the phrase “white privilege” offends you.
- Become devoted to supporting those battling anti-racism.
- Make yourself available as a resource for non-white people.
- Despite your discomfort, discuss race with other white folks and BIPOC.
A Change in Mindset
Only when the majority of people experience a change in mindset will change occur. Furthermore, this mindset change starts with the individual, not the group. People are changing their minds one at a time.
A Word From Verywell
Many people may find it difficult to grasp the concept of white privilege, let alone act on it. If you are white, ask yourself:
“How would my experience right now be different if I were a person of color?”
” You will have a better understanding of,
what white privilege is and why it exists if you do this right away.”