If you ever want to shock a room full of white libertarians or conservatives into a frenzy, just use the term “white privilege” unironically. For those who have based their entire identities and ideologies in a radical (to the point of irrational) individualism, the very notion that not everything that’s gone well in life is due to their merit or work is repugnant, and that reasonable notion is at the core of what white privilege is.
Let me clarify what white privilege is not.
- White privilege is not the belief that all white people have easy lives.
- White privilege is not the belief that all non-white people have hard lives.
- White privilege is not the belief that white people need to give up their privilege.
So, what does believing in white privilege mean?
- It means believing that in general, white people have less social/economic/political/criminal limitations placed on them than non-white people.
- It means believing that in general, non-white people have more social/economic/political/criminal limitations placed on them than white people.
- It means that those with privilege should acknowledge that fact, and acknowledge the implications of their privilege and the implications of what not having said privileges could be.
If you still don’t understand, or don’t agree that this idea has any basis in reality, I beg you: take four minutes to watch this excellent illustrative video.
Now, unfortunately the term white privilege is controversial to many. For one thing, it instantly brings up the topic of race, which is pure anathema to many on the right. For another, as I previously pointed out, it forces a denial of the irrational form of radical individualism that many people cling to.
The fact that the term is so abrasive to many with a more conservative bent makes many others believe that it should not be used. The claim has been made that a term that is so incendiary will do nothing but make people uncomfortable and turn them away from your message.
My response to this: so what?
Centering conversations about race and racial issues around white comfort is just another piece in a long history of drowning out black and brown voices with white ones, and of valuing white comfort over black and brown experiences and feelings. In fact, I would gladly contend that any conversation about race that does not make conservatives and reactionaries uncomfortable is pointless, watered-down, and essentially complicit with the long history of racial and social injustice.
Another argument made against using the term white privilege is that it is rarely used to describe things that are technically even privileges. For example, an example of white privilege is the fact that white drivers are less likely to be stopped by cops than black drivers. The argument could (and has been) made that this is not actually a privilege per se, but rather a right to travel unmolested. And technically, that argument is right. But it also makes the terrible mistake of centering the conversation around white experience.
If you are a white person who opposes the term “white privilege” for this reason, imagine yourself as a person of color who lived up without the advantages associated with white privilege. Imagine that you harassed by cops on a regular basis, Imagine that you were followed around by employees in every retail store you went into. Imagine that you had to get a job at 14 to help your parents pay bills. Imagine that you were less likely to get a loan, to be given a job interview, etc. From that perspective, the advantages associated with white privilege surely would appear as actual privileges, right? For many black and brown people, those advantages are not the default like they are for most white people. If you can empathize with them and look at society from their baseline, then I imagine you’ll find white privilege to be a far more accurate term.
If you essentially believe in the concept that term “white privilege” is conveying, but disagree with the term itself, I have one question for you: who are you centering your conversation around? Should conversations about race and racial issues be had with white comfort held in the highest regard? I should hope not.