White Privilege

This term - almost universally used by progressives – evokes very different feelings and response across the political spectrum.  

On one hand, progressives see the term as simply descriptive – as an objective reference to the historical advantage whites have had (and currently continue to have) that makes them more economically and psychologically secure, upwardly mobile, etc. This may include the absence of a certain kind of fear (of police, for example), living in a sea of successful white images and models, and personal and family histories that create competence and confidence (e.g. to own a home, manage money, create a two-parent home), as well as wealth that many minorities do not have. Those who emphasize this privilege insist on an affirmative obligation to acknowledge it, study its impacts, and examine what change would mean  - how to make everyone equally “privileged” (meaning there is no privilege).

Many on the right view this term with great hesitancy – seeing the word as an activist tool (with an argument implicit), rather than a mere objective or historical descriptor. Specifically, the word is seen as yet another way to make race and other unchosen demographics central and overriding explanations for social ills, while minimizing individual responsibility for the same problems. From this perspective, many of the same inequities noted by progressives can be attributed to a collective pattern of ongoing choices that lead to other consequences.  

One challenge to dialogue about white privilege is that any such hesitancy or questioning may be interpreted by those on the left as evidence of this very white privilege - since, the argument goes, the current power dynamics of the world don’t require white American citizens to have to worry about this question – or even to see it as a reality.  

Given this double-bind (your hesitancy is additional evidence of the term under question), it can be difficult to acknowledge honest disagreement about the term - similar to what happens with race and racism.   


-Have you experienced either white privilege or the absence thereof? Why do you say that?

-To what extent have the achievements of your life depended on your own determination and effort? To what extent have you been helped by advantages not everyone has had? If you haven’t been helped by advantages, why haven’t you?

-If there was suddenly no privilege of any kind for anyone in the world, what would the world be like? How would things be different than they are now? How would your own life be different?


Jacob Hess, Phil Neisser

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