Unshackling Progress

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White Privilege Theory: I’m pretty sure this doesn’t mean what you think it means.

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It’s a good theory with an unfortunate name. The term Privilege implies that the benefitted party is well … just that. Privileged or well off or has life easy. Now if you’re saying things to yourself like: White privilege means that I think I’m entitled. OR White Privilege is just a way of teaching white guilt. OR White privilege theorizes that white people are all a bunch or racists out to get minorities. OR White privilege means that I must have an easy life.  THEN I have to say that I don’t think you know what white privilege theory actually is.

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And that’s not your fault. It’s been horribly misrepresented

People argue about this all of the time and when I read the comments generally 90% of the people, clearly don’t have a grasp on what it means. And unfortunately this is happening with both the people who agree with it and the people who disagree. It’s difficult to describe how frustrating it is to see so many debates all over the internet, where neither side really knows what it is that they are arguing over. Reading comments it seems that people read the title and come up with their own definition of what they think it is, without actually researching it. An artist named Jamie Kapp broke it down fairly well on her Tumblr recently. (see here)

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To be honest, I can see why people are so deeply offended when it’s mentioned or referred to. I think that anger and frustration comes from a lack of understanding of what the core of the concept is. And unfortunately many people who claim to be champions of civil rights, misrepresent it. A former student from Cal State Dominguez tells me that her professor actually told his students that white privilege was something that white people intentionally do. That it was the systematic and actively practiced form of discrimination. I was even told that this particular urban sociology professor, who will remain unnamed, told their sole white student that they didn’t belong in the class and should drop. As a person of color I found this misrepresentation of what is really a brilliant theory, horrifying. But before we can discuss it we should properly define it.

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I think Hedi A. Zetzer provides the simplest and most easily understood definition of it as an “institutional and individual manifestation of racism, however indirectly or unintentionally.”

Basically, in America, there are certain situations in which being white will work in your favor. Most of the time you’re probably unaware that had you been a minority, the situation may have been a bit more difficult. That effect is white privilege. It’s not some giant conspiracy. It’s not some evil plot it’s just the way it is.

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But there are so many misrepresentations of what White privilege actually is (most of which can be found on Urban Dictionary Click here if you want to face palm). I’ve heard so many people say “White privilege…..

  • means that white people have it super easy and can get anything they want
  • is a general term for racism throughout the country
  • is just an excuse for lazy minorities who blame their failures on others
  • means that any successful white person did not achieve their accomplishments on their own.

All of these statements are…

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 However it’s clear why there are so many who hate the theory of white privilege. Regardless of your race, gender, and sexual orientation you will have many struggles over the course of your life. Everyone has struggles and everyone has hardships. And I don’t think a white person would appreciate being told that their achievements were the result of white privilege any more than I would appreciate being told that my own were due to affirmative action. Thusly when people hear talks about the subject they  ferociously attack it. Look at how Fox News (read story) and it’s readers reacted to a news story where a Wisconsin school (Read Story) had a lesson about white privilege. Mind you this isn’t a US politics class, this was a class whose subject is diversity. Not only did these people not know what White Privilege is, they refused to learn.

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While I am fully of the opinion that while its effects are debatable white privilege does exist. But before I offer evidence I want to point out a few things that I think get people so angry when discussing it.

  1. White Privilege, for the most part, is not the result or intentional racism it’s just something that happens indirectly and without malice.
  2. White privilege does not mean a white person may have an easy life at all. In fact a white person born into poverty may have just as hard a life as any minority inheriting a similar financial status.
  3. White privilege does not mean that it’s impossible for a minority/woman/homosexual to get ahead in life. It just means there are things that they will have to deal with that others don’t.
  4. Discussions about white privilege should NOT be driven by anger at any race. It should be a means to bring us all together.
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Civil rights is something that we all can fight for. We all should be willing to fight for the rights of out fellow human being.

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And any talk about our civil rights should encourage all people to join. Just look at these men standing up against Male Privilege.

While it’s important we get past these misconceptions it’s important that discussions about this theory or race in general should not be inflammatory. I’ve met racists of every color and when we use “Blaming” language it just incites derision and anger or guilt. And neither of those is of any use. White guilt doesn’t solve anything. What we need to do is be careful about how we, and those around us talk. We have to try to actively stomp out racist thoughts and statements when we notice them.

But does white privilege even exist? Well a quick Google search will show you numerous examples of it playing out today. Take a look at this clip from the TV show, What Would You Do. (It should open in it’s own window)

Three white kids openly committing a crime and people hesitated to call the police. Conversely, three black youths sleeping in a car and there is a 911 call.

Here is a quick example of white privilege theory in play.

In TV and film, studios are hesitant to cast too many black actors out of fear that they will loose a good portion of the white audience. Also with the exception of Will Smith and Denzel Washington, most producers are hesitant to hire a minority lead because they are a bigger risk.

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Not everyone can be as cool as these two.

Now a producer has a new movie and the lead can be any race or gender. What’s the likely hood that when they choose someone they will be Asian American, or Native American, or Hispanic American, or Indian American. Most likely the lead will be a white heterosexual male. A white newcomer is more likely to sell movie tickets than a minority newcomer especially if taking the movie overseas to Europe (See Here).  Now in this situation the producers aren’t racist. They just want to make as much money as they can, so its much safer for them to hire the white actor over a person of color.

Now before you say that this scenario is unrealistic, I’d like to ask if you remember a movie called 21?

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Did you also know that the movie was based on real events. And the actual guy was asian?  In fact the group of students were all mostly asian? (See details here)

Now these seem like extreme examples, but the thing about white privilege is that there are small instances we overlook everyday. For example; a job interviewer looking at two candidates. One named Alice and the other named Aquanetta. The minorities have the same opportunity but they must get over the obstacles their race has along with it. Many of these things are borne into our society and not any one persons fault. It’s just social norms that we except and don’t really notice unless we discuss them.

However, none of this is to say that all white people have easy lives. No quite the contrary, everyone has hardships and I would never presume to take away from the work and effort that we all put into our accomplishments. But is it not reasonable to say that overall there are more interactions where being a part of the majority works in your favor.  No sane person wants to be racist but ignoring this issue doesn’t help fix the problem. There really isn’t an answer to how to get rid of white privilege aside from recognizing it and trying to diminish it. Just like Male Privilege and Hetero privilege So once again I ask that we openly talk about the issue. We have to ask the RIGHT questions. Where does it exist? Why does it exist there? How can we change it’s effects? To end today I’ll leave you with this final thought.

In America, modern day racism is an old wound left behind from the lacerations of segregation and Jim Crow. And like all wounds it can only be healed by time and attention.  And while the scar left behind may be permanent, ignoring it will only cause it to fester and leave a permanent divide in this country.

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2 comments on “White Privilege Theory: I’m pretty sure this doesn’t mean what you think it means.

  1. Royal Hennessy
    February 7, 2014

    Great post! Every race has their own struggles. We judge others before knowing their background. Their accomplishments should not be downplayed just because of the assumption that they didnt earn it.

    • Danny R.
      February 8, 2014

      Thanks for liking, I really appreciate it. No one’s accomplishments should be downplayed. White Privilege theory is brilliant, but it has an anger inciting name. That’s why we need to take so much care when we talk about it. And unfortunately it’s not a simple problem, and we need to talk about it to try and stop it. But those talks won’t lead anywhere if everyone is just attacking each other.

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This entry was posted on February 6, 2014 by in Current Events, Politics, Race and tagged , , , , , .
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