by Charles E. Williams
Some define privilege as a right or benefit that is given to some people and not to others. To many, privilege is often thought of as something that is earned and not given.
The controversial and often hotly disputed term “white privilege” can be thought of as an advantage that white people have in society that is earned by operation of birth. It may be unacknowledged and unearned in the traditional sense, but can be practiced regularly.
The term “white privilege” is often misapplied in defining certain white people, and often misunderstood because of the confusion in distinguishing what is an “earned” right and what is a “birthright.”
Peggy McIntosh, a feminist and scholar, describes white privilege as “an invisible, weightless, knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visa, clothes, tools, and blank checks.”
For whites who take advantage of these so called “privileges,” they often see these items as the “normal” things available to all people regardless of race or ethnicity, often ignoring the fact that Blacks, Asians, Latinos, and other minorities do not have ready access to or enjoy these privileges.
In exploring the issue of white entitlement and racial privilege we might consider questions such as;
1. Does white privilege actually exist?
2. Is it earned or is it right of birth if you are born white?
3. Is it fair to include poor and under-served whites in this definition?
4. Can other groups or ethnicities lay claim to their own “privilege?”
Florida Studio Theatre hopes to explore these issues in-depth as we continue expand our community conversations in a safe and accepting environment.
JESS PRICHARD (Matt) NYC credits: An Occupation of Loss (Greg) and De Materie (Paul Langevin) Park Avenue Armory. Select Regional credits: Venus in Fur (Thomas) – Riverside Theatre, Assassins (Guiteau) Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Julius Caesar (Brutus), Love’s Labour’s Lost (Navarre) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Theseus) – Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre, Shrew!(Petruchio) – Sun Valley Shakespeare, Emma (Mr. Knightley) – Macklanburg Playhouse. TV: Billions (Showtime). MFA: the University of Illinois. Instagram @jesstheactor. More at JessTheActor.com
Does white privilege actually exist?
Yes. White privilege exists. Research supports this. Examples include disparities in wealth, inheritance, criminal justice sentencing and laws targeting people of color – from slavery to Jim Crow through redlining and gerrymandering.
There are also less overt examples of white privilege. Micro-aggressions occur when whites adjust behavior in the presence of people of color. Racial profiling manifests when people of color are followed in stores or have police called on them without cause. Tribal tendencies keep opportunities and resources within a group which prevent other groups from climbing the social ladder. The privilege of being white in America is not facing these hardships.
But I understand the logic of those who believe white privilege doesn’t exist. Most of us whites have not faced these hardships so we ask, “how can something exist if I don’t see it?” What this overlooks is that concealing hardships is a central and insidiousness aspect of keeping privilege intact. If we saw other’s hardships, we’d realize we have the privilege of not facing them. We’d then be forced to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth: our advantages come at the cost of others.
Is it earned or is it right of birth if you are born white?
It’s both. White privilege is part of long-standing, persistent and systematic racism in our society. Being born white protects us from hardships that non-whites face.
Additionally, white privilege gives us the potential to take advantage of opportunities our privilege provides. If we continue to adhere to the norms of whiteness and support the system of privilege we can potentially be rewarded with greater wealth and status.
Is it fair to include poor and under-served whites in this definition?
Poor and under-served whites also benefit from white privilege in several ways despite being economically marginalized. One example is whiteness being the cultural standard. As whites, rich or poor, our likeness is the standard used in media, advertising and cultural narratives. So even when we lack money and resources, we still have the privilege of seeing ourselves as the dominant culture and the center of stories.
Can other groups or ethnicities lay claim to their own “privilege?”
I’ll answer this with story about an African-American friend of mine. We were discussing privilege when she began talking about her own. I stopped and asked, “wait, YOU have privilege?” She then listed being able-bodied, being born in America, English being her first language, being college educated and being cisgendered (a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex). She explained how these provide her privileges in this culture that not everyone has. She patiently opened my eyes to how detailed, circumstantial and personal this topic of privilege is.
As this important conversation spreads it will become more nuanced. It can then lead to discussing other forms of privilege and the groups affected by it. For example, much in the way white privilege places undue burden upon non-whites in America, male privilege places undue burden upon women throughout the world. Identifying these various privileges is an important step in beginning to eliminate them to help us move to a more efficient and just world.
ROD THOMSON is Founder and President of The Thomson Group, a Sarasota-based firm providing public relations, communications and media counsel to companies, organizations and politicians. He’s also Founder of TheRevolutionaryAct.com political commentary website, and co-hosts Right Talk America on the Salem Radio Network with Rep. Julio Gonzalez. He spent 25 years in newspapers as a reporter, columnist, and executive editor. He has been published in the New York Times, People Magazine, Focus on the Family and Newsmax, and been a guest on national talk radio programs such as Hugh Hewitt and Michael Medved. He has published two books. He is on the Board of Trustees of State College of Florida and is President of the Sarasota Republican Club. He graduated from Michigan State University in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in economics. Rod has been married for 38 years and has eight children and four grandchildren.
Does white privilege actually exist? No. First, the very concept is racialist at core and takes a huge step backward from the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King. Making a full, sweeping judgment based solely on skin color? Oh my what a giant leap backwards. Second, the abounding exceptions where white people struggle in the millions and black people thrive in the millions suggests there is no such thing, or exceptions would not be so large. Third, correlation with factors ranging from financial success to incarceration does not mean causation — except in the cases of personal choices and life decisions. With occasional exceptions, that is where you find causality, which also goes to point number two above. The phrase itself is a growing poison in our society. My personal story, which I will share on the panel, makes the point.
Is it earned or is it right of birth if you are born white? Not Applicable.
Is it fair to include poor and undeserved whites in this definition? This question in itself fairly answers the number one above. If yes, then what privilege are we talking about? If no, then obviously there is no such thing. Asking this question should make clear the answer to the first one (question).
Can other groups or ethnicities lay claim to their own “privilege?” Confusing. Whites don’t “claim” privilege — except perhaps those who were born into wealth and educated at elite leftist schools, a very tiny minority. But tens of millions of working stiffs sure don’t. They are labeled, based on skin color. And they resent it. Poison.