White privilege is an unseen force silently holding back minority groups and deserves more attention within our society.
The term white privilege refers to the often unspoken advantages that white people may not recognize they have. Much like male privilege, it seems white people innately do not notice the upper hand they have in life. Unlike overt prejudice, discrimination or racism, privilege refers to the inherent advantages dominant groups have over others.
Many white people I have encountered seem to be under the impression that the term white privilege means white people are treated like royalty and do not have to work hard to get what they have. This is not at all what the term means. Suggesting such is a gross oversimplification, reducing the actual argument of white privilege into an easily discredited straw man fallacy.
Being able to do well without being called a “credit to your race” is white privilege. Buying “flesh colored” Band-Aids and having it more or less match your actual flesh is white privilege. Going to a hair salon and having anyone be able to work with your hair is white privilege. Not being asked, “So what do your people think?” in an academic setting is white privilege. Not having to scour aisles for magazines or toys that represent people of your race is white privilege.
These incidents are just some of the more superficial examples. White privilege can manifest itself in more sinister ways. According to a Sept. 17, 2013 Huffington Post article, a larger percentage of whites have used illegal drugs than blacks, yet black people are three times more likely on average to be arrested in the U.S. for drug possession. According to a June 4, 2013 USA Today article, blacks are 10 to 30 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites in some counties. These statistics perfectly illustrate one of the more insidious effects of white privilege.
By bringing up these issues, I am not aiming to demonize white people. I am simply attacking the privilege certain people possess at the detriment of others.
People strive to act in the best interest of themselves or their own. Of course a country created by racist white men in powdered wigs is going to breed institutions and systems that are unfairly beneficial to white people. Even knowing of one’s own advantages in life, not many people would willingly give up their privilege even if it were for the greater good of the society. Because of this, knowledge of white privilege is a burden on white people.
Once they are aware of their own privilege, they must make a decision. Do they bring everyone else up to their level, hurting themselves in the process, or do they choose to be willfully ignorant, oppressing others as they do so?
The privilege white people experience on a daily basis is something that everyone should be afforded in an egalitarian society. One does not have to be racist in order to benefit from white privilege, and yet, by choosing to ignore one’s privilege, the covert oppression of minority groups continues.
When every positive interaction with black people is seen as extraordinary, there is a problem. When everything an individual feels and expresses is seen not as a representation of the person, but instead as a representation of a whole race, there is a problem. White privilege affords white people the right to be individuals and to be nuanced in everything they say and do. What they can or cannot do is attributed to them as individuals and not their race. The fact that this is not true among minority groups is white privilege—and that is the problem.
Essentially, white privilege is a driver cruising down a straight and smooth road without knowing it. When they end up going faster and farther than others, they think it is because they are just more adept drivers. The truth is everyone else has been driving on a gravel path full of potholes and other obstacles. Toni Morrison said it best, “this soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers.” If you are not a white gardenia, you have to work twice as hard to grow just as tall.