White Privilege 101
Contributed by: Harvey Rifkin
I believe that it is paramount that we broaden the discussion about how many of us either take for granted our “White Privilege”, or are oblivious to how the advantage of this unfair power irreparably damages those in the community of “Color”, and ultimately damages our society. When I speak of “White Privilege”, I am mainly referring to White Male affluent privilege, but also included in the sway is the lesser Privilege of affluent White women. “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”, this profound quote by MLK, Jr. makes resounding intellectual sense, but as a society why do we resist adhering to it?
Throughout history and culture, the colors “Black” and “White” have had opposite connotations in both speech and literature. The semantics of our language put the word “White” in a much more positive light than the word “Black”. For example: Essence of Black (dark, cloudy, depressed), and White (bright, cheerful, upbeat) symbolism. Black is a color that is often used to portray something evil, depressing, scary and even death in the Western civilization. The Black color meaning is often negatively charged, as in “blackmail”, “blacklist” and “black hole” etc. White is often associated with being pure, fresh and good. The color of a fresh snowstorm illustrates a peaceful and pure winter scene. White wedding dresses are for virgins, and Black dresses are for funerals.
Police brutality and murder of POC (People of Color) is just a microcosm of our societies implicit and explicit racism. The racism within our police departments is only a mirror of our own short comings as a so called civilized humane society. It would be a gross exaggeration to say that all police are racist, just as it would be inaccurate to label all “Whites” as racist. I have to confess, and feel shame, as an educated affluent White Liberal heterosexual male that I possess some uncomfortable very subtle racist views. A recent article in alternet.org supports our massive racism as follows: “Take, for instance, a 2012 AP survey that found “51 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48 percent in a similar 2008 survey.” Add in the “implicit racial attitudes” formula, and the quotient jumps to 56 percent—up seven points from the previous presidential election.”
“Separate but Equal” is unworkable and fallacious, because in practice it is a contradictory statement, not just specifically as it refers to Brown v. The Board of Education, but all aspects of our society including employment, education, housing, criminal justice, health care, mental and physical health, nutrition, social institutions, human relationships, and entertainment. Fortunately, we are slowly breaking down the barriers of skin color to a certain degree, but the virus of racism and White Privilege still continues to take a heavy negative toll on POC.
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The elements that make up our survival, well-being, and quality of life are very interdependent, like the pieces of a hanging mobile fluttering in the wind; move one piece and it affects all the others. Just the advantage of quality education and housing has a tremendous impact on one’s future success in life. Impact these two important elements with poor healthcare, nutrition, personal safety, diminished employment opportunities, and freedom of association and we see how challenging and difficult it is for POC to compete and to survive on par with Whites.
White privilege starts early in elementary schools, where Whiter schools have much better resources for learning than many predominately Black schools. In addition, studies have shown that predominately White teachers give better and more directed attention to their White students than Blacks, who are seen with some degrees of prejudice and backward learning skills.
A study on employer reviews of employment resumes concluded that candidates with Afro-American first names encountered a much higher rejection rate, even before they had the opportunity for a face to face interview. POC of color still face explicit and implicit job discrimination even though there are strict laws on the books prohibiting discrimination.
A patently large disparity in the White/Black Privilege equation is how POC are unequally treated in the criminal justice system. There are major differences in White and Black perception of the police. Blacks are arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated to a much greater degree for the same crimes as Whites, and in some instances for no crimes at all. Whites in general see the police as societies institution of safety and trust, while Blacks see police as a foreign body to be feared and mistrusted. The Guardian finds that, “Young black men were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by police officers in 2015.” The Washington Post reports that, “black men were seven times more likely than white men to die by police gunfire while unarmed.”
Another myth that tries to elevate White against Blacks is intelligence. Decades ago a few scientists such as racist William Shockley, the inventor of the transistor, alleged that Blacks were intellectually inferior. Present day science has destroyed any myths about disparities in racial intelligence, but unfortunately many Whites still carry the old fallacious prejudices which puts Blacks at a disadvantage in hiring and pay.
White views of POC is that Whites are superior in ambition. This myth is fallacious because if one takes into account the cultural impediments that society has created to keep POC subjugated, then even Whites under the same circumstances behave the same as oppressed Blacks. Unfortunately, the above prejudice gives Whites an unfair advantage in hiring.
Whites have a long established network of expensive universities, country clubs, social clubs such as Harvard, The Bohemian Club, Pacific Union Club, and other exclusive expensive networks that give Whites a “Good Old Boy” advantage in political and business networking.
Whites have more of an advantage in their ability to purchase homes in exclusive areas, even though housing discrimination is illegal, where neighborhoods are safer, schools are superior, and the possibility of doing a profitable business deal with one’s neighbor is much higher.
As a White Male of Privilege I want to explain to those Americans who are either/and racist, uncaring, and ignorant what the significance of the BLM (Black Lives Matter) movement is about. First off in principle no one can argue with the statement that “All Lives Matter”, but in practice the data shows that White Lives (American) matter more. Any movement comes about due to injustice and disparities in human rights, be it women’s suffrage and reproductive rights, LGBTQ equality, equality for all in housing, education, and employment. The BLM movement would have not emerged if Black people were treated on par with Whites in all aspects of our society, primarily in the criminal justice system and exacerbated by the disproportionate killings of Blacks by police. The value of an American life to their friends, loved ones, and family is no more valuable than the life of a Palestinian, Iraqi, Syrian, African, or Vietnamese to their family. So please people respect what the BLM movement means, and disproportionate suffering that Black people continue to endure by our “Unjust” criminal justice system. Do not try to denigrate what the BLM movement means, by the neutralizing statement that “All Lives Matter”.
Access to all empowerments such as housing, education, social networks, employment, etc. is essential to upwardly mobile success of any individual. When I over hear racist or prejudicial attitudes by others, I proactively voice my objection, challenging the viral message, not attacking the messenger, even if it means potential confrontation or embarrassment. We the White Privilege holders have the major responsibility, not just POC, to be fair, inclusive, open, and just in how we use our long time acquired “Privilege”.