Examining White Privilege

I am going to continue on with this theme of examining the politics of race, which although not particularly original nor groundbreaking blog-wise, is, in light of the many recent events, something that i think needs to be brought back to the forfront again of people’s minds.


White privilege is a fact of life in America because America has always has been the domain of White men of wealth. This fact was established by the founding fathers of this nation who worded the constitution in such a way that it protected the rights and privileges of rich White men and allowing only landowners, who of course were White men, to vote . From this foundation, White privilege has spread into all areas of society and it carries with it the concept of being better than men of color, or so-called inferior races, and of the rights these privileges by naturally confer upon the holders.

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Privilege exists when one group has something of value that is denied to others simply because of the groups they belong to rather than because of anything they’ve done or failed to do and mercifully most White people are not even aware of this privilege or the effect it has on their lives. They have never known anything different, so they never give it a thought.

By definition such privilege comes in two types: unearned privilege is something that all people should have, e.g. safety in the workplace, but when this becomes restricted to certain groups, and then it becomes an unearned advantage. Unearned advantages often give the dominant group the competitive edge, as in the difference between upper class and working class males. There are much better opportunities available to a young man from an upper class background than to one from a working class background. Yet these working class males still have privilege over men of color.

Actually, the meaning of the term White privilege is one that has always been changing and seemingly never agreed upon in academics treatments or in the popular media usage. Our contemporary understanding of the term primarily originates from the 1987 article written by Peggy McIntosh entitled “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Before this groundbreaking work was released most identified White privilege in a very different way than it is now perceived thanks in part to Peggy McIntosh, in conjunction with the ideas of liberalism in American political society, and with the concept of White privilege having evolved from a legal state of racial discrimination into a psychological state of mind created by law abiding citizens’ sub-consciousness and thus making it an invisible combat that is almost impossible to be policed by the governmental agencies which are mandated with ensuring that there is equality in our society.

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White privilege does indeed exist because although it is not perpetuated by a conscious and explicit effort on the part of the majority of American society, it is a very real a part of the subconscious of every White citizen, whether they realize it or not .
Why is it important to define White privilege so carefully? Because, in part, many people want to deny that it exists at all, especially in response to other people’s assertions that it is at work in some particular situation, that it exists unjustly and so should be dismantled. This pattern of assertion and denial is itself racialized: for the most part, people of color say White people enjoy White privilege, while White people for the most part deny not only that they have it, but that such a thing even exists. I have been assured countless times by White people that there is no such thing as White privilege and that the very idea is nonsensical.

Over the long course of U.S. history only White people have enjoyed and possessed the rights which they loudly proclaimed were fundamentally human rights. I think it is fitting and accurate, in such an unjust situation, to call the racially differential possession and enjoyment of human rights a privilege arising out of particular social relations. In studying historical examples and theories of oppression, it becomes clear that social visibility or invisibility is an important strategy. Early feminists make this point over and over. If men and women equally believe, for example, that women are by their very nature subordinate to men, then gender oppression seems natural, inevitable, and timeless. If you can design structures of oppression which are invisible, which seem natural, they will be more effective than structures which are visible. If you can convince everyone, but especially members of the oppressed group itself, that the way things are is natural or inevitable or unavoidable, people will be less likely to challenge the way things are.

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Even the use of skin whitening treatments by people of color has been linked to the benefits of White privilege. According to several theorists the relationship between white privilege and skin whitening can be explained by colorism and colonial mentality. Some intellectuals claim that the image of Africa imposed on the world, and on African people globally, are those controlled by White forces operating under White privilege. The very political definitions people of Africa have are due to White privilege. White privilege is not simply the purview of Whites. It is also copied by other races, and in particular those who have been the victims of European colonialism. The idea that a lighter skin tone places one closer to the status of the colonial masters by a reduction of the percentage of Black blood in a person is not a new concept though the fact is that these false ideas are still prevalent today albeit subconsciously rather than overtly as in previous eras. If that idea is correct, then we should expect the very idea of racialized social privilege—that is, social privilege which attaches to a group or groups which are identified racially (whether one understands ‘races’ culturally or scientifically)—to be invisible socially.

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Case and point, rapper L’il Kim.  I mean look how she tried to changed her race.  between multiple surgeries and god know how many bleaching procedures she has almost succeeded. (This person a a shoe-in for blog post on surgical addiction too).


We should expect that members of the dominant group, the one which has the privilege, to deny that it exists or that it could exist. This is precisely what White people do (for the most part) when faced with claims by people of color that they enjoy social privilege by virtue of the social fact that they are taken to be White.

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Didn’t know that now did you?  He’s an octoroon.

White privilege does exist today and needs to be carefully defined because it is a very contested concept and that contestation is itself racialized which is what we should expect since socially invisible structures of oppression are more effective and enduring than socially visible ones. We must define it in order to make it a problem for the dominant group in order that it may be shown to be is an unjust and obsolete historical creation. In the end it is only ourselves who can remove this grey pall from society and it is only ourselves who we can blame as White privilege continues to persist in this evolving culture.


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