“White Privilege is a myth!” I hear many of my friends say. Those people always have one thing in common: They’re all white.
So, in this article, I would like to expose the idea that White Privilege is a myth. Because it’s not.
First of all, how do we define “White Privilege”?
According to Francis E. Kendall, author of Diversity in the Classroom and Understanding White Privilege: Creating Pathways to Authentic Relationships Across Race, the basic definition is: “Having greater access to power and resources than people of color [in the same situation] do.”
If you’re white [like me], it’s not very hard to admit that this phenomenon exists. There are certain things white people can do, places they can go, things they can say, that people of color simply cannot.
Do you need examples?
Try this: A few weeks ago, white people armed with semi-automatic weapons stormed the Michigan State capital [and also the Kentucky State Capital] and screamed into the faces of police officers [who were not dressed for a riot] and they were not brutalized, shot at with tear gas or rubber bullets, or arrested. In fact, the President of the United States urged the Governor to pay attention to them because they were angry.
Keep in mind, what these white people were upset about had more to do with being inconvenienced due to the COVID-19 shutdown than with any real “life-and-death” injustice.
Fast-forward a few weeks and we see unarmed people of color protesting peacefully all over the nation. They are shot at with rubber bullets, and tear-gassed, by police officers dressed for armed conflict; wearing riot gear, taking an aggressive stance against people who are protesting the on-camera murder of a black man on national television and calling for justice.
The same President called for more police brutality in response to these protests about police brutality.
Do you see the difference?
White people can do things that black people, and other people of color, simply cannot do.
Now, let’s try to reverse these examples. Imagine if the black protestors showed up armed to the teeth with military-style gear and semi-automatic weapons. Can you imagine that the police response would have been as peaceful as when the protestors were white?
This is what we mean by “White Privilege.”
But, that’s not the only example. Not at all.
White Privilege is so embedded in our culture that it is practically indistinguishable by those born into it: especially if you are white.
So, you probably don’t pay much attention to the fact that most heroes in TV and Film are white. You probably don’t notice that the products on the shelf at the store you shop at feature mostly white faces. It doesn’t cross your mind to take note of the fact that the majority of ads you see feature white people. This all seems “normal” to you. Why? Because it has always been this way.
For you, this is just the way the world works. And you’re exactly right. The world we live in is tailored to favor white people because it was built by white people, at the expense and exploitation of black people, to cater to white people.
This is why you – if you are white – have never paid much attention to the fact that white hair care products in the store are in the “Hair Care Products” aisle, while black hair care products are in the “Ethnic Hair Care” section. Or that the store shelves largely feature foods that appeal to white families, while foods that other ethnicities enjoy are in the “Asian” or “Ethnic” food sections.
It’s also why you don’t notice (or care) that Band-Aids are exclusively available in a white skin tone.
In other words, because these every day things do not inconvenience you, you don’t notice them. Another way of saying this is that you live in a world that caters to you as a white person, so you are not inconvenienced.
But that’s not all.
White Privilege extends far beyond the retail levels of our society. It is expressed in more toxic ways, such as:
- White people are less likely to be followed, interrogated or searched by law enforcement because they look “suspicious.”
- White people’s skin tone will not be a reason people hesitate to trust their credit or financial responsibility.
- If white people are accused of a crime, they are less likely to be presumed guilty, less likely to be sentenced to death and more likely to be portrayed in a fair, nuanced manner by media outlets.
- The personal faults or missteps of white people will likely not be used to later deny opportunities or compassion to people who share their racial identity.
As one article points out:
“This privilege is invisible to many white people because it seems reasonable that a person should be extended compassion as they move through the world. It seems logical that a person should have the chance to prove themselves individually before they are judged. It’s supposedly an American ideal.
“But it’s a privilege often not granted to people of color—with dire consequences.”
Like it or not, White Privilege is not a myth. It’s an everyday reality that we must admit exists before we can do anything to change it.
We can’t talk about this subject without referring to this excellent little thought experiment performed by Jane Elliot, as evidenced in this brilliant 58 second video clip:
Simply put: White people know that black people and other people of color are treated unfairly in our world – even if they themselves aren’t the ones treating them that way. However, as Jane Elliott points out in this video clip, even though we know this is true, and we know we don’t to be treated this way ourselves, we are largely complacent when it comes to doing anything about changing this reality.
This is especially troublesome for white Americans who claim to be followers of Jesus [who was a brown-skinned, Middle Eastern Jewish man]; the same one who gave his followers a very specific command: “…to love one another as I have loved you.”
Because, as the author of 1 John tells us: “If you claim to love God but you hate your brother, you’re a liar and the love of God is not in you.”
Loving one another means treating others as we want to be treated. [That’s a Jesus-thing, too, btw].
So, if you are a white American Christian [like me], then you absolutely need to admit that there is a system in place that favors white people and creates disadvantages for people who are not.
Next, you need to work to undermine this system which grants you certain favors that it withholds from others.
Then, you need to do everything you can to speak up for those around you who are not benefitted as you are. You need to relinquish your position of power whenever possible to help redistribute the privilege to those without it.
Of course, convincing white people of their privilege isn’t easy. That’s why I’m writing this post. Because I have a lot of white friends [too many] who simply deny that White Privilege exists.
“We need to be clear that there is no such thing as giving up one’s privilege to be
‘outside’ the system. One is always in the system. The only question is whether one is
part of the system in a way that challenges or strengthens the status quo. Privilege is
not something I take and which therefore have the option of not taking. It is something
that society gives me, and unless I change the institutions which give it to me, they will
continue to give it, and I will continue to have it, however noble and equalitarian my
intentions.” − Harry Brod, “Work Clothes and Leisure Suits: The Class Basis and Bias of the Men’s Movement,”
in Men’s Lives, ed. Michael S. Kimmel and Michael Messner (New York: Macmillan, 1989), 280
The numbers don’t lie:
“According to the Pew Research Center, only 46 percent of white people say that they benefit “a great deal” or “a fair amount” from advantages that society does not offer to black people.”
In my world, I would be thrilled if 46% of my white friends admitted this. But the number is [unfortunately] much larger, in my experience.
However, “Multiple surveys have shown that many white people support the idea of racial equality but are less supportive of policies that could make it more possible, such as reparations, affirmative action or law enforcement reform.”
That’s the problem, isn’t it? Even when white people voice support for racial equality, they fall short when it comes to actually doing anything to change things.
Why? Because it’s very difficult to get people to change a system when that system provides them a measure of favor, support, convenience, power and wealth.
We like the idea of equality. We just don’t really want to live in a world where equality is actually an everyday reality.
As Cory Collins said in this exquisite article on White Privilege:
“…white privilege is not just the power to find what you need in a convenience store or to move through the world without your race defining your interactions. It’s not just the subconscious comfort of seeing a world that serves you as normal. It’s also the power to remain silent in the face of racial inequity. It’s the power to weigh the need for protest or confrontation against the discomfort or inconvenience of speaking up. It’s getting to choose when and where you want to take a stand. It’s knowing that you and your humanity are safe.
And what a privilege that is.”
Bottom line: White people need to wake up and admit the truth – we live in a world that favors our skin color. We like it this way. We’re not in a hurry to give it up. We’re sorry that black people and brown people aren’t enjoying the same privileges we are, but not sorry enough to do very much about it.
This needs to change. We need to do more than admit that White Privilege is real, we need to do everything we can to change it. Otherwise, when we say we love God on Sunday morning, or when we invoke the name of Jesus on our lips, we’re very simply liars who love ourselves more than we love our neighbor.
Are you a liar, or a follower of Jesus?
What you do next will answer that question.
FOR FURTHER READING
Understanding White Privilege [PDF Download] HERE
Why It’s So Hard To Talk About Racism HERE
Dear White American Jesus HERE
Keith Giles and his wife, Wendy, work with Peace Catalyst International to help build relationships between Christians and Muslims in El Paso, TX. Keith was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church over a decade ago to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. Today he is the author of several best-selling books, including “Jesus Undefeated: Condemning the False Doctrine of Eternal Torment” which is available now on Amazon.