Yesterday was just a normal day. I had a full basket of clothes and I took them down to the washer. I started it and walked away. Quickly, I realized that I had misplaced my phone, and raced down back to the laundry room, stopping the washer. I took it up, dripping with water, and as I laid in my bed before I went to asleep, I attempted to dry it but nothing changed except for a rarely flickering screen. As I write this, my phone sits in a container of rice, hopefully drying away from prying eyes. This whole experience, made me think about the white privilege I enjoy. I have briefly read about the criticisms of the concept of white privilege, and I wholly understand that not all whites gain the ‘benefits’ from their race as it is inside a class structure, but still my race affects my life experience intently. This article is meant to check my own privilege and reveal for those who don’t realize it, how it exists.
There are a number of privileges I enjoy as a young white cisgender man. The first of these is no discernible discrimination that I can recollect. The only time I remember ever being discriminated at all was when a parent accidentally called me a girl in a gym class, basically misgendering me. As noted in one of the episodes of the documentary series, Unnatural Causes, some scientists say that not only does socioeconomic status among blacks affects births but racism is a risk factor in birth, affects status of black babies and higher education affects birth status. These scientists also said that stress from continual discrimination over a life could lead to worse birth outcomes since racism is a type of stressor like losing a job, and anything else, and there is a persistence of institutionalized racism in American society which reinforces inequality.
There is another privilege I enjoy: no jail or prison time. This is probably due to my carefulness in part, but I have definitely violated laws in the past, and there was no arrest for me at all. Racial profiling and ‘stop and frisk’ programs, present across the country in cities such as Detroit, Baltimore and New York City, target usually poor people of color, not whites. The reason for this in a large part is due to what a zine by the Beehive Collective about the now-defunct Free Trade Area of the Americas: “…racial profiling, inadequate legal representation, and racist drug sentencing laws conspire to create a shameful scenario in which the US drug sentencing laws conspire to create a shameful scenario in which the US incarcerates a greater percentage of its black men than the South African regime did under apartheid.” It is this system of mass incarceration, combined with the ‘war on drugs’ which benefits private contractors (part of the prison-industrial-complex), Wall Street, and the prison system but not the oppressed peoples of the United States.
There is something more: I haven’t been deported from the country and separated from my family, all because I came to this country to get a better economic opportunity, which ended up being a manufactured reality. Immigrant communities, especially undocumented immigrants from Mexico have been vilified by the corporate mass media, politicians and confused whites, who have been distracted from the real problems that face them such as NAFTA, corporate globalization and capitalism itself by the right-wing propaganda machine. When I had a summer job, there were no checks of IDs or fear of being deported for being ‘illegal,’ things that undocumented immigrants face every day.
All my life, I’ve lived in areas that have been occupied by people who have been the same race as me by high majorities. This comes with a further privilege: not thinking about the color of my skin. Such a discussion was even addressed comically on The Daily Show, with a white panel repudiating racism, and blacks saying it is very present in American society. Since racism was a function of slavery, even though in much of the ‘First World’ the concept of slavery has disappeared away* the psychological attitudes of racism have stayed around. While I think about my race, I likely don’t think about as much as those who are in oppressed groups, such as Blacks, Latinos, Asians, indigenous Americans, do on a daily basis.
There is one final privilege: getting as far as I have in the educational system. After all while high school graduates in the population above 24 years old is above 85%, this quickly drops to the mid-thirties, according to US Census data. Just by demographics, one could say that since more than 72% of the population is white, it is likely that just from this, most graduates would be white. However, looking at other data, one finds that of the approximately 115 million households, around 52 million [45%] of them bring in less than $50,000 per year, which only a little less than the median household income, using 2011 dollars. This makes the pool of people going to college to be even less than one would originally think, and thanks to the rising cost of tuition, a good amount of people are not going to college. Even if they are, they are likely becoming chained to their debt, a bubble that continues to get bigger and bigger.* There is something more which is that the dropout rates of Latinos and Blacks out of high school are higher than those of whites, and this is another privilege in some regards. I say in some regards because high school graduation rates are the highest they’ve been in thirty years. However, this is an average, meaning that it still is a privilege because not everyone in disadvantaged and oppressed communities gets a chance to go to a school that has adequate supplies, and due to societal, social and other factors, they don’t graduate.
In the end, let me say that while white privilege is not the best construct, it does help one understand the divisions in society racially, but this must be taken into caution as class (class privilege), age, gender (like male privilege, cis privilege, and heteronormatity), disability (as in able-bodied privilege) and other distinctions also play into this, along with the capitalist system itself.
*This is unless you consider debt slavery, wage slavery or slavery in working for a company as described in part of Food Inc. But, these types of slavery need a whole other discussion.