Such a simple word, yet when in context its impact is undeniable. On the surface, privilege means nothing more than having an opportunity that another does not. Delving a bit deeper can find a meaning of having an advantage. This benefit can be used as leverage over another. Privilege then illusions itself to be a way of life. A right. A law that governs societal interactions in favor of those with riches, status, and power. Feigning itself to be transparently accessible to all, but contradicting the very essence of the word.
Privilege is intertwined with society’s totem poll.
Yes, quite the simple word, but it speaks volumes on life which is why people get mad when they are told they have privilege.
In a country that prides itself on impeccable work ethic, no one wants to hear they have an advantage. People would rather remember their story as having worked tirelessly to achieve rather than remembering the structure gave them a break.. They want to know nothing was given to them. Essentially, they forged their own path and grabbed the reigns of success with their own hands.
Privilege doesn’t exist.
Or should I say, people believe it doesn’t apply to them. Therein lies a major problem. Structural/societal privilege exists in several forms, but they are denied at all costs. One such example is the privilege of being white.
In a perfect world, having an advantage over another due to the color of one’s skin would be nonexistent. We don’t live in a perfect world. In reality, white privilege began the moment European settlers asserted themselves over Native Americans. Throughout American history, white privilege was tangibly relevant. The days of slavery. Sharecropping and plantations. Japanese concentration camps in WWII. Jim Crow laws. The Caucasian race has remained at the top of America’s societal totem poll.
We have to understand white privilege does not mean “all white people have it grand.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. Poverty does not care who it touches, and this includes white people. Complexity lies in the simplicity of the term. It is literally referring to one’s skin color and the benefit it brings. Most white people will balk at any notion saying having white skin benefits them. Especially those of the lower and middle classes. Funds are low or absent from the back account. People are living paycheck to paycheck working dead end jobs at low wages. Running heat and water are a luxury for some. White people aren’t excluded from these problems which is the reason some shirk the very idea of being privileged. If poverty has touched me, then how am I privileged? If I’m working just as hard, if not harder, than my counterparts, then how do I have an advantage? Would could honestly be the benefit of being white?
The benefit of the doubt.
That doesn’t seem like much. Especially in 2016 where people honestly believe everyone is treated in an equal manner. However, the benefit of the doubt can, in extreme cases, mean life and death. In less intense situations, white privilege is implanted in the fabric of American society.
Naming a baby can be painstaking. Parents agonize over the right name for their child. It’s a big deal. Another factor that should be taken into account is what you name your baby can affect their ability to be hired. It has been proven that ethnic sounding names are 50 percent less likely to be called back for interviews. This has become quite the hot topic as of late. The View host Raven-Symone admitted she would not hire someone with a “ghetto sounding name.” In that statement alone, a person’s intelligence, work ethic, and ability to succeed at the job are called into question. Thus, it is inferred the Ashleys of the world are smarter, work harder, and are more competent than the Aishas who have the same credentials. While Ashley is not exclusive to the Caucasian race, the name is of English decent and more commonly attributed to whites. Whereas Aisha is of Arabic decent and more commonly attributed to African-Americans. This creates an underlying, yet common, stereotype of being white equaling superior intelligence.
This may anger some, and rightfully so. No one wants their hard work attributed to their skin color. Conversely, no one wants to be deemed less competent because of their skin color. However, a perceived privilege of being white means you’re automatically seen as being smarter.
The problem with the idea of white privilege is its immersion in perception. Perception is shaped by experience which means it can be relentlessly argued because experiences differ. Throngs of people, regardless of race, resist the idea of white privilege because their experience tells them otherwise. This begs a question.
Does white privilege exist?
It depends on who you ask. The very idea of white privilege exposes the perception of differential treatment between whites and people of color. This perception was an American reality until the day Jim Crow laws were deemed illegal. This is the day palpable distinctions in treatment regressed to an idea. Fast forward to current days, and this idea is a myth to some and a phenomenon to others. The mere discussion of white privilege elicits pretty emotional responses.
“Whites are happy when they can get away from blacks. That’s why they had to make laws to stop “whites only” policies. These laws are still on the books for a reason. It is much worse to be a white living among blacks then it is to be a black living among whites SO SHUT UP. Segregation would solve all problems, but no, you don’t want that.”
- A Comment from the Washington Post
Recognizing this comment is extreme and does not represent the thoughts of all white people, we can see how ugly people become over the topic.
Let’s hope this thought process is indicative of a vocal minority and not the whole. Suggesting segregation as a response to the white privilege discussion is so far off base. Sadly, people go there when they hear they are racially privileged. Most will feel pressure to feel guilty or ashamed of being white because of this alleged privilege. This pressure will cause a hot reaction of defense as can be seen in the above comment. The reality is that people should be proud of who they are, and whites are not excluded from this. While whites may be privileged in some ways, that does not mean they don’t struggle. It all boils down to being human, and every one of us encounters problems. That is the problem with perception.
Sometimes, it doesn’t give us the full picture.
Clearly, there are still race issues in America no matter how much people try to be colorblind. The complexity of these issues only deepen as we further ourselves from the day of Jim Crow. Nonetheless, these issues are real even when people refuse to believe it. Just ask someone about white privilege.
They’ll tell you it doesn’t exist.