The Realities of White Privilege

Global Engagements Fellowship

Tolerance.org defines white privilege as a transparent preference for whiteness that saturates our society. Transparent, meaning it isn’t exactly something white people actively create or enjoy, as opposed to overt manifestations of racism.

Often times, white privilege is subtle. ‘Flesh tone’ crayons, undergarments, or Band-Aids represent white skin. Complimentary hotel shampoo bottles work for hair textures generally associated with white people.

Such faint examples lead many to believe so-called “white privilege” is negligible. However, reverse the roles and a white person may be irritated to only find a bottle of shea butter shampoo designed for the coarse, natural hair of African Americans. Such an instance would highlight the entitlement white privilege entails. Again, forgetting your shampoo while on vacation may seem trivial, but it is part of a larger issue.

On a more serious note, white privilege affects job opportunities and associations with law personnel. The National Bureau of Economic Research conducted a field experiment in which identical resumes were sent out, the only variation being the names. Some included names that sounded likely to belong to an African American, like Lakisha and Jamal. In conclusion, job applicants with white names needed to send about 10 resumes to receive a call back, whereas job applicants with names associated with African Americans needed to send about 15. Conscious or not, this suggests that race plays a part in assuming employer productivity.

The experiment has its weaknesses, like that it measures callbacks instead of whether or not the applicant actually got the job. Back to hotel shampoos or ‘nude’ lightly colored pantyhose, one could argue supply and demand – that, statistically, whites constitute the numerical majority. Still, it contributes to the idea that whites have an elevated status in society.

A social experiment conducted by Occupy Democrats featured two men legally openly carrying an assault rifle down a public street, one man white, the other black. The white man is walking with an AR-15 over his shoulder when he is approached by an officer who questions him about the gun and asks to see his license. Next, the black man is walking down a street in the same fashion when he is approached by a cop car and immediately an officer gets out, weapon drawn, and orders the man to get on the ground. This experiment highlights how black men are perceived as more threatening, an issue that has had fatal consequences.

White privilege can be a spectrum, but fact is, it exists. It has led to protests around the nation, it has created a divide in ways that has widened beyond politics. Often, those who fail to understand their privilege are antagonized by the presence of cultural movements and express grievance. Those people need to recognize the injustices many people of color are forced to face. White privilege is a product of years of institutionalized racism with a variety of ramifications that need to be addressed for progress. If given the opportunity, always speak up when you can.

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