I am not a fan of the term "white privilege”

The idea of “white privilege” doesn’t make any sense to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand how the term is used and what it is supposed to mean.

I think of a privilege is an unearned “leg-up” on something that an individual or a small group of people hold over a majority. Maybe Amy got into Harvard easily because her father is a wealthy donor to the university. Amy was at the head of the admissions line, in front of thousands of others. Amy is privileged, and let’s face it, when others say that word in relation to her, it is not complementary.

White people are treated by society how people should be treated. They are not given advantages. Society treats white people as “normal.” The problem is that society does not treat non-whites as “normal.” The non-whites are victims of racism.

When I go interview for a job, I have no advantage over the 5 other white candidates. We are judged on our merits and compared against each other. The problem is that the one black candidate is disadvantaged compared to his white counterparts. The black candidate is a victim of RACISM (maybe individual racism or societal racism).

In the wonderful society (hopefully in the future) where we are all treated the same, will we all be privileged? Of course not, that makes no sense. We will be free from racism.

I guess the part about “white privilege” that I do not like is the way that it is thrown about as an accusation. Like it is something that individuals should be ashamed of. Just like people who knew Amy probably thought less of her because of her privilege. And we all kind of hope she feels a little bit guilty because of it.

No. I will not feel guilty for being white. I feel sadness. I feel sadness that my non-white brothers and sisters are even today victims of individual, societal, and even violent racism.

Was the word “racism” not enough? It describes the horrors that millions of people have experienced throughout US history and even today. Was it found weak or lacking that a newer term has to be coined in order to move the needle of compassion in the hearts of mankind?

I really am confused by the necessity of this new term, one that doesn’t really accurately describe the situation. Help me understand.

Right. Why should I be accused of having an privilege just because others are victims of racism? After all, it’s their fault for being victims, right? Hmm… ok, no that’s not right. Let’s see, it’s their fault they don’t have the same privilege also, right? Well, no, that’s not the case. Oh, this must be it, my privilege is in no way the result of their victimization? Wait… that doesn’t sound right either. It must be that their victimization isn’t caused by the privilege because… um… no, I’m going in the wrong direction, I see it now. I don’t have a privilege because I don’t have an advantage over anyone else … well except for those victims of racism, but having something other people don’t have without having to do anything to get that and they didn’t do anything not to have it isn’t a privilege is it? Is it?

In my experience, privilege comes up as a response when someone demonstrates a gross misunderstanding of some aspect of racism. I’ve shared this story in another thread about privilege:

Friend of mine (call her S) is a black female psychologist. Upon graduating with her Psy D, S applied for jobs with various therapy groups. One in particular (a family therapy group) liked her a lot – they had 60 candidates, but they told S that she was by far their favorite. But there was a problem – they were seriously worried about how they would get patients to sign up with her – that many patients would not want a black therapist. They were open with her about this worry.

Side-discussion 1: S is a very intelligent and qualified therapist. Her would-be employers showed no sign of racial bias – and yet they were worried about their business, and that hiring a black therapist might not be the best move for their business. White applicants had the privilege of there being no concern about their race potentially harming the business of the prospective employer.

They ended up hiring her despite these concerns because they were so impressed by her interview (and academic history). They put up her picture on their therapy group website. She is an attractive woman who wore her hair naturally. For the first few months, she had zero patients. Her employers were extremely concerned. Someone had the idea of a new picture – she dressed very conservatively, had her hair styled in a more European (i.e. straightened) fashion, wore glasses (despite no need for glasses), and had the picture taken. Since then, she slowly built up a base of patients and now has as many as her co-therapists (including, paradoxically, an openly racist drug addict who swears that she is the only therapist who can keep him clean).

Side discussion 2: S is a skilled therapist and an attractive woman, but her picture (even when professionally taken) dissuaded potential patients from choosing her as their therapist. Her white co-therapists have the privilege of being able to present themselves on their website naturally (with their natural hair style) without dissuading patients and harming their business.

There is a happy ending – S is very content with her therapy group and has plenty of patients. She’s not a victim and never has been. This is just (in my view, at least) a realistic description of the challenges she faced due to various forms of privilege, or lack therof.

Conclusions: Privilege is generally about society, and not so much about individual prejudice. S’s therapy group shows no evidence of racial prejudice, but because their business is in a society in which there can be racial aspects to things as varying as patients choosing a therapist, they were concerned about hiring a black woman. S didn’t have to just be a good therapist – she had to be the best out of a group of 60, and even then there was a good chance she would not have been hired. She doesn’t just have to dress well and be attractive, she has to chemically alter her hair, wear glasses she doesn’t need, and dress more conservatively then her co-therapists, to get enough patients to be viable.

So if one of her white colleagues were to complain that all that’s needed to succeed in society is hard work, she might respond that this kind of statement probably comes from a place of privilege, and demonstrates a lack of understanding of the actual hardships that so many people who are not white and male face.


I am not really sure what you are trying to say, but I don’t think you accurately reflect the opinion I was trying to express.

Suppose I go out right now and kick the first person I see really hard in the 'nads. You will therefore become privileged—namely, you have the privilege of not being kicked in the nads by me.

I think the OP’s objection is that we commonly distinguish between privileges and rights: “Rights” are the basics that everyone should have, though unfortunately not everyone actually does, but when they’re deprived of those rights, an injustice is being done. “Privileges,” by contrast, are something extra, a bonus. The OP (assuming I understand it correctly) is saying that what gets called “white privilege” isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be, considered extra—it’s what should be common to everybody.

I think the concept is important, and here’s why: I am not a racist person. I have never denied a minority a job interview or kicked them out of housing or voted to take away their rights. BUT, it’s important for me to understand that despite that, I’ve benefited from racism anyway. And yes, that’s due to racism of other people, either conscious or subconscious. But I still need a way to describe the benefit that I get despite my relative lack of complicity in the system. And privilege is a pretty accurate way of doing so.

Thanks, that helps (me at least).

I would just think of it like accounting for income. When a company pays you wages, it’s an expense to them and income to you. When you buy a car, it’s an expense to you and income to the dealership. Interest on your savings account is income to you, but interest on your mortgage is an expense to you; the bank sees it the other way around.

So when other people suffer the negative effects of racism and you either suffer no effect, or you have a positive effect, then that could be called a privilege. There is a positive effect, even if only by making the available pool of competitors smaller. When a job candidate is rejected because of racism, the remaining candidates are all more likely to get the job because of privilege.

Therefore, I don’t see any real problem with using a word like racism to describe negative impacts and a word like privilege to describe positive impacts. Maybe we could find better words, but those are the ones that people mostly use and understand.

Maybe my OP was too long and rambling. I think I was trying to make three main points.

  1. In my head (maybe this is where I went wrong!). Privileged is something that a select few get - above and beyond everyone else. You can’t have a majority of people have a privilege. At what point does it stop being a privileged? When 90% of the people have it? 99%? What if there was no racism, does that mean everyone is privileged? That doesn’t even make any sense. Using the word privileged for a very large group (or even a majority) doesn’t make any sense in my head.

  2. Being treated how you should be treated does not mean privileged (in my head). Privileged should mean being treated above how you should be treated.

  3. I feel like the only reason to use the word instead of the standard word of “racism” is to somehow make all whites, whether they are racist or not, be the bad guy. It is the adult version of coining someone a “teachers pet” to try to get everyone else in the classroom to dislike them. I feel like it creates disgust and division, instead of bringing people together to fight for a cause.

Thanks. I think that is a good way to look at things. I would have just called that indirect or societal racism. Maybe it is just a semantics game.

These are good thoughts and make sense to me. Thanks.

While the OP is correct, the point of the term isn’t to indicate that there’s a genuine privilege so much (though there is) as to point out the subtle effects of racism and/or sexism. A white person can go look in the windows of a closed store, to see if anyone’s there or look inside to see how it looks in there, and nothing happens. A black person will try doing the same thing and passers-by will call the police to inform them that a store is being cased for a robbery.

The hope is that people relate the racism to their own lives, when thinking about it in terms of privilege. Rather than thinking, “Oh, that’s horrible that people are racist to others.” They might think, “Man, if I was black, I’d be in a police cell right now.” The hope is that this latter way of thinking gives people more empathy for what’s going on and makes them more active in preventing that sort of thing.

The more ways you can look at and understand a problem, the better a chance you have at relating to and fully incorporating it into your thoughts. Different people learn in different ways. The wider a menu there is, the better the chance that the message will get through to everyone.

Only slightly tangentially there is institutional racism which can sometimes seem amorphous or difficult to identify. Understanding and appreciating institutional racism is a process, a long process to many. It can be very subtle.

I mention it because the US judicial system, albeit from afar, seems the most obvious example I’ve ever seen.

“White Privilege” has a specific meaning, and it’s not exactly what the OP thinks it is.

“White Privilege” is not just a catch all term for any old good thing that happens to white people. It refers specifically to the “privilege” of not having to think about your race all the time.

Do you walk in to a store and think “I wonder if people are thinking about my race?”. When you prep for an interview, are you thinking about how to allay any lingering concerns with your race? When you do something stupid, do you worry that it is reflecting poorly on your race? When you read a newspaper article about someone of your race committing a crime, do you think “Oh dear, not again.” Are you

Or do you just get to be you? Accepted as an individual at face value?

This is “White Privilege”. It’s subtle, but it’s powerful because it permeates every aspect of life. And all you have to do as a white person is to acknowledge it. Think about it now and then. You don’t have to feel bad, just be a little aware that your experience of being a race is a little different than many people’s.

Sometimes this is true, and sometimes it couldn’t be farther than the truth.

If two similarly-dressed people of similar demeanors go into a high-end boutique and only the black one is stalked by the sales rep, despite being an upstanding citizen who has never lifted an item in their life, then perhaps the problem here is simply that the black person is being mistreated while the white person is treated as anyone should be treated.

But life rarely plays out so neatly. Truth is,when black shoppers are overscrutized, whites are underscrutinized. White ruffians exploit this to their advantage and get away with theft because their race grants them an unearned benefit of the doubt; even if their behavior is objectively suspicious, the sale rep is blinded by bias. So in this case, they are decidedly not being treated as “normal”. They are clearly privileged.

It is hard not to see examples like the above play out over and over again, and not become bitter about it. A black woman gets extra passionate and forthright in a work meeting? If she isn’t called crazy, she risks being called angry and intimidating. But a white male can exhibit the same behavior and be characterized less negatively, even if he acted more forcefully and aggressively. Now why should we view the way he is regarded as ideal, when it is very likely all that bluster and carrying on has negative effects on everyone’s productivity and professional growth? Isn’t it possible that by permitting white men to shout others down without social reprecussion, we make it harder others to be heard and respected? The answer is an obvious yes. Failure to spot this actually suggests the influence of white male privilege, to be honest.

If black people as a group have to be more qualified than their white counterparts just to have an equal shot of getting a position, doesn’t that mean that, as a group, white people have an advantage? Of course it does. To argue otherwise is to insist on using white folks as the reference point upon which we should judge all others. The reality is that you can’t really have disadvantage without also conferring advantage to someone else; the relationship is damn near escapable.

I do not believe this to be true. This is a commonly stated example OF (any) privilege, but it’s not the definition or origin of the term.

“White privilege” as a concept was developed by sociologists who realized that they were trying to teach (mostly) white kids about racial disparity and students were tuning it out because it wasn’t “about” them. By rephrasing “minority disadvantages” as “majority privileges,” it forced the majority students to actively consider their own role in the system and to engage with the issues more.

“White privilege” isn’t an inherent “truth,” it’s a particular lens for viewing racial inequality.

I think this is an important point that a lot of people miss – through American history, white people materially benefited from racist and white supremacist policies and practices at the expense of black people. If that black guy is less likely to be hired, then that means you are more likely to be hired; if a black family is turned away from decent housing, then that means your family is more likely to get that decent housing; if black people are forced to pay fines due to biased law enforcement, then that money might go to spending that enriches the white part of town; and a million more examples.

I am considered ‘white’ and as a result I am privileged. I have an easier time doing all sort of things than people not considered ‘white’ have. I had nothing to do with that but I cannot imagine that the people who aren’t considered ‘white’ would think that I don’t have a privilege, and they’d wonder what the hell I was complaining about if I said I didn’t like being characterized that way. Do I feel guilty for being privileged, yes, in a sense. Not the guilt of responsibility because I had nothing to do with creating that privilege, but because I am benefiting from something I didn’t earn, and I can’t just take the neutral position that I didn’t cause the problem that benefits me so I should be just fine with it.

I agree with your take. The concept of “white privilege” directly challenges the perspective espoused in the OP-- that racism is a problem that has only affected victims of discrimination. It encompasses a lot more than just the mundane issue of being unconscious of one’s race as a majority member. It forces people to consider what advantages they have inherited and/ or receive on a daily basis simply by not being in a stigmatized group, and how these advantages can affect how they see the world.

The notion that “whites are simply being treated like everyone should be treated” is certainly not a new one. It’s more appealing to many people because it’s less guilt-inducing than believing that racism frequently allows whites to get what they don’t deserve.

Maybe true, but if this is your explanation of “white privilege,” I’m going to think it doesn’t apply to me. It’s not something that I, a white person, personally experience or benefit from: I’ve never cased a joint to rob it; and I’m a quiet, unaggressive guy who doesn’t shout people down. So your explanation doesn’t resonate with me the way JSexton’s and Sage Rat’s do.