Is there an automatic advantage to being born white? Maybe there is, but not necessarily.
A better question to ask might be “What benefit is there to this label? ” Racism is an extremely complex problem that has profound consequences for our world. Only free and open thinking and discussion can address this problem. Recently, the phrase “white privilege” has come into vogue to explain institutionalized racism. It is easy to understand this viewpoint. African-Americans were held by whites as slaves for hundreds of years and are even today, some would argue, treated as second-class citizens.The phrase “white privilege”, however, is little more than a smear term. It is non-specific and non-definable.
It is also non-applicable to a great many white citizens who can only ask themselves “what privilege? ” it is a concept far too superficial to be productive in fostering racial understanding and equality. In search of a definition Laws in recent years have done a great deal to get rid of any overt benefit for being white. A certain privilege, some argue, still exists. “White privilege” is a term with a fluid definition.Generally speaking, the term posits that just by the virtue of being born white, a person will enjoy certain benefits in our society that others will not.
Those benefits are not necessarily quantifiable. However, those who use the term believe that any white person who studies their situation in depth will find that they benefited, in some way, by being white. This may or may not be the case, but the definition itself disallows individual differences. White privilege is an incredibly vague concept.Even proponents of the concept see the difficulty of crafting a clear definition. Professor Robert Jansen, commenting on a discussion he had with a conservative student, writes: White privilege, like any social phenomenon, is complex. In a white supremacist culture, all white people have privilege, whether or not they are overtly racist themselves.
There are general patterns, but such privilege plays out differently depending on context and other aspects of one’s identity. (1998, Pg. 1) It is a slippery definition.The danger is that we, as people who care about social justice, get too enveloped in trite slogans. It deadens us to the complexity of the problem.
The professor concedes that white privilege is different depending on the situation. It must be asked then, is it in fact a privilege to be white? Compared to what or whom? The answer is that it may or may not be, depending on the individual. This brings us back to the point that a generalizing phrase such as “white privilege” is unconstructive and in some ways harmful.
In a sense it relieves us from having to delve into the socioeconomic puzzle that caused disparities between the races. The term itself can exacerbate the problem. It can provide an almost insurmountable mental obstacle for non-white person trying to climb out of poverty. If white privilege is the unstated policy of the land, why even bother trying to climb the economic ladder? For some white people, the term can create the very situation it tries to remedy. Some will expect privilege.Others will react negatively to the tacit implication that they are racists by actually becoming racists.
Denying white privilege is not to deny that racism exists. It surely does. Overt racism is becoming rarer, but subtle forms of racism still exist. That is only one piece, however, of a large socioeconomic puzzle. One may ask, why do African-Americans suffer a disproportionate rate of poverty? An answer of “white privilege” really gets us nowhere.
It answers no question and provides no remedy.