You’ve probably heard this term tossed around social media, but what does it actually mean? Let’s discuss.
Definition & Origins
Privilege itself is known as unearned access to resources, social rewards and the power to shape the norms and values of society that are only readily available to some people because of their social group membership. Privilege is often invisible to those who have it. When tied to whiteness, White Privilege refers to the “hidden benefits” that come with having white skin in a racist society that hinders non-white cultures and norms, and people with darker skin complexions. A person’s proximity to whiteness can also impact how they benefit from White Privilege.
The concept of White Privilege took off when it was researched and written by a white anti-racist activist and scholar Peggy McIntosh through her 1988 essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” But it is important to credit Black people who had been arguing this concept for many years before. In the 1930’s W. E. B Du Bois wrote about the “psychological wage” that enabled poor whites to feel superior to poor Blacks; during the civil-rights era, activists talked about “white-skin privilege.”
Why Does the Topic of White Privilege Make People Defensive?
White privilege is not the assumption that everything a white person has accomplished is unearned; most white people who have reached a high level of success worked extremely hard to get there. Instead, white privilege should be viewed as a built-in advantage, separate from one’s level of income or effort.
Examples of White Privilege in the U.S.
- School history books focus on the Northern European immigrants’ experience in the US, while African-American studies and Mexican-American studies are taught as electives.
- Growing up you often watched TV shows and movies that centered on white characters.
- White people are able to wear their hair naturally without it being perceived as messy or unprofessional.
- Calling the police unnecessarily with the intention to harm or with no regards to the relationship POC (people of color) have with law enforcement (escalation of violence, immigration status, etc.)
Can Non-Black People of Color Benefit from White Privilege?
Yes! Proximity to whiteness also bestows certain unearned privileges. One example is colorism. In a previous post, we discussed colorism's ties to anti-Black racism and its role in other communities of color. Studies have shown that darker-skinned Black men are more than twice as likely to get the death sentence than lighter-skinned Black men.
- White Privilege is the hidden social benefits that come with having white skin in a racist society.
- You can still have White Privilege while enduring other forms of hardship and oppression.
- In the U.S., white culture has set the standard societal norms.
- Some non-Black people of color can still benefit from White Privilege based on their proximity to whiteness.
How have you seen or experienced White Privilege in your everyday life?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The Department of Organizational Strategy, Initiatives, and Culture (OSIC) was established in 2017 to oversee YES Prep functions which speaks to organizational development and cultural foundation of YES.