white privilege



I would’ve thought that I’d first be quoting Tim Wise when discussing white privilege on this blog because I really, really like him, but I stumbled on this very insightful blog post and couldn’t resist posting it here.  It’s so succinct and personal and well written.




“If you blog about white privilege, you’re probably sick to death of people playing the “white trash” card in your comments. Their argument usually goes something like this:

  • “Being white didn’t give me all these privileges you’re talking about.”
  • “I know plenty of [minority] people who are better off than I am.”
  • And the advanced version, which I’m guilty of using myself: “It’s really more about class than it’s about race.”

I am “poor white trash”. I can relate to all of the statements above. I grew up looking the part of Average White Girl, but middle class white people always pegged me as “different”. This left me vulnerable to losing opportunities and even jobs to white people who “fit in” better. Also, after my family made its great escape from White Trash Hell into Middle Class Purgatory, I learned to my surprise that there were black kids in the world who’d grown up with more money than I ever had. And so on, and so forth.

Here’s where the confusion comes in. Yes, I have a legitimate grievance against the system. Yes, I’ve lost out on things because I didn’t have the $20 to invest or know the magic social password that would have marked me “normal” (read: “middle class, preferably white”). And yes, it hurts when you don’t fit in with your own race because of your class, and you don’t fit in with your class because of your race. It’s hard to see privilege around that stuff, but the examples are out there.

Wealth gets you a ticket, but it doesn’t guarantee you a seat

One of the black kids I went to school with whose family was richer than mine? We discovered we’d given identical answers on a test, and she’d gotten some of them marked wrong while I got 100%. When we examined her other papers, we realized the teacher had been doing this for some time: “giving” the black girl a lesser grade. And one of the Jewish girls I knew whose family was richer than mine? When she was absent for a Jewish holiday and missed a test, one of her teachers decided to teach her a lesson by refusing to let her make up that test anytime but on a Saturday – the Jewish sabbath. The teacher offered truly pathetic excuses why after school, during lunch and during the girl’s study period wouldn’t work. Sunday wouldn’t work because it was the teacher’s Christian sabbath! The girl’s mother had to call the principal and threaten to bring the ACLU into it before she got a proper time slot to retake the test.

I’ve never been pulled over for “looking like you’re out of your neighborhood” (unless you count the time I was lost in a snotty part of Beverly Hills in an American car, gasp!). I’m not nearly as likely to get pulled over for traffic violations as black or Latino people, even if they grew up with more money than I did. Taking things a step further, I’ve never felt pressured to join a gang just to survive. I’ve never worried I’m going to get shot in my own neighborhood (and I’ve lived in some neighborhoods the white middle class considers “bad”).”

That white skin would get you a seat, if only you had a ticket

My approach is to look at all the types of privilege that affect an individual. Take me, for example. I have white privilege and heterosexual privilege and able-bodied privilege working for me; I have class privilege and male privilege working against me. In the case of poor whites, the class privilege often takes more from them than the white privilege gives them (i.e., the college admissions board prefer my skin color, but if I can’t somehow pay tuition, I’m not getting in). In my personal experience, white privilege may be a total bust, and I have the right to feel that way: I do not have the right to muddy a discussion of white privilege with all my anti-privileges. But before I learned to separate the types of privilege, I’m afraid I probably did that once or twice. Not in the “minorities have it so easy” tone that marks one type of troll; I just couldn’t figure out which part of this stuff I wasn’t getting.”


11 thoughts on “white privilege

  1. This is really illuminating and clear on a messy topic. White privilege is going to be a big topic with Sotomayor’s Supreme Court nomination. People have already called her a reverse racist and are bringing up affirmative action again. Like having one hispanic female Justice and a Biracial President is proof that there’s full equality in this country…

  2. I agree with Melissa. I honestly do believe that people should stop pulling the race card, because look at how far we have came….A Biracial President. (Lets aknowledge him for what he is). If everything was about race I think our election outcome would have been much different.
    Our voice is what is a privilege we need to speak out more and come together and STICK together more. Blogging is getting our voice out there to others. Letting them know what is our opinions. “We have control over our own destiny”….I will not let the tone of my skin, hold me back.

  3. acknowledge obama for how he wants to be identified as…..respect a person’s personal self identification erica.

    and on top of that, this whole “race card” thing is over used.

    if one pretends that racism doesnt exist. if we pretend that we are all equal, then how will this help the problem?

    i hate it when people say we are all human, or we are all equal, because that directs attention away from the specific problem that race is going through.

    i fully do believe there are privileges that each race would get…pending on where they live and who they are around.

    if you lived in a middle class black city, where 90% of the cops are black…then life is in your favor. if you vice versa that, and you are are black in a white town, there is a good chance you wont be given the benefit of the doubt.

    to say that these privileges dont exist, ignore the situation. we cant keep saying that people look at each other on merit, because lets face it, its only been 40 years since the civil rights era. we are still trying to deal with racism.

    in fact, i think electing a black president, probably set us back a couple of years…i truly dont think america was ready.

  4. But I still have to disagree.

    As I said before:

    his explanation is innacurate.
    To put it simply, for a privilege to have an ethnic adjective, it has to be exclusive to that group. If you read Peggy McIntosh, Tim Wise, or other “White Guilt” mongers, they tend to mix fact with fancy. There is no denying that White privilege existed in this country. It was a legal fact written into federal law. But even then the law truly wasn’t directed at giving Whites a privilege, but at placing burdens on specific groups. Different exclusionary acts. This is what is called an incumbent, majority or ethnophobic/xenophobic legalization.
    That having been said, those laws were long ago repealed. Does majority/mainstream privilege still exist? Of course. It exists in ANY country where a population is the significant majority. Most media portrays them; their face is the most familiar, etc. But majority privilege can quickly be reversed by regional demographics where other groups may hold the majority, either individually or in combination. Many urban areas show this effect. Many places in the south where Hispanics are a majority can also affect this.

    But removing majority privilege such that we explore discrimination in a situation where all populations are of the same size. When we analyze Peggy McIntosh’s list you find that many of those privileges claims simply dissolve. Furthermore, those that don’t many times are not exclusive to Euro-phenotype people. In many cases, the discrimination is ethno-specific. Like cultural biases against African Americans in certain cases where just not being of that ethnic group allows for a lack of that burden. In other words, if you can point to any other group that can get away with it, then it isn’t White privilege; it is a “insert ethnic name here” burden. Example, NYC and hailing cabs. Most Whites would have no problem hailing a cab. But neither would most other ethnicities. It is actually only a few ethnicities that have been stereotyped as violent, misers, or in other racist terms such that cab drivers, many of them non white themselves will purposely avoid picking them up. Similar analysis for shadowing in department stores.
    Secondly, there are populations of Euro-phenotype people who suffer from their own burdens unique to them. Be it from multigenerational poverty, regional biases or stereotypes or many times ethno-regional biases of what American White or mainstream looks like in the first place.

    Thirdly, there are situations where being Non-White has its privileges as well. Because of the assumption of a ‘White privilege’ or worse innate White evil intent.
    It is assumed in many circles that you should not speak badly of each other, but you can speak badly of White people. It doesn’t matter if that person may happen to be a recent migrant from a third world country, war torn region, or what not where they haven’t received any advantage in their life. There is an assumption they have privilege and they can be the target of ridicule because of it.

    Finally, we must understand that there are populations that are predominantly White, who have profited from exclusionism, profiteering from exploitation, not just of non-Whites but also many other White ethno-social groups, who will have kids that may be raised to continue such exclusion, by ethno-class based doctrines and even racial ones, but rarely without the first one included. These groups do not reflect on all Euro-phenotype people. And you see their counterparts in the elite of other countries as well. Japan, China, India, etc.

    Then you have a group racialists whose only possible privilege is the illusion of privilege in itself. Many impoverished Eurodescent populations who live in abject conditions hold on to it to try to make some sense of their lives. Holding onto fantasies of past White glory.

    An ideology that was implanted by elite in this country as early as the indentured servitude period after European and non European servants and slaves rebelled together. Basically, a mental opiate to keep populations apart.

    Consider it similar to more extreme versions of religion and brainwashing that lead to feel-goodism about yourself no matter what your situation while pointing to all non-believers of your particular dogma as inferior people.

    Some articles that explore the idea of non-White privilege as well:

    Some use the Latino vs White example.

    it still isn’t White Privilege that is at play. It is majority privilege. When Northern Europeans overpopulated North America they created an environment where they are the most common features. So even other European features less common in the north can and have been questioned here. Add to that, a specific burden that has been placed on Mexican immigrants (and all that look like them or come from that direction) since that is where most migration comes from, and you do have it harder in many cases for people who are Latino with non Northern European features.

    But let me remind you, that the majority of Latinos here are not majority indigenous. We are Mestizo. Genetically the vast majority have more European than they have Native.

    But two factors play a role. Obviously, having partial ancestry in a country where mestizos are not the majority is a burden. Add to that, the European ancestry we have is not the one most common in the US so the features are different even before adding the indigenous factor. It’s what makes us unique, but it is what makes us a minority in this nation.

    Of course, as African Americans said, “We shall overcome,” we Latinos said “We shall overpopulate.” That is truly why racists and Nativists in this country fear us so much. Because it is not White privilege, it is majority privilege that rules. And with our migration patterns and reproduction patterns, we will become the majority in this country.

    What we still have to overcome is the education gaps. If not we risk being a majority in the lower classes but a minority in the middle classes. And then you have the burden of class based stereotypes come into place. If one class has a majority from one group, or one group tends to have their majority in one class, that group tends to be stereotyped as belonging to that class.

    That is the biggest problem in Latin America, where class based looks privilege is enforced by the upper classes.

    You can see this marked difference in our media, where White faces are openly overrepresented. And Indigenous or Afrodescent faces are mostly present in stereotyped lower class roles (if that, because many times even the maids look like Goldilocks). The only reason why it still isn’t true White privilege is that Middle Easterners and Asians are not placed in these subservient roles as well.

    This does not happen in the US. Our facial variety is shown a lot more throughout Media. And I would say Afrodescent faces are more than equally represented in the media. 12% of the population, but more than that in the media.

    But the US still does place a larger burden on the Indigenous faces. At best, you will see mestizo faces, but it is rare to see full blood looks (or mestizos that favor the indigenous side a lot more) in general media, and when they are showed it tends to be with some of the same class based stereotypes that permeate Latin America.

  5. Your blues sound so much like mine. My favorite part of your post was this line.

    “And yes, it hurts when you don’t fit in with your own race because of your class, and you don’t fit in with your class because of your race.”

    People don’t realize how lonely this state of being is and there are many women of color who live in this sort of purgatory. It’s almost as if you stop traffic, whenever you open your mouth. There is nothing like the feeling of attempting to contribute to a group discussion in a break room, only to look around and notice the white people shifting their eyes, and glancing around as if to say, “who in the heck is she? She’s not one of us.” Or, to walk into the lunch room, when there are medical assistants present and have the conversation stop, or have them look at you from head to toe, as if you are a traitor. Very insightful post.

  6. To “alwaysright” if Obama was self-titled by the Black Community. Do you really think if he had identified himself with being a Biracial Man, that as many Blacks would have voted for him? Personally I don’t think they would have. For instance, Tiger Woods- he lost many black supporters because he corrected the Black community for identifying him with being black.

    Now the majority opinion when it comes to Tiger Woods, is that he doesnt want to be black, just because he wants to identify both of his races.

    Obama identifies him self as being Biracial, yet he didn’t deny being the First African American President, because he surely would have upset many people.

    His mother is white, but his skin is browned. Does that make him more white since a white woman birthed him, or is his skin tone what makes him black?

    My mother is Black, but my skin is pale. Does it make me more black since my mother was black and birthed me? Is it my skin tone that makes me more white than black?

    No, I do not need my skin tone identifying me.
    When i look in the mirror, I see my mother a black woman in me, and i see my father a white man in me.

    Thank you.

  7. “Alwaysright101”

    You stated that you do not think America was ready for a Black President, and you think it has set us back.

    My response to that is that, if America isn’t ready now it will never be. We can not wait for change to come to us, it is up to us to make the Change on our own.

    There is no such thing, for bad timing when making a change is the focus.

    Do you think if Blacks waited for change to come to them, during the Civil Rights Movement Time, we would have as many privileges as we do now? No. If we waited for change then, we definitly would be here still waiting, without a Voice.

  8. being mullotto is being a seperate entity than being black or white. i have been descriminated against by blacks and whites and i am bitter towards both races. obama is a lier and a coward for not representing the mullatto race. He gives black people the satisfaction they dont deserve. We as mullatto people deserve the glory of having a mullatto president. Not them! I am tired of the discrimination towards us. We need to rise against all opposing races and also those that choose not to identify with the fact that they are mallatto. America belongs to the mixed. it is what america was intented to be.


  9. great submit, very informative. I’m wondering why the opposite specialists of this
    sector don’t notice this. You must continue your writing.

    I’m sure, you have a huge readers’ base already!

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