Understanding White Privilege: A 5-Point Primer

Is it really that difficult to understand White Privilege? Is it really dreadfully complicated or is it that folk don't want to believe that such a thing exists? Truth to tell, I don't understand what it is that people have so much trouble comprehending. Maybe the reality is that folk do get it, but find it hard to see anything that looks like 'privilege' in light of the challenges of their own economic lives? But what if someone finally said that privilege doesn't mean wealth or even solidly middle class status, would that help them to understand?

In an effort to do my part in assisting with the edification of the population, let me throw my dos centavos in and offer five quick thoughts.

  1. 'Yppul' (to use Love Live of an Asian Guy's acronym) often say huffily that they have to work for everything they get; that they don't get 'handouts' like some people do, so let me start with the question of coins. White privilege doesn't give you free coins. Apparently this has to be said, so let me repeat: Whiteness grants no free coin, certainly not in these United States, the capitol of planetary capitalism.

    White privilege doesn't mean that you get a pocketful of money without labor. It also doesn't mean that you get a free lunch from Subway just for showing up. What privilege does mean that you have a fair shot at landing a job, keeping a job and advancing in that job; three fairly critical legs on the stool of economic stability. White privilege grants more ready and easy access to the foundations for economic stability. The real limits of that 'more ready access' have to do with town and country living. Poor Whites from rural America have about as hard a time climbing into the middle class as poor Blacks but I assure you, poor Whites who get a shot at making that move fare better than poor Blacks granted exactly the same shot. As the data will attest, rates of upward social mobility for people of color - Black and brown - are lower and the gains are more fragile. At the end of the day, membership (of the White club) has its benefits.

  2. I maintain that every civil rights bill in this country was passed for white people, not for black people. For example, I am black. I know that. I also know that while I am black I am a human being. Therefore I have the right to go into any public place. White people don’t know that. Every time I tried to go into a public place they stopped me. So some boys had to write a bill to tell that white man, “He’s a human being; don’t stop him." That bill was for the white man, not for me. I knew I could vote all the time and that it wasn’t a privilege but my right. Every time I tried I was shot, killed or jailed, beaten or economically deprived. So somebody had to write a bill to tell white people, “When a black man comes to vote, don’t bother him." That bill was for white people. I know I can live anyplace I want to live. It is white people across this country who are incapable of allowing me to live where I want. You need a civil rights bill, not me.”~ Stokely Carmichael

    White privilege means that no law has had to be written to safeguard your rights once granted and ensure the recognition of your humanity such as has had to be done for people of color. No law was needed to allow White men to vote and no laws have been required to safeguard White women's access to the vote once that right was granted (by the 19th Amendment in 1920). At the same time though, people of color - specifically African Americans - have only lately been granted free access to the ballot box (1965 though they were technically free to vote in 1870 under the 15th Amendment. It took fully ninety-five years to make that right stick.) and when the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act (2014), I'm pretty sure you can guess what happened next.

    If we bear in mind the fact that no law has ever had to be written to protect the White person, we come to realize that no law can be willfully broken to challenge the humanity or deny the human rights of that group. Their rights are natural, ours are a matter of law. People of color are well aware that the laws that supposedly protect our rights can and do get broken all the time and sometimes old Jim Crow-y laws come back with a new face or flavor. (Check out the Court's words on the North Carolina Jim Crow-y Voter ID law, struck down this summer.)

  3. White privilege means that yppul are free travel about the country as it suits and pleases them to do. Such a reality is not mine.

    I recently went on a trip to Canada. We drove north through Pennsylvania, up US route 219. With all due respect to the lovely people living in the towns and hamlets along US 219, can I just say never again? Never, ever, ever again. Never.

    White privilege is being free to enter a town, ask for directions, buy gas and a sandwich, pee and feel nothing special. Black dis-privilege is being in the same town, not asking for directions, trying to buy gas and having someone come up to you to ask you what you need (I'm standing at the gas pump with my debit card in my hand and my gas tank open, what do you think I need?) and leaving said township without even considering a pee or a food break.

    White privilege is being able to enjoy the rusticity of a 100 mile stretch of road, seeing Trump/Pence signs and confederate flags and thinking nothing of them. Black dis-privilege is experiencing the same stimuli with a knot in your throat and a hot ball of fear in your gut.

    White privilege is being able to drive any country road in backwoods America late at night and not fear for your safety. This is not a privilege to which I have guaranteed access.

  4. White privilege allows you to pull your car to the side of the street to check your GPS, confident that no one is going to call the police on you (and then follow you for blocks) cuz they felt you were 'acting suspicious'.

  5. White privilege means that you can go anywhere, do anything, be whomever you decide to be without question. Your humanity is never up for discussion or debate and no matter how old you are, your shenangans never leave you dead at the side of the street. cf the cases of Dylan Roof, Ryan Lochte and/or Brock Turner who all got a pass for being a public ass or a menace to society, and for whom people have made a thousand excuses. Better still, how you behave reflects on no one but you....and sometimes not even on you. You're just a kid after all.

    Black dis-privilege on the other hand, means that you are the representative face of your entire race and the worst of you attests to the general character deficiencies of those from whom you come. If you die, it's your fault and if you live and are poor, that's your fault too. There is no circumstance in which you get the benefit of the doubt for there is no doubt. When you are a Mike Brown, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile or Trayvon Martin, your own actions cause your death. Case closed. Can we move on now?

    All privilege is not economic as a matter of fact, most privilege isn't. Most privilege - and please hear me well here - has to do with being allowed to be fully human. That's the privilege that Whiteness gives yppul and White supremacy denies Black and brown ones frequently. 

    Class is now dismissed. Go forth into the world and spread the word.


About the Author - Elle Sagar

Elle Sagar

I am a strategic thinker and problem solver. I have a knack for seeing the heart of an issue, clearing away all the noise and nonsense and hopefully making cogent arguments that go to the central issue under consideration. Nice work if you can get it, and you can get it if you try. That's a lyric from an Ella Fitzgerald song and from the songbook of my life.