White America: Understanding White Privilege

Privilege can be defined as a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group (Oxford Dictionaries). Most people learn what privilege is at a young age. For example, most kids in elementary school learned that riding the school bus is a privilege and this privilege could be taken away at any time.

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When people think of privilege, they tend to think of it as something that one earns, not something that is simply given to someone. White Privilege, however, is an advantage in society that white people have that is unearned and typically unacknowledged. Everyday life in America consists of a multitude of privileges that are unnoticed and overlooked because they are such a norm of society that people no longer even realize that they have these privileges, that they even exist. For the white race, the unconscious everyday routine consists of many privileges that are seen as just the way it is.

America is a society of white dominance and because of this whites ignore the fact that they have these privileges that minorities don’t have. It is very easy for a white person to go through life never thinking of their own racial identity, whites tend to see themselves simply as just people. The education system, the political system, and one’s family, along with other social influences in everyday life, don’t teach people of America that the white race is privileged, people are often taught that the white race is the norm. Throughout history white privilege has suppressed the advancement of minorities, especially African Americans, which can still be seen to this day. Whites are unconsciously suppressing the minorities in ways such as education, jobs, housing and even this idea of achieving the American dream.

White privilege has been around since the very beginning. In the early development of North America, there was a need for cheap labor to develop the land, resulting in the enslavement of black Africans. European colonizers enslaved black Africans because they didn’t know the land and looked very different from the Europeans, which would make it harder for the black Africans to escape unseen. Before this time in history, it is believed that there were no categories for race barriers such as black or white (Smedley 1997). The concept of race was born in order to achieve separation, there was a need to use something easily and readily accessible to the eye and something that is basically impossible to change, like skin color, to help this early development of North America (Soc 1001 Lecture 16, The Social Construct of Race). Creating this idea of race helped Europeans justify enslavement, they no longer had to look at blacks as being the same as them (Soc 1001 Lecture 16, The Social Construct of Race). During slavery, blacks were subjected to extreme and severe conditions such as beatings, starvation, murders, lynchings, and rape. Also, during this time a very derogatory term was being used to refer to those who were black, that term being nigger. Blacks were no longer referred to as a human but as a nigger. This term was created to further emphasize a separated of class and to help whites justify enslavement. Further separating blacks was the absence of most rights that whites had, such as being able to acquire an education, suitable housing and clothing, and paying jobs. The ability to live freely is a right in itself that blacks were denied. Even after the Thirteenth Amendment was signed abolishing slavery, whites still had a multitude of advantages. Shortly after the abolishment of slavery, The Jim Crow Laws were made to keep whites in power, resulting in once again disadvantages to those of color. Later the Civil Rights Movement took place which resulted in black having the same rights as whites, yet whites still had this advantage over minorities (Soc 1001 Lecture 16, The Social Construct of Race). Thus white privilege was born.

In contemporary America, white privilege still exists even if it’s not as extreme as it used to be. Mclntosh defines white privilege as the many advantages white people enjoy, often seen as normal, and are largely unnoticed by society (Mclntosh 1989). She goes on to describe white privilege as an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks (Mclntosh 1989). All of these things listed are seen by whites as normal things that are available to all in American Society, ignoring the fact the minorities do not have access to these privileges. Mclntosh expresses white privilege is the ability to be surrounded by those of the same race, not being subject to constant surveillance in public, being able to conveniently shop for their cultural food and hygiene products, along with being able to go to any barber shop for a haircut with someone working there who has the knowledge to cut their hair type, and the list goes on (Mclntosh 1989)

White privilege exists in society because whites have a huge amount of advantages, mostly unacknowledged, that empower them in their daily life. These privileges create an easiness to life that other races don’t have, nor will they ever have until the white race acknowledges that they have this privilege. The white race acknowledging their privilege would mean agreeing that racism still exists and then having to give up some of their power. (Soc 1001 Lecture 17, Racism & Discrimination). White people have been placed on a pedestal for a very long time, leading to stereotypes about the other races that help keep inequality alive.

White privileges exist in almost every function of everyday life from education, housing, income, employment, life expectancy, and many more (Soc 1001 Lecture 16, The Social Construct of Race). Equal education a right for all American youth, yet many Americans don’t like to acknowledge the fact that schools are still very much segregated today and not only that but primarily white schools offer a much better education than primarily minority schools. (Soc 1001 Lecture 18, Sociology of education). Also, primarily minority schools tend to have police stationed in them, offering a direct route to jail at an early age, making it even harder to get jobs later on in life. This is a result of a racial stereotype that black kids tend to be more aggressive and overall bad people leading to these cops being stationed at the school (Soc 1001 Lecture 17, Racism & Discrimination). Further, because of the higher quality of education whites receive, they are more likely to attend and graduate from post-secondary education, resulting in a higher paying job. Mortgage lenders request that the race box is checked, only to discriminate, offering lower interest rates for white people. In white neighborhoods, people enjoy highly educated doctors, hospitals and clinics, while in lower class neighborhoods, (that are typically minorities), quality healthcare is unavailable or very inconvenient. This leads to a very vicious cycle that continues to keep minorities on the bottom while keeping whites on the top.

Being able to gain rights, positions, and favors just because your skin is white is white privilege. White privilege dates back from slavery and continues to thrive in America in order to suppress minorities. One needs to understand white privilege in order to understand why American society is the way it is. White privilege is the reason why you don’t see many minority professionals. White privilege is the reason why it’s so hard for minorities to climb up the social later. America will continue to favor whites until everyone is granted the same opportunities under the same conditions. Whites can no longer be colorblind to race, they need to start realizing these privileges and start using them to help the minorities.

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