Defining White Privilege
In 2012, the University of the Pacific was 34 percent Caucasian, as listed on Pacific At A Glance online. With these numbers outpacing all other groups at Pacific, we have to address the elephant on campus: white privilege. When I say privilege, I mean a special advantage or tool that is used unconsciously.
As a white male, I have special privileges that I do not notice, but I have been taught these special entitlements since I was very young. When we were all just kids, we were given subtle hints laden all throughout our textbooks and mass media.
Frank B. Wilderson III, American writer, dramatist, filmmaker and critic, discusses in his book Red, White & Black the racial implications of film. Wilderson believes that social structures are mostly created in film, such as fear of African Americans who seem savage. These hints would go on to develop an unconscious structure of our social reality, which is racial privilege.
The problem in modern-day racial politics is that racism is harder to combat since it has become institutionalized and, for the most part, invisible. When discrimination was still prevalent, it was much easier to spot certain privileges. In his 1935 book titled Black Reconstruction in America, W. E. B. Du Bois introduced the concept of a “psychological wage” for white laborers. “It must be remembered that the white group of laborers, while they received a low wage, were compensated in part by a sort of public and psychological wage. They were given public deference and titles of courtesy because they were white. They were admitted freely with all classes of white people to public functions, public parks and the best schools. The police were drawn from their ranks, and the courts, dependent on their votes, treated them with such leniency as to encourage lawlessness,” explained Du Bois in the text.
Laws that solely functioned to discriminate African Americans provided a bright line for the distribution of privilege.
Now, within the social sphere, this privilege is hidden so that people do not even know that it happens. Peggy McIntosh is associate director of the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women. In her essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” McIntosh asserts that white privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks. These tools are used every single day, which are more or less just assumptions held by the mass public.
If you walk into a convenience store at a late hour of the night and you were Caucasian, the clerk would seem more secure. However, if you were an African American in the inner city wearing a hoodie, the clerk would instantly be more alert to your presence. Stereotypical instances like this might seem typical to the average person, but that proves my overall point that privilege is invisible, yet people assume it to be the norm. These norms are created and thus justify violence from the state; now, the state is more racist than it has ever been.
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, associate professor of law at Ohio State University, shows how there are more African Americans incarcerated today than were enslaved in the 1800s. This shows how the state has made racism invisible and justifiable by set social norms that it dictates. That is why we need to identify these social norms in order to eliminate them.
In conclusion, with the words of Pastor Joseph Barndt from his book Dismantling Racism, “We have also seen that the walls of racism can be dismantled brick by brick, stone by stone, the prison of individual, institutional and cultural racism can be destroyed,” proclaimed Barndt.
Take this insight as a call to combat racism at every front. It is the very first step to dismantle the prison of racism, but it does not end here. Go read the texts mentioned in this article, and get informed because knowledge will be the best weapon against oppression.