What Exactly Is White Privilege? Here Are 7 Examples

Editor’s note: This Care2 favorite was originally posted on July 9, 2016. Enjoy!

What is white privilege? White privilege is the set of advantages white people in a society typically experience that are not experienced by people of other races. The definition itself may seem simple, but unpacking the full meaning of white privilege can be pretty complex.

We live in a society where white is right. Though we’ve certainly made some major strides in overcoming racism, some of the privileges that white people have enjoyed throughout American history still linger today.

The thing about white privilege is that not a lot of white people see it. In fact, they’re known to get quite defensive when they hear the term! They might look at their lives and say, “Well I’m obviously not privileged because of this, this and this…” while failing to ignore the other advantages they enjoy that are just so commonplace in their lives that they take them for granted.

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If you’ve ever been told to check your privilege, read on for seven specific ways that white people benefit from the color of their skin:

1. Their Race Is All Over the School Curriculum

White people don’t often think about racial representation in the classroom, but that’s because History class already focuses on white leaders, and English class has no shortage of books written by one people. If you’re not white, however, you might more quickly recognize that history about other cultures and literature by brown authors is a rarity in the standard curriculum.

towpgifSource: Kat Blaque

That’s why complaints of, “Why isn’t there a White History Month?” are extra obnoxious. Black History Month is a belated attempt to correct for the fact that textbooks have traditionally looked at the world from one particular perspective. White people don’t need a month devoted to them in schools because white people have always been the stars.

2. Their Race Is Well Represented Throughout the Media

It’s not just the books you read in school. In movies, television programs and magazines, you’re bound to see a sea of white faces. Heck, Hollywood is even known to hire white actors to play characters of different races.

Research on Hollywood’s most successful films in recent years shows that over 75 percent of speaking parts in these movies are played by white actors. Considering that 44 percent of theatergoers are non-white, that’s hardly representative of the viewing audience.

Teenage Family Watching 3D Film In Cinema

When you’re white, you always feel like a part of the dominant culture because the dominant culture always represents you. In any one movie, it might not seem like a big deal to not see yourself reflected on screen, but when that’s the case pretty much every time you see a movie like it is for people of color, it’s demoralizing. White people have no idea what kind of effect that has on a person because it’s nothing they’ve ever experienced.

3. Their Intelligence and Accomplishments Aren’t Questioned

When people of color in America reach a certain status in this country, inevitably there are plenty of people who will question these accomplishments. Was he admitted to this prestigious school because of affirmative action? Was she hired to the law firm to increase staff diversity? The underlying mentality is, “There was probably a white person out there that deserved this more.”

It’s not as if white people couldn’t have their credentials questioned just as easily. Was he admitted to this prestigious college because his parents could afford to send him to a private school that offered lots of extracurricular activities? Was she hired to the law firm because she’s the former sorority sister of the partner’s wife?

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Those questions are rarely asked, however, because we’re used to seeing white people reach successful positions. Since people of color have historically had less opportunity to succeed, though, we’re not accustomed to seeing it and unconsciously question how it’s happening now.

4. Authority Figures Share the Same Skin Tone as Them

Wherever you look, you’re bound to find that a majority of people who have been put “in charge” will be white. 100 percent of U.S. presidents have been white (Obama is half white, don’t forget.) 80 percent of the current U.S. Congress is white. 96 percent of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are white. Police departments, even in the country’s most diverse cities, are overwhelmingly white.

State of the Union

Whether it’s your elected officials, your boss or the officers in charge of keeping the peace, you’re almost never in a situation where you cannot plainly see white people in a position of power. You may not necessarily feel more powerful because the people in power look similar to you, but imagine how disempowering it is to look around and see almost no leaders look like you.

None of this is to say that white people are all racist or that white leaders look out only for their own, but certainly some fall prey to bigotry or underlying biases. If nothing else, you live free of the fear that the people in charge are biased against you.

5. They Don’t Live in Fear of the Police Gunning Them Down

Speaking of the police, it’s no secret at this point that people of color are disproportionately killed by police officers. Sure, some members of white culture like to deny that that the disparity is a problem or make excuses for why the victim deserved it, but they can’t (reasonably) deny that it’s happening.

These senseless killings continue because the authorities do little to hold the murderous officers accountable. Even when it does go to trial, white juries understand why an officer might feel threatened by a black person even if a legitimate threat was not being posed.

White people are sometimes victims of brutality, too, but at least they can walk around without thinking they’ll be targeted by the police specifically for their skin color. White people detained by police don’t have to second-guess reaching into their pockets for their identification, afraid that police officers will worry that they were instead grabbing a weapon.

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In the event that a white person is killed by a police officer, at least he can take comfort in knowing the media will portray him fairly sympathetically, unlike a black person who will have his criminal record and flaws pointed out in spades.

6. They Aren’t Expected to Represent Their Entire Race

When thinking about a political issue, it’s nice to get a variety of answers from a diverse group of people for consideration. What’s not so nice is when white people go to just one particular person of color and ask for her opinion  “on behalf” of her entire race. White people aren’t ever asked to speak on behalf of all white people, why should it be any different for a person of color?

Beyond that, when white people have limited exposure to people of color, they make inferences and stereotypes based on the people of a certain race that they do encounter. This tendency puts a lot of pressure on people of color to behave in a certain way to be a quote unquote “good example” for their race. Best believe that white people aren’t walking around burdened by the thought, “I hope I’m not reflecting poorly on the white race right now.”

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That’s probably because white people don’t earn an overarching reputation based on the actions of just one white person. White men could go on shooting rampages every day, and the media would still reference “mental illness.” Meanwhile, all people who practice Muslim have been painted as terrorists despite there being far fewer incidents of violence perpetrated by Muslims.

7. They Don’t Need to Worry About Race

White people often like to say cute things like “I don’t see race” or “We live in a post-racial society.” It may sound utopian, but you can’t force a utopia before the groundwork has been laid for such a world. The post-racial utopia you’d like to think exists is not the reality that folks of color are currently experiencing.

Many white people believe that people of color talk too much about race, oblivious to the fact that they’d probably talk more about race if they were directly impacted by it, too. You think people want to keep fighting against racial discrimination? Please!

boondocksSource: The Boondocks 

Simply put, it’s easy to ignore race and pretend it doesn’t matter when most of the drawbacks that happen to people of certain ethnicities don’t pertain to you. If race is not something that occurs to you on a regular basis, consider yourself privileged.

761 comments

Ian C
Ian C5 hours ago

:0)

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Patrice Z
Patrice Z11 hours ago

Powerful and important points to make and for us to stay mindful of everyday. Thanks for posting.

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Kayla M
Kayla M17 hours ago

Thanks!

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Julia S
Julia Syesterday

Sadly too true...

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Camilla Vaga
Camilla Vaga3 days ago

thanks

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Sue L
Sue L4 days ago

This article makes some very good points. Unless you actively seek diversity, most of your friends are going to be white 9if you are white). I notice when people make disparaging remarks about Asians or Hispanics because I have family members who are. If I didn't, I don't think I would probably notice, let alone try to call people out on discriminatory comments.

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Peggy B
Peggy B4 days ago

Interesting comments.

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Beverly D
Beverly D4 days ago

Love makes us All the same individual. We must take care of one another. And PRAY... God bless~

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Janis K
Janis K5 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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Marianne R
Marianne R5 days ago

Thanks for posting

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