We need to change our understanding of white privilege

We need to change our understanding of white privilege

It’s unsettling to think you are treated differently based on factors you can’t control. But it is reality. America is a nation that was built for rich, land-owning white men. As philosophically brilliant as Thomas Jefferson was, you can’t help but grimace while reading his thoughts on the comparative biological advantages between white and black people. Inarguably, minorities were explicitly discriminated against by U.S. law until the 1980s. Many biases still exist in the U.S. government, on issues ranging from disproportionate targeting by police officers for petty crimes to agricultural subsidies. But to understand why white privilege exists, you don’t even have to go there. 

Let’s start with the premise that white men were given legal advantages for attaining success until 1980, when programs like Title IX and anti-discrimination laws were finally being cemented. That means minorities born before 1970 faced systemic barriers to achieving economic stability. A great percentage of America fits that description, meaning that demographic was inherently given advantages or disadvantages strictly because of the way our laws were written. 

According to 538.com, you are statistically likely to be as well off as your parents were when you turn 30. Since policies disproportionately made minorities more impoverished, that means their children are more likely to be poor. So logically, all non-white citizens have been directly adversely affected economically by U.S. law. 

When you start looking at specific policies, the existence of privilege becomes even more evident. Redlining is arguably the most damaging program for long-term purchasing power. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development implemented discreet segregation nationwide, marking black neighborhoods as “red” areas. According to The Atlantic, these neighborhoods have less access to infrastructure, jobs, quality education and adequate health care. All of these factors entrapped minority Americans in pockets of institutionalization and make their quality of life much worse on average. 

The effects show themselves empirically.  As noted in a report by the American Educator, the U.S. has a maternal mortality rate comparable to Liberia because black women are much more likely to die from preventable causes arising from inadequate care. 

The separation of white and non-white communities also made it much easier for police offices to discriminate. A 2016 Report from the Department of Justice makes it clear minorities are much more likely to be stopped or pulled over by police officers despite comparable rates of criminality to whites. According to the Victorian Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, you are 6 times more likely to be incarcerated if one of your parents was arrested at some point during your childhood. All of these factors added together yield a clear result: White people, especially white men, have a much cleaner path to a successful life in America. 

Many white people are very put off by the term “white privilege.” The knee-jerk reaction is “my life’s hard too." No one is saying that anyone’s life is easy. But we are saying some people are more likely to face specific hardships. We should change the rhetoric surrounding white privilege to first recognize the undeniable effects past injustice has on people today. Then, we can delve into existing institutionalized racism, as it will be harder to ignore. Just a few weeks ago a man referred to MLK Jr. as “Martin Luther Coon” while on television defending confederate monuments. We still have a long way to go. 

Paul Bousquet a sophomore majoring in economics. His column runs biweekly.

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