WHITE PRIVILEGE: Founded in Racial Preference
What is white privilege? It is important that white privilege be defined because
the majority of whites want to deny that it exists at all, especially in response to
assertions of people of color that it exists unjustly and should be dismantled. The denial
of its existence by whites is racialized. People of color say white people enjoy white
privilege while white people deny, as often as possible, that they have it and that such a
privilege exists. White privilege is defined (Clark, 2005), as (1a) a right, advantage, or
immunity granted to or enjoyed by white persons beyond the common advantage of all
others; an exemption in many particular cases from certain burdens or liabilities. (b) A
special advantage or benefit of white persons; with reference to divine dispensations,
natural advantages, gifts of fortune, genetic endowments, social relations, etc. (2a) A
privileged position; the possession of an advantage white persons enjoy over non-white
persons. (3a) The special right or immunity attaching to white persons as a social
relation; prerogative. (b) Display of white privilege, a social expression of a white person
or persons demanding to be treated as a member or members of the socially privileged
class. (4a) To authorize or license of white person or persons what is forbidden or wrong
for non-whites; to justify, excuse. (b) To give white persons special freedom or immunity
from some liability or burden to which non-white persons are subject; to exempt.
While many whites seem to think and believe that the notion of racial preference
originated with affirmative action programs, intended to expand opportunities for
historically marginalized people of color, racial preference has had a very long and very
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white history. Even if most whites were willing to acknowledge the existence of white
privilege they would likely have no explanation for the privileges afforded them every
minute of every day of their lives. They simply take it for granted.
Affirmative action was the guiding principle of segregation for most whites. It
was used to motivate racially restrictive housing policies while people of color were
excluded from the same programs. It is hardly an exaggeration by people of color to say
that white America is the biggest collective recipient of racial preference in the history of
the universe. They have skewed our laws, shaped public policy and have helped to create
the more obvious inequalities with which we live.
According to (Bell, 1995), black people need reform of our civil rights strategies
as badly as those in the law needed a new way to consider American jurisprudence prior
to the advent of the Legal Realists. The debate about racism in America revolves around
achieving diversity. Focusing on diversity means that questions of history and power go
unasked and unanswered. Without an understanding of the history of racism in America,
and the enduring imbalances of power, wealth, status and privilege, further progress
toward racial justice is unlikely (Allen, 1994).
Racial oppression is a set of strategies for social exploitation (Allen, 2003). The
institutions of slavery were established in order to secure benefits for white people at the
expense of African slaves and their American born descendants. One way to think about
the benefits of exploitations, according to (Berger, 1999), is in terms of racialized social
privilegepatterns of social privilege and benefit, including exemptions from harm and
burden, which accrue to racial groups at the expense of others. The short hand term for
White Privilege 4
these patterns in American society is "white privilege."
Economic benefits are at the core of white privilege. The vast...