Ever since the Trayvon Martin tragedy, I have noticed the idea of “White Privilege” being put forth. I think it has been around for a while, but reading reactions to the tragedy are what brought the white privilege idea into my consciousness. I will use this explanation from Wikipedia as I discuss this issue.
White privilege (or white skin privilege) is a term for societal privileges that benefit white people in Western countries beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances. According to McIntosh and Lee, whites in a society considered culturally a part of the Western World enjoy advantages that non-whites do not experience. The term denotes both obvious and less obvious passive advantages that white persons may not recognize they have, which distinguishes it from overt bias or prejudice. These include cultural affirmations of one’s own worth; presumed greater social status; and freedom to move, buy, work, play, andspeak freely. The effects can be seen in professional, educational, and personal contexts. The concept of white privilege also implies the right to assume the universality of one’s own experiences, marking others as different or exceptional while perceiving oneself as normal.
The gut reaction I have witnessed white people having to this idea (that is white people that are not dedicated progressives) is that it is an unproductive thing to discuss them as a race. They also tend to feel their personal life experience is affected by so many variables, to make it seem if they have advantage due to the color of their skin is unfair stereotyping.
I think the white reaction to being stereotyped is due in large part in how we think we are supposed to act. I think many of us grew up duly impressed by the words from Martin Luther King’s I have a Dream speech, where he states, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” That is seriously powerful and it sounds correct with other moral teachings we receive. Clearly, we cannot be sure of any conclusions about a person’s character just by glimpsing them. Therefore, I think a large number of white people have taken Dr. King’s words seriously and imprinted them into our social make-up of how we are to be good people.
For the people that have internalized Dr. King’s dream, the idea of white privilege seems very at odds with what we believe to be the correct approach to race relations. Here we want to judge people by their character, and we are suddenly being judged by our color. I think a “What’s up with that?” response is completely predictable. It is so predictable, I have wondered if this idea is meant to help drive animosity between races. Whether it is meant to keep us divided or if it is just misguided philosophizing, I think it is important to keep our end goals in mind in response to white privilege allegations. As libertarians, we seek peace and peaceful cooperation as our end goal. Spending time jumping up and down upset over being stereotyped is not the way to further our ends. And that is a mischaracterization to someone objecting to being stereotyped as having white privilege, but let’s face it, that is how the progressives are going to characterize the objectors.
There is no reason to get defensive over, what appears to us, as stereotyping terminology. Basically, what I get from the wiki passage is that it is just saying that being in the majority confers some advantages on you that minorities do not get. It is like my left handed son living in a right handed world, to an extent. Things are built for the majority and he has to adjust. Of course, my son doesn’t have the mental aspect with which to deal because he doesn’t even know about the history of left hand suppression yet. Let us not bury our head and deny that being white does bring us some advantages, just as coming from a middle class family, or simply being born in the United States brings us advantages.
The biggest issue or advantage that white people experience, in my mind, are law enforcement efforts. Blacks are more likely to be arrested and convicted than whites. I’ve seen this explained away as a higher percentage of racial minorities live in poverty, and living in poverty is a major indicator of criminal activity. As a result, police stereotype based on statistics. However, when we look at the numbers, it becomes clear that incarceration rates don’t match up with the percentage of people in poverty. In his Economics and Philosophy blog, Shepherd writes, “The 2010 population estimate was, rounding 308 million, which gives us 27.8 million whites, 10.5 million African Americans, 12.2 million Latinos, and 159 thousand Native Americans living in poverty.” We can see that the whites living in poverty are more than double the number of African Americans living in poverty. He continues later to relate that “Blacks comprise 37% of the incarcerated population and Whites only 32%”. His numbers come directly from the US Department of Justice. Clearly, there are disparate results for blacks and whites in the criminal justice system.
As long as this disparity exists, then we all have a problem. Let us acknowledge that this is a problem. Let us not get defensive about it. Let us try to bridge this gap by suggesting liberty-minded ideas to deal with the disparate results, such as working toward ending drug prohibition and using social media to help hold police accountable when they have clearly acted inappropriately.
If we spend our time fighting against the idea of white privilege, then we have fallen into their game of pointing at each other, instead of pointing to the real problems.