White privilege — a term that the social justice advocates and academic communities latched on to as a means of explaining how white supremacy allows anyone with WASP (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant) lineage or white presentation to leverage structures in society with more ease than others just by fitting into the socially constructed racial category of “white.”
The term appears to have convinced some of those of whom this phrase applies to understand:
1. Their position in the racially constructed social hierarchies of the world.
2. The advantages of the power vested in white supremacy and how it affects them more positively than their non-white peers.
Yet, the term presents the problem of being counterproductive jargon that dangerously fuels ideas of centering whiteness in alignment with “privilege” or rights to basic human securities instead of extinguishing those ideas altogether.
How does the term “white privilege” become counterproductive; you might ask?
While it is 100% appropriate to acknowledge your proximity to white supremacy by considering the “privileges” you attain because you are categorized as a white person, it is equally essential to think about what to do with that information after you’ve figured that out.
As a trainee for the Democratic Party’s Organizing Corps 2020 initiative, I worked with several other college kids who aligned themselves with progressive values and regularly acknowledged their “white privilege” without being prompted to — often prefacing conversations about the predominantly non-white communities we politically organized. Some of them even talked about utilizing this “white privilege” as a weapon against white supremacy. Yet, it somehow still sounded off-putting, despite their attempts to audibly pronounce their anti-racist alignment. Another non-white organizer and I discussed our colleagues’ actions, and we realized that their statements inadvertently aligned with white supremacy. White or white presenting organizers who repeatedly acknowledged their white privilege (which I also reckon was an attempt not to be called out for it by someone else) contributed to gatekeeping the rights that white supremacy guards. They offered themselves up as “protective” pawns in opposition to white supremacy.
Saying it and confronting it are two different things. Don’t get stuck on the first step — that’s not how you make it up the stairs.
Firstly, I want to state that understanding and acknowledging any proximity you may have to white supremacy and thereby an ease of access to privileges or rights is not a misstep. The misstep occurs when white privilege is defensively acknowledged, but you do not follow up by opposing or confronting the structure that causes the issues of inequality in the first place.
Using your “privilege” to uplift Black or other POC voices reinforces the notions of white supremacy: that whiteness has an innate higher-level citizenship status. Instead, people should oblige the system that makes this “true” to recognize and change that white or white presenting people have access to rights that EVERYONE should have access to. Calling your inequitable systemic access to rights a “privilege” doesn’t equalize anything. I’d argue that it puts non-white people down and reinforces white savior complexes.
That’s the ugly truth of labeling the moment that you notice how black and other non-white people are structurally subject to injustices as “recognizing your ‘privilege.'” The phrase still suggests you have an inherent position of power, which upholds the idea of white supremacy. It feeds into the fallacy that one group of people are better than another when acknowledged without action toward accountability. We are all allies in a battle for protecting everyones’ rights (especially those without equal access to their rights), and we should treat everyone as equally valuable in that struggle.
I say all this to suggest that during this time of reflection and consideration of systemic racism, we think about the phenomenon of “white privilege.” Because quite frankly, identifying yourself as privileged so much and so frequently reinforces you’re alignment with the structural norm and belittles non-white people and the cause.
Further reading on this: