Why “White Privilege” Doesn’t Make Sense

Even though I’m not Caucasian, the term “white privilege” pisses me off. I’m not sure why. Maybe because I believe deeply that asking an entire section of people to watch themselves or “check their privilege” is insulting. It groups white people together as a whole and I dislike grouping. Especially in the US which is a society based on individualism – unlike perhaps Europe or most certainly Asia. And individualism is something I deeply admire. I don’t like to be viewed as part of a group – and I imagine lots of white people don’t either.

But I also have more solid reasons for thinking that white privilege is a myth. At best, I think it’s an inaccurate term to describe a real problem. There’s enough evidence to show that on average people of color face a lot more difficulty in life than white people in the US. But talking about “white privilege” is illogical, and here’s why.

When we say people benefit from “privilege”, we’re assuming better treatment over and above the norm. (Look at any definition of privilege, and you’ll see a reference to “special”, “peculiar”, or “unique” advantages). And when that privilege is removed, those who benefited from it will now get treated just like everyone else. Otherwise it was never a benefit in the first place.

When we say people benefit from “privilege”, we’re assuming better treatment over and abovethe norm.

So royalty is privileged because people treat them with a deference that they do not show to regular people. If that privilege is removed, no one will bow and scrape (literally) to them anymore. Again, in India for example, politicians get VVIP treatment in airlines and other public spaces that the rest of us do not. This is also privilege. If that privilege were to be removed, politician’s lives would be the same as everyone else’s.

You get the idea.

When I read articles about white privilege, there are the “benefits” I hear:

1. White people don’t get stopped by the police as often as black people.
2. White people are not discriminated in the job market.
3. No one draws conclusions about all white people when a white person commits a crime.
4. White people do not face bias when applying for housing or a loan
5. And so on and so forth…

I’m not denying the realities of these points. Though I haven’t personally experienced these difficulties despite being a minority, I’m willing to believe the statistics and personal life experiences of those who say that people of color have it rough in these areas.

But is this “white privilege”? I don’t think so. Here’s why.

Tomorrow, if white privilege suddenly vanished, would the lives of white people be any different? Would white people suddenly be stopped by the police unjustly? Would white people start facing discrimination in terms of housing or loans?

If you’re saying that white privilege benefits people, then surely they will suffer when they lose those “benefits” right? Just like royalty would suffer when no one bows to them anymore, or politicians in India will suffer when they lose their privileges. But no – the loss of “white privilege” would not mean that whites would be treated any worse than they are now. All it would imply is that people of color would be treated in the same way as whites.

The loss of white privilege means that people of color would be treated in the same way as whites. There are no “benefits” to be lost.

How can it be a “benefit”, if your life doesn’t change when that benefit is taken away? How can you call something a “privilege” when the loss of that privilege doesn’t make your life worse? You can’t!

These so-called “privileges”, are simply the baseline for how everyone should be treated. If people of color are having it worse than the baseline, then the focus should be on raising them up to that baseline! Not talking about “white privilege” as if it’s some great undeserved benefit.

It’s a question of what you view as “normal”. If you view society as a shit hole where everyone is treated like dirt, then yes – white people have privilege because they’re not treated like dirt. But if you (like me) view the 21st century society as a place where everyone should be treated decently, and where no one no one should be discriminated against, then there is no such thing as white privilege.

These distinctions are important, because they serve to highlight where you will focus your efforts. If you keep harping on “white privilege” as a bad thing, then your focus is to remove that privilege – to remove the fact that white people are treated as everyone else should be treated! The focus lies on pulling people down. If however, you focus your energy on black mistreatment instead of “white privilege”, the focus is on raising people up up, instead of pulling others down.

The term “white privilege” creates a sense of hatred for those who have it better than you. The world “privilege” carries a sense of it being undeserved. And how can you not feel resentment towards those who have something undeserved – something that you do not have? It’s human nature! And white people in return feel attacked and victimized by this term, because they sense it. How can they not? Imagine telling someone they’re privileged – how can they not feel attacked?

Taken to its extreme, you get situations like this where a school in New York teaches children to feel guilty merely for being white. A hateful, and poisonous atmosphere that is directly created by viewing things from a “white privilege” point of view.

But if you focus on the other side of the equation – “black mistreatment” (or colored mistreatment, or whatever), then that is a more hopeful and positive view. You’re not looking to take away, but to add. You’re not seeking to blame, but to fight for yourself. You’re not looking to put the burden on other people. You’re acknowledging that there are people who are being unjustly treated, and the goal is to remove that injustice!

So which side of the fence do you want to be – do you want to pull people down, or fight to be treated like everyone else? What version of “normal” do you subscribe to? Do you want to work towards a crapsack world where everyone is treated like scum, or do you want a world where you’re viewed as a decent human being?

Remember – the choice of words will shape not just your worldview, but of everyone who listens to you as well.

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13 thoughts on “Why “White Privilege” Doesn’t Make Sense”

  1. Speaking as a white person the difference is competition. White privilege means I don’t have to compete as hard against a person of color. If all things are equal i win because if the color of my skin. There are psychological and socioligical studies to back this up. When applied to a whole society you get a caste system similiar to what India is like. The reason why it is important to recognize is to move us beyond our biases. Plus how can the US claim to promote the American Dream when the path to achieve that dream us tilted to one group of people?


    • In reply to Jim D

      If I’m not mistaken, colleges already give bonus SAT points to African Americans – 230 points, as well as other considerations like increasing the number of black students through affirmative action, and policy directives about diversity etc. I’m not saying these steps are not needed. I’m not saying that people of color don’t have greater difficulties in entering colleges and the job market.

      I’m specifically talking about the notion of “white privilege”, and the way it’s portrayed in the US.

      I will however, admit that you have a point in this one scenario – without white privilege, you as a white person might face more competition from people of color (without affirmative action policies that is).

      However, in all other instances, this is not a zero sum game. The police being nice to white people does not mean they have to treat black people badly. Non-discrimination against whites doesn’t automatically imply discrimination against blacks etc. Therefore, people of color receiving the same treatment as you does not mean that your treatment will be made worse. Hence, it is inappropriate to use the word “privilege” IMHO.


      • In reply to bhagwad

        Respectfully I think that the use of the word privilege is to raise awareness of the existing inequality that exists in America. It’s white people telling other white people, there is a need for acknowledgment.
        I agree with you that there is no zero sum game. But rather an effort to continue to work to diminish actual or percieved inequalities.
        In the US 1865 ended, in part, slavery. The Civil Rights Act of 1965 ended slavery. Do we stop acknowledging that slavery still exists just not in an overt form?
        As generations of people move foward we need to be reminded that we can be Dicks. The term White Privilege is this generations reminder.


      • In reply to Jim D

        I think precisely defined words are important because while one person might use it to make a general point, others only have the dictionary definition to go by. So the idea is to resist the temptation to overstate the case and try and convey the exact reality of the situation.

        Look at the word “slavery” you just used for example. Slavery has a very specific meaning (unless we mean it figuratively as in “I slaved away at the computer”). It is simply inaccurate to apply the word “slavery” to any decent 21st century civilization. This is not to say there is no injustice. This is not to say there are no problems. This is not to say that people don’t face hardship.

        But it’s important to use the right words to describe a phenomenon. Otherwise, no matter how well meaning you were in using the word “slavery”, you can hardly blame someone else from standing up and saying that it doesn’t make sense right?

        I feel the world “privilege” is being used in a similarly incorrect way. And we can hardly blame people for being pissed off at what they feel is an unjust portrayal of the situation.


      • In reply to bhagwad

        Bhagwad I understand your objection to the use of the word “privilege” but what do you call the economic and other benefits that I recieve because of the color of my skin?


      • In reply to Jim D

        We’ll have to take that on a case by case basis. Which benefits are you referring to? If you’re talking about the decreased competition, I’ve already accepted that that could be a “privilege”. But of course, with the presence of affirmative action and lowering of SAT scores, that’s become a pretty tenuous phenomena.

        With regard to the other examples, I don’t call them “benefits”. For example, a gay person wouldn’t say that a heterosexual person has the “benefit” of being able to marry. The gay person wants the same treatment as the heterosexual person – not to take away the “privilege” or “benefit” of being able to marry from the other!

        Instead of “white privilege”, it would be more accurate to call it “black discrimination” or something like that.


      • In reply to Jim D

        Those benefits for the most part would probably be the result of whatever wealth, status, or other social/economical means your family(s) have amassed.
        If you’ve been born into a family that happens to have been blessed with (hopefully) hard working, smart people then of course you will probably be better off in every way.
        However that is a Benefit, not a Privilege, of your family(s) current and past Work.

        An inequality in wealth between people does not mean that there is some Amoral going on, it just means that there is a difference in the wealth of the two people (or groups).
        And it should be noted that now in the UK white male boys are now the least likely to succeed, and in the US white families living in the Appalachian mountain region have pretty much set the bar (and continue to lower it) for the poverty line.
        To top that off, 9 out of 10 of the poorest communities in the US are all 98-99.8% white (with the 1 spot on the list being taken by a Native American town).

        In the end man if you want to argue white privilege then cite some law or actual legal policy that wholly favors white people.

        Otherwise, you’ve just been brainwashed into feeling guilty.


      • In reply to Zach

        Except it’s not a poverty issue. Black college professionals are stopped more than their white counterparts. Bhagwad noted this in the article. All the places you listed, including the Native American city aren’t big industrial places to begin with and in the case of the Appalachians the big job producer, coal, had to be unionized, at gun point, in order to get pay and benefits raised. White Privilege crosses not only economic but also social lines in how it effects families. There are many examples of art initiating life but the best that I can think of is the show Good Times. The father figure was often the victim because he was first to go but not last hired. Without access to God paying jobs, health care, and other necessities that white people take for granted, you will always have an uneven playing field.


      • In reply to Jim D

        Getting stopped by the police is not a big issue, though. Broadly speaking, a black professional has it much better off than a white poor person – a type of person that sure as hell doesn’t take good paying jobs and health care for granted, what are you smoking lol


  2. “It groups white people together as a whole and I dislike grouping. Especially in the US which is a society based on individualism – unlike perhaps Europe or most certainly Asia.”

    10 points for picking up the irony :-)

    You have a lovely style, I must say.


  3. As a third generation British PIO in my experience White privilege is practiced more by PIOs’ whether in India or abroad.
    Whites are treated like royalty in India but visiting and local non whites are treated rudely.
    Outside of India, PIO shopkeepers are rude to non white customers but polite to whites.
    PIO’s freak out if their children marry outside the community even if they are the same religion, unless they are marrying a white person.
    And don’t even get me started on the head in the sand mentality of PIO’s when it comes to whitewashing in the Indian entertainment/fashion industry.


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