Since returning to College it has been good for me to be challenged to think deeper about social issues. It was in my first class that I encountered the term “white privilege.” There were several terms tossed around that students could not really define, we could only discuss the symptoms. My philosophical nature compels me to analyze issues to find the core problems and establish a working premise that will be a consistent guide. For the issue of racism and privilege I first start with the premise that each race or ethnic heritage has a right to its own place of respect; that each person should be allowed to rejoice in and affirm their own race or ethnic group. So if each group is allowed a healthy sense of identity, then what is racism? Racism is when we distort that healthy sense of identity and exalt our group above another group, in a way that leads to oppression of any kind. And privilege is defined as any group holding a place of “advantage or special benefit” (Oxford).
I would like to propose alternatives to the term “white privilege.” The problem with this term is that it is inherently a racist term, criminalizing a race of people rather than addressing behaviors and policies, which are the root issues of our social problems. I propose use of the terms “majority privilege,” “elitist privilege,” “power privilege,” “financial privilege,” and “race privilege” which are more accurate in dealing with the true problems and remove any one race from being the primary perpetrator of injustice.
I am not raising this issue as a means to deny, ignore, or obscure the privilege that white people in America have held and continue desperately grasping. It would be devastating to our social progress, and deceitful to deny the association of race and privilege. But when the source of privilege is addressed rather than blaming a group then we will truly be working towards a society based upon justice for all.
Majority privilege is an asset enjoyed by a group that gives them a larger voice and establishes their cultural values over other groups. In many of our social science classes we have discussed Peggy McIntosh’s essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Most of the privileges listed in it can really be attributed to majority privilege. For example privilege #1 “I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time” (McIntosh). Globally this is true of anyone living a community where they are part of the majority. In China who holds majority privilege? In Japan who holds majority privilege? It is not whites. This is not denying that white people have partaken of and relished in their majority privilege. However, acknowledgment that there is a degree of privilege that all majorities receive is a key to analyzing our social injustices.
Related to majority privilege, is our democratic value; majority rule. The writers of our US Constitution were apprehensive about majority rule referring to it as “mob rule” and cautioned against the potential of the majority trampling the rights of the minority. If majority rule really is a cause of injustice for minorities then we need to amend our laws. If democracy is really an illusion, then get rid of it.
Elitist Privilege is often gained through education. Colleges advertise that privilege can be gained through education and is a valid motivation for enrollment. At times white people in America have dominated this area and so have held privilege. But it is not really an issue of race; it is a systemic problem. For example, two highly educated professors may both experience privilege; one is white the other a person of color. If we say that one holds white privilege and the other has earned status through the hard work of education, is this justice? If there is something wrong in our society with granting privilege to the educated, then let’s fix the real problem.
Power Privilege may be seized through violence or military force. Whites have obviously committed this aggression. They violently seized lands from the original inhabitants of this continent and they violently bought and sold people. The principle of privilege by power is as old as mankind. That does not justify it. But it also should be noted that people of every color have committed this aggression. What color was Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, or Chairman Mao? By using a term such as “power privilege” rather than “white privilege” we objectively look at the issue of power and violence. By re-framing the conversation around actions rather than a particular race we will focus on the problem of power, violence and privilege.
Financial Privilege has allowed whites to hold inordinate amounts of privilege. Financial privilege is claimed in various parts of the world by people of various colors. Maybe Marx was right, our capitalist system is at fault. We cannot assault whites with racist terms for doing only what other groups are trying to do. This is only envy, not justice.
Every person in America, regardless of color, holds great financial privilege over the workers in other countries who manufacture our goods. But why is this called “white privilege?” We all want to retain this privilege! Can’t we all share the guilt? In reality this has become American privilege. The challenge for us is to see beyond our borders and realize that as a country our privilege may be an issue of injustice on a global level.
Race Privilege: When any race of people is able to use a combination of these sources to gain control over others then this should be acknowledged as race privilege. At the core of race privilege is racism, or tribalism; one group against another. By using the term “race privilege” we are able to identify behavior, which ever race is committing the injustice.
When one tribe of people is able to align several of the sources of power in their favor they become similar to a dirty card dealer, one that you can never win against. Imagine a poker game in which you and the dealer are both dealt hands that at first seem fair. You naively believe that you could play by the rules and win. You begin to be suspicious when his opening hand has three aces. You try harder and double your bet. But after the draw the dealer gets four aces and a wild card-the race card. This is why race privilege is resented so deeply, and is an obvious source of injustice.
Why be upset about a term? Clearly terminology is important in our society. Derogatory racial words that were acceptable in previous generations have now been banned, which has effectively sent a message to the public that racism is not acceptable. Proper terminology should:
Not stereotype groups but address behavior
Not deprive people of their constitutional right to innocence
Seek justice for all
Continued use of the racist term “white privilege” is an insult to our entire society because it reveals that our quest for justice is not impartial and not justice for all. A failure to recognize the demeaning nature of this term reveals our double standards and shows that racism against whites is acceptable in America. To truly seek justice for all, we cannot use racism to fight racism. We cannot forbid racist terminology for most groups and then use and even promote racist terminology for others. And most of all, it alienates whites from the conversation, to which they so desperately need to be involved in. In the cases that this term may be used in our textbooks or in public discourse, I ask that this racist term be removed and replaced with terminology that will truly help to address our social problems.
McIntosh, Peggy. White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Wellesley, MA: Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, 1988. Paper 189. Web. 11 Apr. 2014.
Urdang, Laurence. The Oxford Desk Dictionary. New York: Oxford UP, 1995. Print.
Copyright; Mark Anderson 2014