White (and Black and Red and Yellow and Brown) Privilege
Posted on August 26, 2014
What I find most objectionable in Matt Chandler’s comments about the Ferguson, Missouri conflagration (literally) is his remarkably unverified and unverifiable statement that “white people, in most cases, have easier paths than most black people,” and, in particular the utter omission, if he is going that route, of addressing secular privilege, female privilege, Asian privilege, homosexual privilege, Roman Catholic privilege, black privilege, Episcopal privilege, college-educated privilege, manual-dexterity privilege, environmentalist privilege, and on and on. There is no white privilege on the campus of some West Coast universities where Asians are clearly superior to whites in intellectual performance — and everyone rightly privileges them on this point. Everybody is privileged in some situations and not in others. It is Matt’s intellectual and social over-simplicity that’s especially offensive. I mean right behind his commitment to political correctness.
White privilege is not a sort of lifelong social construct. Different kinds of people during different times of their lives with different characteristics and in different social and cultural situations are privileged. When a black businessman walks into a Four Seasons wearing a Hickey Freeman suit, he is privileged. When a white construction worker walks into the same establishment wearing blue jeans and a dirty T-shirt, he is not. There is no such thing as white privilege or black privilege or male or female or Asian or old or young or rich or poor privilege as an overarching life category.
Further, I would be less inclined to believe Matt is capitulating to political correctness were he to boldly challenge the reigning radical racial paradigm. Had he said, for example, “There are some whites who are privileged in this country, and there are some blacks who are privileged in this country, and we need to understand what ‘privilege’ all about,” I’d have a greater respect for him. I’d really enjoy hearing him expostulate on the black privilege of socially unjust racial hiring and admissions policies that harm Asians and Hispanics.
There are huge, unverified biases behind the common notion of “white privilege.” I wish Matt had mentioned some of them.