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White Privilege

Why is it important to learn about white privilege?

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Emmanuel Acho’s conversation with Chelsea Handler

White privilege is often a contentious issue, so why bring it up and risk retribution? For Black people, the choice to decide whether or not to “check” white privilege is deeply personal. For white people, it is important to recognize what the term means and understand why it exists. In either case, it is important for us to learn how white people can take steps toward becoming aware, and as is suggested in the University of San Francisco White Resource Guide, recognize that “privilege should not be viewed as a burden or source of guilt, but rather, an opportunity to learn and be responsible so that we may work toward a more just and inclusive world”.

The University of San Francisco, White Resource Guide defines Privilege as: “Unearned access to social power based on membership in a dominant social group.”

Peggy McIntosh’s groundbreaking essay, “ White Privilege, Unpacking The Invisible Knapsack” helps people recognize white privilege by making it personal and tangible. In the book, she shares examples of privilege such as: turning on the tv and seeing yourself represented, walking into a store and finding shampoo and panty hose made for your skin tone to more serious issues like not walking through life being racially profiled or stereotyped. See more on Peggy McIntosh’s essay in “Explore More Resources.

An illustration of a white man and black woman readying for a race, with much more difficult obstacles in the Black woman's path. A caption reads 'what's teh matter? It's the same distance!'

Systemic Racism, Implicit Bias and White Privilege

White Privilege is tied to the impact of systemic racism and implicit bias as noted by sociologists Matthew Clair and Jeffery S. Denis who define racism as, “individual and group level processes and structures that are implicated in the reproduction of racial inequality”. Systemic racism happens when these structures or processes are carried out by groups with power, such as governments, businesses or schools. Racism differs from bias, which is a conscious or unconscious prejudice against an individual or group based on their identity. Learning for Justice makes the connections to how both racism and bias rely on racialization and how,  “The trauma, displacement, cruel treatment and discrimination of people of color, inevitably, gave birth to white privilege.”

Data to Back it Up

The United Methodist Church, in a 2016 Resolution Paper, further examined the data that creates White Privilege. “While people of color make up about 30 percent of the United States’ population, they account for 60 percent of those imprisoned. The prison population grew by 700 percent from 1970 to 2005, a rate that is outpacing crime and population rates. The incarceration rates disproportionately impact men of color: 1 in every 15 African American men and 1 in every 36 Hispanic men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1 in 3 Black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. Individuals of color have a disproportionate number of encounters with law enforcement, indicating that racial profiling continues to be a problem. A report by the US Department of Justice found that Black and Hispanic people were approximately three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police (American Prospect, March 17, 2012, T*he 10 Most Disturbing Facts About Racial Inequality in the U.S. Criminal Justice System*)” 

Visit  “Explore More Resources” and check out ”Race Talk “ by Derald Wing Sue:

A book cover with the title 'race talk' and two hands pulling opposite directions on a rope, one white and one Black.

Description from Bookshop.org:

Turn Uncomfortable Conversations into Meaningful Dialogue
If you believe that talking about race is impolite, or that “colorblindness” is the preferred approach, you must read this book. Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence debunks the most pervasive myths using evidence, easy-to-understand examples, and practical tools.

This significant work answers all your questions about discussing race by covering:

  1. Characteristics of typical, unproductive conversations on race
  2. Tacit and explicit social rules related to talking about racial issues
  3. Race-specific difficulties and misconceptions regarding race talk
  4. Concrete advice for educators and parents on approaching race in a new way

Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race

By Derald Wing Sue

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