||White Privilege Shapes The U.S.
« on: Mar 20th, 2004, 6:59am »
White Privilege Shapes The U.S.
by Robert Jensen
Here’s what white privilege sounds like:
I am sitting in my University of Texas office, talking to a very
and very conservative white student about affirmative action in
admissions, which he opposes and I support.
The student says he wants a level playing field with no unearned
advantages for anyone. I ask him whether he thinks that in the
States being white has advantages. Have either of us, I ask, ever
benefited from being white in a world run mostly by white people?
concedes, there is something real and tangible we could call white
So, if we live in a world of white privilege–unearned white
privilege–how does that affect your notion of a level playing
He paused for a moment and said, “That really doesn’t matter.”
That statement, I suggested to him, reveals the ultimate white
privilege: the privilege to acknowledge you have unearned privilege
ignore what it means.
That exchange led me to rethink the way I talk about race and racism
with students. It drove home to me the importance of confronting the
dirty secret that we white people carry around with us everyday: In
world of white privilege, some of what we have is unearned. I think
of both the fear and anger that comes up around discussions of
affirmative action has its roots in that secret. So these days, my
is to talk openly and honestly about white supremacy and white
White privilege, like any social phenomenon, is complex. In a white
supremacist culture, all white people have privilege, whether or not
they are overtly racist themselves. There are general patterns, but
privilege plays out differently depending on context and other
of one’s identity (in my case, being male gives me other kinds of
privilege). Rather than try to tell others how white privilege has
played out in their lives, I talk about how it has affected me.
I am as white as white gets in this country. I am of northern
heritage and I was raised in North Dakota, one of the whitest states
the country. I grew up in a virtually all-white world surrounded by
racism, both personal and institutional. Because I didn’t live near
reservation, I didn’t even have exposure to the state’s only
significant non-white population, American Indians.
I have struggled to resist that racist training and the ongoing
of my culture. I like to think I have changed, even though I
trip over the lingering effects of that internalized racism and the
institutional racism around me. But no matter how much I “fix”
one thing never changes–I walk through the world with white
What does that mean? Perhaps most importantly, when I seek admission
a university, apply for a job, or hunt for an apartment, I don’t
threatening. Almost all of the people evaluating me for those things
look like me–they are white. They see in me a reflection of
and in a racist world that is an advantage. I smile. I am white. I
one of them. I am not dangerous. Even when I voice critical
am cut some slack. After all, I’m white.