The World According to Nick
My take on Software, Technology, Politics, and anything else I feel like talking about.
Friday, March 31, 2006

Does "White Privilege" Exist? 

After quickly pointing to Jenna's post, I decided I really need to write more in depth on this here. For those who think I'm always right (and gauging by the general lack of comments I tend to receive, you must) and just want the short answer... the answer is no, it does not exist.

Now the long answer, and this is going to be long. While I don't think "White Privilege" exists, there is definitely family and community privilege. I'll get to potential solutions for this at the end, but first to privilege. A lot of people who say it doesn't exist, or advocate against affirmative action, tend to talk about how they got to where they are through their own hard work, and everyone has an equal chance to do the same. The discussions tend to focus on what they did for themselves, as if that achievement existed in a vacuum.

As I look back on my life so far, I can't say this to be true. Saying that where I am today is the result of only my work is an insult to many good people. It's insulting to my mother who raised me as a single parent for most of my adolescence. She provided for me, taught me much, and made sure that when she couldn't help me, she found someone who would. It's an insult to my uncle, who in the absence of a real father, tried very hard to be one for me. It's an insult to my grandmother, who not only raised two wonderful children of her own, but also gave much to me as well. She provided a perspective on her generation that many people never get. In fact, I should probably post on some Grandma-isms, because her thoughts deserve to be shared, especially now that she has gone. She helped me to buy my first car, which gave me the mobility and freedom I needed in college to do many of the things I did. It's an insult to my sisters, and my brother-in-laws, who helped at various times in my life as well and in more ways that I can properly mention here. And I haven't even begun to talk about friends and neighbors who have supported me along the way.

Of course, where would any of my family or friends have been without their parents, extended family, and friends? We are are the product of not only our own achievements, but also the achievements of those who came before us. They gave me an advantage in life which I can't even begin to properly repay them for. Hopefully, some day, I will be able to provide that same advantage to children of my own. Until that time comes, I try to provide that support and advantage back to my family and friends wherever I can.

But is any of that "white privilege"? Absolutely not. It's life. It's family. It's community. And I'm not saying I had it easy. I worked hard in high school to get a decent scholarship into MSOE, without which I might not have been able to attend college. I worked part time jobs throughout school to make up the difference because, while not poor, my family isn't rich, and scholarships weren't enough. I then took what I learned, and have built a strong career, which is very much the result of my own hard work.

Some would argue that it is in fact "white privilege" because for a long time, people of other races were not allowed, through laws and racism, the same opportunity to create advantage to pass on to their own children. Members of minorities today, it's argued, are then behind white people because of it. I can't deny that there is some truth to that. It would be disingenuous to try.

So is affirmative action the solution to this problem? I don't think so. What's worse, is that I don't think there is a solution that anyone would like. The civil rights movement has done much to level the playing field in law for minorities so that they can finally begin to build up the same advantage that they can pass on as everyone else. But is it also the role of government to use something like affirmative action to give them an extra boost of advantage right now?

If we say that it is, that would mean that affirmative action is really a punitive measure against the children of white people for the advantages they were passed from their parents. It's saying that the advantages I received from my family were somehow ill-gotten, and that I need to repay that advantage back to others. It also says that all white people received equal advantage. This is definitely not true, as some families, no matter what their race, provided different advantage (or none at all) to their children. It also says that the families of minorities passed on no advantages of their own, which is insulting to them to say the least.

What's worse, affirmative action doesn't give advantage to minorities which they can pass on to their children. Instead, it gives disadvantage to white people. Instead of lifting one group up to the level of the other, it knocks another group down to the level of the other. People then begin to depend on government to continue knocking people down, instead of depending on their family, friends, community, and most importantly themselves, to lift each other up.

Disadvantage is not an insurmountable barrier. The fact that it exists is certainly sad, but also can't be helped. People need to be responsible for overcoming whatever disadvantage they start with. The government's only job, is to make sure that everyone is treated fairly in the eyes of the law, so that anyone has an equal chance to overcome their own disadvantages. And we all have them.


I like it, especially the last paragraph.

Damn it, I hate it when people say things better than I do :)

  Posted at March 31, 2006 4:14 PM by Blogger Jenna  
I wouldn't go that far Jenna.... but if you insist. ;)

Hell... you've got my mind churning on a quite a few things if nothing else.

  Posted at March 31, 2006 4:29 PM by Blogger Nick  
Excellent post! I've always argued that there's a significant difference between race and culture. The fact is, we get where we get because of who we know more often than not. Heck, my first job out of college had nothing to do with me looking for a job. The guy knew me, liked me, and wanted to hire me.

Anyway, I'd ramble on, but Jenna put it've already summed it up for all of us!

  Posted at March 31, 2006 5:23 PM by Blogger Joey  
I have plenty of thoughts on this one. Particularly because my formative teen years were spent in a nearly 95% African American environment and the “if only(s)” of the black community have been bouncing around in my head ever since. You've brought up some things that are huge sticking points for me and to many of my friends who are black – mainly that the family - multigenerational or not - is the safety net and guiding force. This of course has to be coupled with motivation and ingenuity. Allowing your family to help form your life is one part but families need to enforce these success factors (discipline). If you don’t have discipline, you cannot be successful. Discipline and the functional relationship of the family have been systematically bred out of the community and it’s a disgrace. This renders them helpless and ineffective in the face of the basic competition of life. It also renders one helpless when the opportunity to claim the success that they could earn, is right in front of them.

How did it get bred out of their culture? I believe it’s directly the fault of government. All the tools are there and many can’t just jump.

  Posted at March 31, 2006 9:08 PM by Blogger Phelony Jones  
just found your blog through the entry about you losing weight.

I will be adding this to my daily reading.
Your posts are straight, to the point, insightful, and very eloquently worded!

Keep blogging!

  Posted at April 05, 2006 12:09 PM by Anonymous ns  
Thanks NS. Kind words like are much appreciated.

  Posted at April 06, 2006 2:28 PM by Blogger Nick  
Wow! What an interesting read. Is there white privilege?

In your post you say:

1. There is no white privilege.
2. There is family privilege.
3. Privilege is somehow related to the past.

The problem in attempting to understand privilege is that you have made the wrong comparisons.

1. Family to Affirmative Action

2. Competence to Government assistance.

3. The past and the present.

What you may have missed is that for a person of color in this country who comes from a great family:

1. Went to college on their person's money.

2. Graduated at the top of their class.

3. Doesn't believe they need any governmental help.

4. Has never been poor, on public assistance, arrested, or on drugs...

Can walk into a department store and have all of that stripped away by a $7.00/hour counter girl with little education.

The privilege that you have is that you do not have to:

1. Prove that you are WORTHY of your education, it is assumed that you are. Have you ever been asked or accused of getting your degree because of special programs or AA?

If a white man says that he has degree from Brown, Harvard, Yale, Stanford is it ever assumed that he did not earn his spot or that strings were pulled?

If a white man says that he was unable to gain entrance to one of those schools because they had to make way for people of color -- is that man ever challenged as to why he believed that it was HIS spot to lose?

How is it that (the) university can admit 2,700 people in a year, with maybe a 10% minority enrollment giving that white many 2,430 opportunities to be admitted but his failed admission is accepted as an indictment on people of color and government side asides?

That is a white privilege.

2. Prove that you are INNOCENT. You have to prove yourself to be untrustworthy and even when found guilty will be given many chances and the benefit of the doubt.

How many times a day are you asked to prove that you've not cheated on a test, taken shortcuts to get ahead, or even asked to show your identification when making a purchase or even a return to a store?

That is a white privilege.

You can make up fake credentials and they may never be checked, a person of color can have the best credentials and the more impressive the credentials are they more they are scrutinized and disbelieved.

3. Prove that you are COMPETENT. You wrote that AA is not a way of bring one group up (people of color) that it is a way of bringing others (whites) down to "their" level. The fact that you believe that you begin at a higher level...

That is a white PRIVILEGE.

Did it occur to you that there are people of color who are smarter, faster, more education, more skilled, more experienced, and much wiser who do not get hired for positions that are given to a less qualified white man?

If you believe that AA is a set aside for less qualified people who do not deserve what they get. That is a privileged way of thinking that allows you to ignore:

1. Most businesses are run by white men, more than 80% of businesses fail in the first 5 years and not because they hire people of color.

2. In any company in corporate you will find that a large majority of employees are white, most managers are white, the executive teams are white. Yet, 90% of businesses fail to reach their strategic goals EVERY year. Being able to blame that on the economy and not poor business practices, poor management, or incompetence is a privilege.

3. Enron, Worldcom, Tyco, and Martha Stewart were exposed in scandals because of unethical business practices, stealing, lying. Many people lost their jobs. Every executive involved was white.

The next day noway said that they had to review their hiring practices or reconsider whether or not white men should be allowed to run companies.

That is white privilege.

American business has a long history of failures, everyday you can read in the paper that white men have been exposed for falsifying records, or lying about their experience. Like Michael Brown in the Hurrican scandal and the President of the United State will defend him.

That is white privilege.

With news reports of American people dying on the side of the road in New Orleans days after a storm. It can broadcast for days on the news and the President can stand in front of the people and declare that he didn't know what was going on...

Is a privilege.

I could make a list that would go on forever but there is really no need. We write history books,and the libraries are full of the failures of white men.

But, you do not have to carry their burden. You are free to just be yourself. You are never asked to defend or explain why white men are so unsuccessful in business, or why so many flunk out of college in their first year. The group that you are affiliate with, irrespective of history is conferred WORTHINESS, INNOCENCE, and COMPETENCE.

That, my friend is WHITE PRIVILEGE.

  Posted at April 14, 2006 9:25 AM by Blogger Valarie A. Washington  
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Name: Nick
Home: Wauwatosa, WI, United States

I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit.

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