White Advantage or Privilege
In the wake of George Floyd’s death last May, Americans of all backgrounds, ages, and races participated in months-long demonstrations, marred in some cases by violence. Initially, there were massive demonstrations around the world, which still continue in the US. Some believe the issues are complex, but they are basically simple. Are all humans created equal, as the Declaration of Independence asserts? Or do we admit and accept that America has an underclass or caste?
One way of looking at the problem is through the lens of white privilege or advantage. Although this subject is not as emotionally charged as racism or white supremacy, many of European descent refuse to or cannot see they have an advantage. According to the Pew Research Center, only 46 percent of white people agree they benefit “a great deal” or “a fair amount” from advantages society doesn’t offer black people. However, whiteness is the standard by which all are judged.
One over the World
Globally, whites are a minority of the human race. When talking about a somewhat outdated “white” definition — meaning pale, only around 500 to 700 million out of 7.8 billion people in the world are white– just 8 percent of humanity. If we expand the definition of “white” to include all light-skinned people among the European range of skin tones, Greeks, Turks, Romanians, etc., the percentage grows significantly to as much as 1.4 billion — around 19 percent of humankind. Even if we use the broadest definition, including many who have lighter shades of brown skin, Latinos, and Middle Easterners, the number grows significantly, to around 2 – 2.2 billion — little more than a quarter of the world’s population.
The concept of whiteness has evolved; originally this included only Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Germans, the Irish, Italians, Chinese, and others endured a time of trial before being grudgingly accepted as “white.” Blacks were consigned to a lower caste even before the United States existed.
One reason many refuse to or cannot recognize white privilege is that it involves skin color, fundamentally an illusion. Most of us come in gradations of brown, beige, or ivory. Ironically, acquiring a deep summertime tan is fashionable. It’s no surprise Americans have different impressions. Way back in the 1950s, the population of the United States was almost ninety percent white. As of the 2010 census, 63.7% of the United States is European. The Census Bureau’s projection that “whites” will no longer comprise the majority by 2045 makes a lot of President Trump’s supporters anxious. This is nothing new — the large-scale arrival of the Irish on our shores in the 1840s provoked the rise of the nativist Know-Nothing Party. Waves of Chinese immigrants on our western shores in the late nineteenth century led to the passage of immigration legislation that stripped American women marrying a Chinese man of their citizenship. Today, many are desperate to stop the influx of Latinos. Every other national or racial cohort has assimilated except “black” people. Many Southern states were so racist that a single drop of “black” blood condemned one to life-long second class citizenship. Most of us forget that Obama’s mother was white.
The Federal Government
Moreover, federal housing regulations involving redlining and restrictions on the GI Bill after World War II disadvantaged African Americans to such an extent that the net worth of a typical average white family in 2016 was roughly ten times that a typical black family – over $170,000 for a white family, compared to only $17,150 for a black family, according to the Brookings Institute. (https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2020/02/27/examining-the-black-white-wealth-gap/).
White privilege has had a corrosive effect on the country since its inception. We have consistently denied more than a tenth of the population the possibility of fulfilling their potential. Not only did we diminish ourselves in terms of Gross National Product, but we diminished ourselves morally. The time for change has come. Widespread mass demonstrations indicate awareness of this obvious truth.