This is Your Nation on White Privilege

For those who still can’t grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are looking for some easy-to-understand examples of it, perhaps this list will help.

White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because “every family has challenges,” even as black and Latino families with similar “challenges” are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.

White privilege is when you can call yourself a “fuckin’ redneck,” like Bristol Palin’s boyfriend does, and talk about how if anyone messes with you, you’ll “kick their fuckin’ ass,” and talk about how you like to “shoot shit” for fun, and still be viewed as a responsible, all-American boy (and a great son-in-law to be) rather than a thug.

White privilege is when you can attend four different colleges in six years like Sarah Palin did (one of which you basically failed out of, then returned to after making up some coursework at a community college), and no one questions your intelligence or commitment to achievement, whereas a person of color who did this would be viewed as unfit for college, and probably someone who only got in in the first place because of affirmative action.

White privilege is when you can claim that being mayor of a town smaller than most medium-sized colleges, and then Governor of a state with about the same number of people as the lower fifth of the island of Manhattan, makes you ready to potentially be president, and people don’t all piss on themselves with laughter, while being a black U.S. Senator, two-term state Senator, and constitutional law scholar, means you’re “untested.”

White privilege is being able to say that you support the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance because “if it was good enough for the founding fathers, it’s good enough for me,” and not be immediately disqualified from holding office–since, after all, the pledge was written in the late 1800s and the “under God” part wasn’t added until the 1950s–while believing that reading accused criminals and terrorists their rights (because, ya know, the Constitution, which you used to teach at a prestigious law school requires it), is a dangerous and silly idea only supported by mushy liberals.

White privilege is being able to be a gun enthusiast and not make people immediately scared of you.

White privilege is being able to have a husband who was a member of an extremist political party that wants your state to secede from the Union, and whose motto is “Alaska first,” and no one questions your patriotism or that of your family, while if you’re black and your spouse merely fails to come to a 9/11 memorial so she can be home with her kids on the first day of school, people immediately think she’s being disrespectful.

White privilege is being able to make fun of community organizers and the work they do–like, among other things, fight for the right of women to vote, or for civil rights, or the 8-hour workday, or an end to child labor–and people think you’re being pithy and tough, but if you merely question the experience of a small town mayor and 18-month governor with no foreign policy expertise beyond a class she took in college and the fact that she lives close to Russia–you’re somehow being mean, or even sexist.

White privilege is being able to convince white women who don’t even agree with you on any substantive issue to vote for you and your running mate anyway, because suddenly your presence on the ticket has inspired confidence in these same white women, and made them give your party a “second look.”

White privilege is being able to fire people who didn’t support your political campaigns and not be accused of abusing your power or being a typical politician who engages in favoritism, while being black and merely knowing some folks from the old-line political machines in Chicago means you must be corrupt.

White privilege is when you can take nearly twenty-four hours to get to a hospital after beginning to leak amniotic fluid, and still be viewed as a great mom whose commitment to her children is unquestionable, and whose “next door neighbor” qualities make her ready to be VP, while if you’re a black candidate for president and you let your children be interviewed for a few seconds on TV, you’re irresponsibly exploiting them.

White privilege is being able to give a 36 minute speech in which you talk about lipstick and make fun of your opponent, while laying out no substantive policy positions on any issue at all, and still manage to be considered a legitimate candidate, while a black person who gives an hour speech the week before, in which he lays out specific policy proposals on several issues, is still criticized for being too vague about what he would do if elected.

White privilege is being able to attend churches over the years whose pastors say that people who voted for John Kerry or merely criticize George W. Bush are going to hell, and that the U.S. is an explicitly Christian nation and the job of Christians is to bring Christian theological principles into government, and who bring in speakers who say the conflict in the Middle East is God’s punishment on Jews for rejecting Jesus, and everyone can still think you’re just a good church-going Christian, but if you’re black and friends with a black pastor who has noted (as have Colin Powell and the U.S. Department of Defense) that terrorist attacks are often the result of U.S. foreign policy and who talks about the history of racism and its effect on black people, you’re an extremist who probably hates America.

White privilege is not knowing what the Bush Doctrine is when asked by a reporter, and then people get angry at the reporter for asking you such a “trick question,” while being black and merely refusing to give one-word answers to the queries of Bill O’Reilly means you’re dodging the question, or trying to seem overly intellectual and nuanced.

White privilege is being able to go to a prestigious prep school, then to Yale and then Harvard Business school, and yet, still be seen as just an average guy (George W. Bush) while being black, going to a prestigious prep school, then Occidental College, then Columbia, and then to Harvard Law, makes you “uppity,” and a snob who probably looks down on regular folks.

White privilege is being able to graduate near the bottom of your college class (McCain), or graduate with a C average from Yale (W.) and that’s OK, and you’re cut out to be president, but if you’re black and you graduate near the top of your class from Harvard Law, you can’t be trusted to make good decisions in office.

White privilege is being able to dump your first wife after she’s disfigured in a car crash so you can take up with a multi-millionaire beauty queen (who you go on to call the c-word in public) and still be thought of as a man of strong family values, while if you’re black and married for nearly twenty years to the same woman, your family is viewed as un-American and your gestures of affection for each other are called “terrorist fist bumps.”

White privilege is being able to sing a song about bombing Iran and still be viewed as a sober and rational statesman, with the maturity to be president, while being black and suggesting that the U.S. should speak with other nations, even when we have disagreements with them, makes you “dangerously naive and immature.”

White privilege is being able to claim your experience as a POW has anything at all to do with your fitness for president, while being black and experiencing racism and an absent father is apparently among the “lesser adversities” faced by other politicians, as Sarah Palin explained in her convention speech.

And finally, white privilege is the only thing that could possibly allow someone to become president when he has voted with George W. Bush 90 percent of the time, even as unemployment is skyrocketing, people are losing their homes, inflation is rising, and the U.S. is increasingly isolated from world opinion, just because white voters aren’t sure about that whole “change” thing. Ya know, it’s just too vague and ill-defined, unlike, say, four more years of the same, which is very concrete and certain.

White privilege is, in short, the problem.

Written by Tim Wise

via: Red Room and Write for Freedom

September 15, 2008 | filed under consider this, moment of truth, pay attention, rewritable words 


15 Responses to “This is Your Nation on White Privilege”

  1. Leandra on September 15th, 2008 7:11 pm

    I loved this…especially that it was written by a white person who intentionally labels himself “anti-racist.” I know that he understands the systemization of racism so my question is how does one excludes one’s built-in privileges? That’s like a strikingly gorgeous girl saying that she doesn’t partake in the benefits of being beautiful. How do you avoid it?

    I seriously want to know. Please, let’s toss around some ideas.

  2. Jasi B. on September 15th, 2008 8:23 pm

    Oooo…he got that Black man orator skill down, with the skillfully placed emphasis on syllables. The crescendos and diminuendos in tone. LOL…two snaps and a clap to that.

  3. luanna on September 15th, 2008 9:18 pm

    lol. great piece! esp after learning its written by a white person. it’s just become increasingly annoying when white ppl are completrly oblivious to themselves… but just another example of ignorance being bliss.

  4. Ngozi on September 15th, 2008 10:10 pm

    Absolutely fabulous, kudos on the white man for totally surprising the hell out of me. I think it can be said pretty confidantly that he got this from a Black man! LOL. Honestly, he hit the nail on the head but for what? Who cares about facts when race is all that matters? Get like me, stop trying to understand white people. Do you know how murderers think? No, they are demented and hopefully you aren’t. White people make their own rules according to their feeble minds and shifting opinions. Lets hope White guilt supersedes White privilege in this election.

  5. Leandra on September 15th, 2008 11:14 pm

    🙂 Glad you enjoy!

    This is featured on Tim’s blog. Naturally, this comment annoyed me:

    Sincerely Worried:

    I recognize the racial issues we have in this nation but I do not see how addressing the aforementioned topics equates to white privilege. If anything, this entire article does nothing to build bridges between the various ethnic communities we have in our diverse nation. It simply equates a set of beliefs and perceptions as being racist when in fact they are anything but racist.

    The problems I see this nation facing affect all races equally. Rather than address specific isues this simply blames everything on whites. This solves nothing and fosters hate.

    There is no doubt in my mind if this article listed examples of Barak Obama’s copnduct, or Reverend Wright’s, and equated it with ‘black privilege’ an outroar would occur. If there is one thing I have learned in my short life it is that racism knows no bounds, it affects people of all colors, and it is destroying our nation. Zimbabwe and Nazi Germany are two good examples of how pervasive racism can grow into a movement that destroy a nation. This article is nothing but a step in the wrong direction.
    My response…

    Addressing inequity correctly = addressing privilege

    I disagree and your argument has way too many holes.

    What’s often missing from conversations regarding inequity is privilege. The same way that economists can’t create wealth (on any level) without denying it to some, inherent to the discussion of privilege is inequity. You cannot talk about any disenfranchised people in the United States without addressing white privilege.

    You simply can’t recognize and care about the racial issues of this country if you’re trying to sweep them under the rug and engage in a “why can’t we all just be peaceful?” conversation. You’re lying to yourself and, as a result, to everyone else inadvertently. Muhammad Ali said it best and wonderfully in 1974 on the Mike Douglas show. “Y’all done stole everything from everybody, now you want peace. Well, people ain’t rested. They don’t want no peace.”

    Racial harmony without addressing racial hierarchy is a joke. It’s impossible! If there is a racial hierarchy, which you are obviously oblivious to–simply because you have the benefit (read: privilege) of being oblvious to–how is there ever supposed to be interracial peace? You’re at the top, your kind hates my kind, and we’re at the bottom because you’re kind hates my kind and consequently, my kind hates your kind. Where does peace come in? It doesn’t if you don’t remove that hierarchy.

    I’m not sure how you deduced that “the aforementioned topics” don’t equate to white privilege and further, that this essay fosters hate. The first step to addressing a problem is admitting that there is one. This article isn’t written for minorities, who are very keen to your invisible knapsack; it’s written for white people who don’t understand white privilege or how it relates to their lives. It gives you some very concrete examples. If you haven’t already, please read Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege”. From what I gather, this is either your first introduction to the subject or you’re very much in denial, which in itself is a step in the wrong direction.

    Racism is bred in a set of beliefs and perceptions. It’s a certain type of beliefs and perceptions. Perhaps that some are free to be criticized and others aren’t…?

    Denying racism is what’s destroying our country. Walking hand-in-hand with racism is privilege. If you don’t want to address it, you don’t want to address racism. If you don’t want to address racism, you don’t want peace. Is it any wonder that, despite everyone’s claims for wanting peace, it doesn’t exist?

    To address the dishonesty of inequity means to address the dishonesty of privilege, and to correct that unscrupulousness, privilege has to be taken away and power has to be given back to those who’ve been denied. If I’m unwilling to give up my privilege, how can I speak about the inequity anyone experiences, including myself? I can’t…and neither can you.

    Additionally, for and among whom is there “Black privilege”? Since it doesn’t exist, the uproar could only come from racist people who don’t understand they’re racist and demand the privilege of “equality” for just themselves, but sit quietly enjoying their liberties and privileges while those same liberties and privileges are consistently denied to others.

    You may also want to check out Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, but you’ll need to understand the principles of this article before you could understand the depth and complexity of Freire.

  6. Leandra on September 15th, 2008 11:43 pm

    If you haven’t read “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” you can find it here:

  7. Jessica on September 16th, 2008 12:53 pm

    Great response Leandra… well written and communicated, I wish I had your skills! I’m going to try my best to clearly articulate my opinion here 🙂
    I think that Wise is addressing racism exactly as he should, by breaking it down, taking it back to the history of where “white” power/privilege came from. To answer your initial question about how “one excludes one’s built-in privileges”; in my opinion that isn’t possible. However, I do believe that it is possible to use one’s privilege (in any respect) for good… such as someone born into wealth who cannot necessarily make themselves un-wealthy, but decide to engage in public service, donate money, or start a charity, etc… In Wise’s case, he is the cream of the crop when it comes to privilege, being white and male. However being that he’s not ignorant to what is reality, and to his own privilege, he can connect to other white people who have never even heard of white privilege or refuse to acknowledge it. He can make whites feel more “comfortable” hearing the truth from a white man… then hearing it from a person of color and tuning out, automatically assuming that person of color is on another rant and rave about the injustices and inequality of power and privilege based on race and economic status among other factors, in our country (heck our world!).
    And to the person who made a comment about there being “black privilege”, are you serious?! To even make a statement like that completely voids your comment altogether, being that it is clear you have no concept of racism in this country. There is no race in America that holds enough power as a whole, to have any kind of cumulative privilege/power like the white race… hence the term “white privilege”.

  8. Denise Williams on September 16th, 2008 2:01 pm

    Thank you for sharing. These are truths that resonate, yet, there will always be something in place in an attempt to overshadow them. Americans, black, white and any other color of the spectrum in between, need to wake up. We have sat back, comfortably, and allowed these things to happen. Now, with everything crashing at one time, we take the same posture…talk amongst ourselves and not include those who are in power and who have the responsibility to make change. Please be mindful, that none of these decisions are made in a vacuum. It is all strategy.

  9. Paris on September 16th, 2008 7:52 pm

    To Leandra’s initial question, I agree with Jessica. Being a member of a privileged group means it’s your responsibility to address the role your group plays in the fabric of oppression. As a white man, Tim knows he benefits from racism, and has taken on his responsibility by shining a light on white privilege. He did a faculty training on this topic at the school I work for — and it was excellent. It would be different if he were commenting on the internalized racism of black folks — that’s not his responsibility and it wouldn’t be very helpful coming from him.

  10. Tina on September 17th, 2008 12:59 am

    This article definitely called multiple examples of white privilege to attention to those of us who might not be as in tune to that on a regular basis. I have to admit though, being white myself, its always very difficult to address issues like this. Reason being is that I feel terrible to hear that oppression occurs, and that by default I’m a part of the oppressing group. The term for this is “oppressor guilt,” or in this case, specifically “white guilt.” Meaning that it’s difficult to hear about how I’m advantaged because I’m white, despite the fact that I don’t intentionally use that to my advantage or abuse that. I will never completely understand what it’s like to be Black, Hispanic, Asian, or any other ethnicity in America. I recognize that there are issues of white privilege, although I must admit that these need to be brought to my attention. My question is though, what can I as an individual do about it? Obviously I can be fair about providing opportunities to everyone, regardless of race, gender, religion, or any other variable. I can educate others about these issues and help with understanding where, when, and how oppression occurs. But does the fact the I was born white automatically make me a bad person? If we’re talking about eliminating prejudice and racism, then the answer should be “no.” Basically, what I’m trying to say is, if you’re striving to eliminate issues of inequality in the world, you’ve got my support. But be conscious of how you approach people who are part of the oppressing group, because issues of privilege aren’t are apparent, and it can be hypocritical to put someone on the defensive because (s)he was born of the “power” race.

    Also, one critique of the article: it’s a very partisan article, taking multiple jabs at the Republican party for white privilege. I’m a Democrat myself, but I think that the message of racism gets lost between the obvious political appeals.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  11. Luanna on September 18th, 2008 2:07 pm

    Re: Tina’s comment

    No, being born into the group that has priviledge does not inherently make you a bad person. But let’s be sure to define what makes a person good or bad because we humans like to think the best of ourselves even when there is no evidence to support it.

    Most people think they are “good”. And why? Because they don’t intend to harm others? That’s fine and dandy, but bear in mind that the only difference between murder and manslaughter is intent. Either way, someone dies at another’s hands. Most people don’t intend to harm others… but is that enough to make them “good”? Certainly not. Not seeking to harm another is not equal to seeking equality for all.

    Be well aware that this world is full of evil and perversions of all sorts. A good person does not turn his or her head away from evil in any form (racism included): not when its directed towards them and not when it’s directed towards others. That means that whether they are affected or not, they recognize wrongs being committed and speak out and, more importantly, ACT out against them. If you are born into a group that has a history of (and still is) oppressing every other group in the world and you want to be viewed as different, as “good”, then be different: don’t sit back and accept the priviledges while others knowingly are denied equality. If you do nothing, you should have white guilt; you have earned it.

  12. Leandra on September 18th, 2008 10:26 pm

    Luanna, I agree, but there’s still room for challenge with that notion. Please see i FEEL you.

    Privileged people don’t see their privilege until they come into contact with less…those conditions which they don’t find acceptable, agreeable, or advantageous. There are respectively privileged people who aren’t part of the dominant group who do nothing to help others. For instance, black people in the US who feel no responsibility to help anyone who they are comparatively more privileged than. They don’t necessarily go to Africa or donate to efforts that support initiatives in African countries that could use their help. So if good people ALWAYS do something, we’re definitely closing the borders of that population…which ISN’T a bad thing; it’s just revealing the large amount of work left for everyone to do.

    What comes into play and what might affect this, though, is the cycle of oppression. When oppressed people are given power, real or perceived, they become just like their oppressors. Why? It’s all they know. Being on the bottom makes you want to be on the top. What does being on the top look like? Looks like being an oppressor. Paulo Freire wrote about this in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. As an example, use any overthrow of a dictator. More often that not, the overthrown dictator is replaced with another dictator! Last King of Scotland.

    So again…maybe it goes back to being a responsible member of the oppressing group. Perhaps one’s social responsibility as a member of the oppressing group is to use their privilege to benefit the oppressed. Freire talks a lot about restoring humanity. That it’s the job of the oppressed to lead this endeavor to restore everyone’s humanity. That the oppressors can’t be charged with it because their humanity is too far too removed from repeated acts of oppression, if directly, or systematic oppression, if indirectly.

    Please, no one respond with “well, I’m not like that,” and “this doesn’t apply to me” if you’re in the dominant group. Don’t make an individual argument. This is a social issue. There are exceptions to every rule, but this isn’t a middle ground issue. Either you’re a part of the solution or you’re a part of the problem. Either you act to abolish racism or you act to uphold it. Never forget that nonaction is an action.

  13. Leandra on September 18th, 2008 10:53 pm

    When I think about solving racism, I think about the stuff we’re discussing in sustainable human development. Let’s say you want to work on empowering women in a certain area. If you only work with the women, you’re creating more harm than good because you’re only setting them up to be deviants of the system. At the same time, if you only work with the men, nothing will change because the expectations of the women are already instilled in the culture, which will be passed down.

    You have to work with BOTH populations. This is where racism work always goes wrong (intentionally perhaps) because the only thing that’s been done is black empowerment…which is critical, but it’s a very literal half-assed effort.

    White people need anti-racist education. While it is unfair that white people can’t just listen to black people and say “okay, you’re right…this is messed up,” it’s a system of unfairness. Why would the approach to the solution be fair? White people need anti-racist education and white people need to anti-racistly educate themselves and each other.

    As Tim Wise says, “If racism wasn’t an issue for white people, it wouldn’t be an issue for black people.” That’s the truth.

    Don’t preach or teach about tolerance. Tolerate means “to allow without prohibiting or opposing; permit. To put up with; endure.” There’s nothing loving about tolerance and there’s nothing wrong with not being white, so there’s nothing to allow, permit or endure.

    Change the system. Education, media, law, finance, distribution of land, resources and wealth, monopolies on everything. That’s what you can do because that’s what needs to be done.

    I appreciate the idea behind multiculturalism and diversity, but the execution usually defeats the purpose. “Here, we’re going to make you take a multiculturalism class. Just one. Everything else is dominantly white…because that’s the way the world isn’t. At the same time, we’ll mention some things about justice.” Justice for whom?

  14. luanna on September 20th, 2008 7:33 pm

    short answer to a long reply is there is no solution: no ones cares about anyone else. people don’t care abt anything (or anyone) until it affects them. we all live our lives seeing what we choose to see.

    its great that you’ve opened this dialogue, but everything is as its supposed to be… and that simply is not changing. that’s the truth.

  15. sara on October 26th, 2008 3:37 am

    Trust me, I AM automatically scared of gun enthusiasts, especially the white ones (Aigh!!) even (especially?) those I am related to…

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