Read Part 1: White Privilege: A Rational Examination
The focus of this series on white privilege is western society, as the concept of white Privilege is predominantly concerned with examining the privilege possessed by white people in white majority countries. You can find academic studies and articles on white privilege beyond white societies at the bottom of this post and on most academic publisher websites, but the evidence in the body of this blog post is primarily concerned with establishing the existence of white privilege in the U.S.
White Privilege & Wealth Distribution
One of the most significant aspects of white privilege in free market societies such as the U.S. concerns the distribution of wealth between white and non-white families. The Pew Research Center provides the following statistics for 2013:
The senior editor of the Pew Research Center, Bruce Drake, commented:
‘The wealth of white households was 13 times the median wealth of black households in 2013, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of the most recently available data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances. In 2010, whites had eight times the wealth of blacks. This growing racial inequality suggests that the economic recovery since the Great Recession has not benefitted all households alike. In fact, our analysis revealed a stark divide in the experiences of white and black households during the economic recovery. From 2010 to 2013, the median wealth of white households increased by 2.4%, while the median wealth of black households fell by a third’.
Notwithstanding the reality that whiteness does not necessarily equate with wealth, and that there are examples of the fact that in some less frequent cases whites can suffer greater economic disadvantages than some blacks and minorities (see Joe Blow vs Michael Jordan) – if you are a white American, the chances of you being born into a family with a significantly higher income bracket are far greater than if you happened to have been born into a non-white family. At this point I can almost visualize the critic reading this, huddled in the fetal position, rocking back and forth murmuring, “Asians”. “Asians”. “What about the Asians?” “What about Asian privilege?” Firstly, relax. Take a deep breath. Everything is going to be okay. I will deal with that ill-contrived criticism in the third and final part of this series (White Privilege: Criticisms).
Besides the obvious economic advantages which are, generally speaking, passed on from generation to generation, there are peripheral yet important (unearned) social benefits that automatically accompany the demographic which generally has the best financial credit and superior economic status.
In a study conducted in 2015 into mortgage discrimination, economists Hanson, Hawley, Martin and Liu found that ‘the effect of being African American on MLO (mortgage loan originator) response is equivalent to the effect of having a credit score that is 71 points lower [than white Americans]’. This experiment was aimed at testing mortgage loan originator responses to white and African American loan inquiries, and it was based upon a massive 10,000 email sample. Hanson concluded: “Our results show MLOs discriminate based on race and treat clients differently based on their credit score”.
These results add further dimension to the racial inequality that has been demonstrated to exist in terms of home ownership rates between African Americans and white Americans. This year (2016) the home ownership rate for whites is 72.1% and 41.5% for blacks. This disparity negatively impacts on the ability of African Americans to accrue wealth, which then perpetuates the poverty cycle for the next generation.
Particularly in the U.S., where the society suffers from a backwards system of health care, which Obama eased to some degree, poverty can have serious consequences on health. This is reflected in the data on racial inequality and health in America. According to Oliver, ‘African Americans die at a younger age and are sicker than Whites in the USA due to a number of diseases. Eliminating these racial health inequalities has become a stated goal of federal health agencies’. But this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to racial inequality and health in America. In a 2003 report published by the Institute of Medicine, it was revealed that race and ethnicity were significantly associated with the quality of healthcare received, even after controlling for socioeconomic factors (“economic privilege”).
White Privilege & Wealth Inequality in England and Wales
Wealth inequality between whites and minorities has also been measured in England and Wales revealing similar results to the U.S. Commenting on data collated in 2001 and 2011, Dr Nissa Finney stated: “Ethnic inequalities are not only widespread in England and Wales, they are persistent. These inequalities are not, and will not, disappear of their own accord. This is particularly the case in employment and housing”. Further, Dr Omar Khan, director of the Runnymede Trust, said: “This report contains a wealth of information that shows why ethnic inequalities are relevant in every village, town and city in England and Wales. The evidence also suggests that local and national policymakers and decision makers must act much more directly to ensure that a third generation doesn’t continue to experience disadvantage because of their ethnic background.”
A significant factor associated with wealth inequality between whites and blacks in the U.S. has to do with disparate employment opportunities divided upon racial lines. According to a study on the employment of black vs white ex-convicts, Professor of Sociology and Public Policy at Harvard University, Devah Pager remarked:
‘…the persistent effect of race on employment opportunities is painfully clear in these results. Blacks are less than half as likely to receive consideration by employers, relative to their white counterparts, and black nonoffenders fall behind even whites with prior felony convictions. The powerful effects of race thus continue to direct employment decisions in ways that contribute to persisting racial inequality. In light of these findings, current public opinion seems largely misinformed. According to a recent survey of residents in Los Angeles, Boston, Detroit, and Atlanta, researchers found that just over a quarter of whites believe there to be “a lot” of discrimination against blacks, compared to nearly two-thirds of black respondents (Kluegel and Bobo 2001). Over the past decade, affirmative action has come under attack across the country based on the argument that direct racial discrimination is no longer a major barrier to opportunity.38 According to this study, however, employers, at least in Milwaukee, continue to use race as a major factor in their hiring decisions. When we combine the effects of race and criminal record, the problem grows more intense. Not only are blacks much more likely to be incarcerated than whites; based on the findings presented here, they may also be more strongly affected by the impact of a criminal record. Previous estimates of the aggregate consequences of incarceration may therefore underestimate the impact on racial disparities’.
The findings of Pager’s study are further vindicated by David R. Francis at the National Bureau of Economic Research, who found that ‘A job applicant with a name that sounds like it might belong to an African-American – say, Lakisha Washington or Jamal Jones – can find it harder to get a job. Despite laws against discrimination, affirmative action, a degree of employer enlightenment, and the desire by some businesses to enhance profits by hiring those most qualified regardless of race, African-Americans are twice as likely as whites to be unemployed and they earn nearly 25 percent less when they are employed’. Francis also found that ‘The 50 percent gap in callback rates is statistically very significant, Bertrand and Mullainathan note in Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination (NBER Working Paper No. 9873). It indicates that a white name yields as many more callbacks as an additional eight years of experience. Race, the authors add, also affects the reward to having a better resume. Whites with higher quality resumes received 30 percent more callbacks than whites with lower quality resumes. But the positive impact of a better resume for those with Africa-American names was much smaller’.
If I were to conclude this piece here, we would have to concede that white privilege operates to give whites a number of significant advantages over blacks and non-white minorities, generally speaking: household wealth, home ownership, health and employment opportunities. These advantages are huge, but these major advantages do not enunciate the full scope and pervasiveness of white privilege.
In a recent study published by one of America’s leading nonprofit research organizations Child Trends , racial inequality is shown to be evident throughout the U.S’ education system. Further, in a paper published by Darling-Hammond of Stanford University, the author notes:
‘Despite the rhetoric of American equality, the school experiences of African American and other “minority” students in the United States continue to be substantially separate and unequal…The result of this collision of new standards with old inequities is less access to education for many students of color, rather than more’.
This disparity is not merely having an impact upon the unequal high school graduation rates between whites and blacks, but it is also, according to Darling-Hammond and other social scientists, leading to higher crime rates within black communities that have been systematically disenfranchised by the existence of white privilege, which has accumulated over centuries in the form of an unbroken historical chain of associated factors, such as slavery, apartheid, social and residential segregation, etc, which, conversely, have all produced the privilege white people (often unknowingly) enjoy today. Discussing the link between the inequality with regards to education and its link to higher incarceration rates, Darling-Hammond comments:
‘Because the economy can no longer absorb many unskilled workers at decent wages, lack of education is increasingly linked to crime and welfare dependency. Women who have not finished high school are much more likely than others to be on welfare, while men are much more likely to be in prison. National investments in the last decade have tipped heavily toward incarceration rather education’.
This has resulted in a disproportionate ratio of African American inmates, which in turn has fueled a stereotype that has caused disparate rates of unarmed African Americans being shot by white police officers across the U.S.
Police Violence Against African Americans
The prevalent negative stereotype associated with African American males was further measured in another study conducted by psychologists at the University of Washington that measured the effects of race on the responses of weapon holders. The abstract of that study sets forth the researchers’ methodology and their findings in the following words:
‘Rapid actions to persons holding weapons were simulated using desktop virtual reality. Subjects responded to simulated (a) criminals, by pointing the computers mouse at them and left-clicking (simulated shooting), (b) fellow police officers, by pressing the spacebar (safety signal), and (c) citizens, by inaction. In one of two tasks Black males holding guns were police officers while White males holding guns were criminals. In the other, Whites with guns were police and Blacks with guns were criminals. In both tasks Blacks or Whites holding harmless objects were citizens. Signal detection analyses revealed two race effects that led to Blacks being incorrectly shot at more than Whites: a perceptual sensitivity effect (when held by Blacks guns were less distinguishable from harmless objects) and a response bias effect (objects held by Blacks were more likely to be treated as guns). 2003 Elsevier Science (USA)’.
This study touches upon a point evinced by a recent series of neuroscientific studies that examined how the (white person’s) brain is influenced by racial stereotypes. In an academic paper published by New York University, the authors write:
‘In the first of two studies, Freeman and Stolier monitored subjects’ brain activity—using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)—while these subjects viewed different faces: male and female as well as those of various races and depicting a range of emotions. Outside the brain scanner, the subjects were asked to quickly categorize the gender, race, and emotion of the faces using the mouse-tracking technique. Despite their conscious responses, the subjects’ hand movements revealed the presence of several stereotypical biases. Notably, men, and particularly Black men, were initially perceived “angry,” even when their faces were not objectively angry; and women were initially perceived “happy,” even when their faces were not objectively happy. In addition, Asian faces were initially perceived “female” and Black faces were initially perceived “male,” regardless of the faces’ actual gender. The researchers confirmed, using a separate group of subjects, that the specific pattern of visual biases observed matched prevalent stereotypical associations in the U.S. to a significant degree’.
Police Profiling (DWB – Driving While Black)
Criminologists Rojek, Rosenfeld and Decker undertook a study in St. Louis, Missouri to examine the effects of race in police traffic stops. After controlling for variables such as the characteristics of the officer, the driver and the stop, their study found:
‘Searches are more likely in stops of Black drivers than in those of White drivers, especially by White officers…’
What’s particularly interesting about this study is that whites who were stopped in black community neighborhoods were more likely to be searched than those driving in white neighborhoods. Although there may well be certain pragmatic reasons behind this disparity (poorer neighborhoods usually have more drug dealers, etc..), it does reinforce residential segregation.
In a study conducted to examine the effects of race and criminal history on discretionary searches, Tillyer commented:
‘Recently, racially based inequality in police treatment of citizens has been the primary focus of research examining traffic stop encounters, the most common type of police-citizen interaction (Eith & Durose, 2011). Research findings indicate differential treatment of minority citizens, not only in all types of searches (Engel & Johnson, 2006; Roh & Robinson, 2009; Rojek, Rosenfeld, & Decker, 2004; Withrow, 2004), but specifically, in discretionary searches (Close & Mason, 2007; Pickerell, Mosher, & Pratt, 2009) and in police-citizen encounters involving young, Black males (Rosenfeld, Rojek, & Decker, 2012; Tillyer, Klahm, & Engel, 2012). This evidence suggests that officers are engaging in discretionary searches of minority citizens at a disproportionate rate’.
Marijuana: Use Rates vs Arrest Rates
Such profiling may also help to explain why whites and blacks use marijuana at roughly the same rates while blacks are far more frequently arrested for possession. The following two graphs have been sourced from both the National Household Drug Abuse Survey and Health, 2001 – 2010 and FBI/Uniform Crime Reporting Program Data and U.S. Census statistics:
Examining these kinds of results also helps us to understand the different views blacks and whites have of law enforcement. The following are six of the key findings of a poll taken by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research:
■ Violence against civilians by police officers is an extremely or very serious problem according to nearly three-quarters of blacks and less than 20 percent of whites.
■ Many Americans, both blacks and whites, say that violence against police is also an extremely or very serious problem in the United States. And half of all Americans, regardless of race, say fear caused by the physical danger that police officers face is a major contributor to aggression against civilians.
■ An overwhelming majority of blacks say that, generally, the police are too quick to use deadly force and that they are more likely to use it against a black person. Most whites say police officers typically use deadly force only when necessary and that race is not a factor in decisions to use force.
■ Blacks and whites are sharply divided on whether police officers who injure or kill civilians are treated too leniently by prosecutors and on how much that contributes to the use of force against members of the public.
■ Half of black Americans report being treated unfairly by police because of their race, and their views of law enforcement are shaped by this experience.
■ There is widespread agreement that race relations in the United States are in a sorry state, but racial division exists on whether this contributes to police violence.
If you view the entire poll results, you will appreciate just how oblivious many whites are to the hardships faced by blacks in the United States, and this ignorance is possibly one of the key components in the negative reaction to white privilege that many whites express, who believe that they are living in a post-racial society, despite what the mountain of data and minority voices are saying. On the issue of police violence against blacks in the United States, President Obama said:
“The African-American community is not just making this up…It’s not something that’s just being politicized. It’s real. We as a society, particularly given our history, have to take this seriously.”
White Privilege in a Nutshell
The above mentioned stereotyping impacts directly and substantially on the opportunities denied to blacks in white societies. Consequently, they also bolster the privilege enjoyed by those who were fortunate enough to have been born with white skin in white majority countries. And here we arrive at the nexus of white privilege as a social reality. I’ll lay it out for you in point form:
- In the U.S. and other white majority countries, white people are the majority
- In-group preference is a reality
- In-group preference causes the majority to confer, consciously and/or unconsciously, benefits upon the majority whilst either consciously and/or unconsciously denying such benefits to members of out-groups (minorities).
- White people are afforded these unearned benefits because white people belong to the majority (in-group in control of the majority of society’s resources)
So relax! No one is calling you a racist. Although, I am of the opinion that if one is ignorant and arrogant enough to deny the existence of white privilege in the face of the overwhelming amount of evidence in support of it, that might make one either willfully ignorant or perhaps even in some cases racist-adjacent. I’d also like you to pay particular attention to whose precious little feelings I am having to console here.
And yes, I know what you are probably thinking. You’re probably thinking, “Well, I’m white and I am, or grew up, poor, so where is my privilege?! I will address that ill-contrived yet ostensibly rational criticism of white privilege (economic privilege argument) in the next and final piece. It is also worth noting that a study has shown this to be one of the most common obfuscations of the existence of white privilege. Within the body of this study, Phillips and Lowery of Stanford University remark:
‘Racial privilege persists in America today:Whites enjoy greater lifetime earnings (Hao, 2011), life expectancies (Bleich, Jarlenski, Bell, & LaVeist, 2012), access to health care (Smedley, Stith, & Nelson, 2003), and access to high-quality education (Rumberger, 2010) than do Blacks. Despite this reality, policymakers and power brokers continue to debate whether racial privilege even exists and whether to address such inequity (e.g., Baker & Fausset, 2015; Blow, 2014; New York Times, 2013; Robertson, Dewan, & Apuzzo, 2015; Spencer, 2015). One reason for this inaction might be an unwillingness among Whites to acknowledge racial privilege — acknowledgment that may be difficult given that Whites are motivated to believe that meritocratic systems and personal virtues determine life outcomes (Knowles & Lowery, 2012). What do people do when they are exposed to evidence that they are helped along by racial privilege? In a society roiling with questions about how to deal with expanding inequality (e.g., Noah, 2012; Porter, 2012), it is increasingly important to understand how the privileged – who are most likely to have power to make changes – respond to inequity’.
Phillips and Lowery go on to conclude:
‘The current work demonstrates that individuals exhibit a previously unknown response to evidence that they benefit from group inequity: people may accept that in-group privilege exists, but change their perceptions of their own lives in order to deny the role of systemic advantages in their success. In particular, when provided evidence that their group has benefited from privilege, Whites suggest that they have instead suffered the hard-knock life by claiming increased personal life hardships. This may serve to bolster their sense of legitimacy and reduce the negative attributional implications of privilege (e.g., Feather, 1992; Knowles& Lowery, 2012). Such a response has the potential to erode acknowledgement of racial inequity, and support for policies designed to reduce such inequity. To successfully address inequity, understanding the privileged is likely as important as understanding the underprivileged’.
This short blog post has only touched upon a few of the many areas in which white privilege confers unearned advantages upon whites in white majority societies, and the full extent of the evidence has not nearly been scratched. Below I have a small list of resources and readings for those truly interested in learning more about white privilege. As a final word, I do not raise the issue of white privilege because I feel an irrational sense of guilt for having been born white in a white majority country – I raise it because it is a fact, and facts are under no obligation to pander to your precious little feelings. I also believe that white people, those who enjoy this comprehensive package of unearned assets (invisible knapsack), should feel obliged at the very least acknowledge the advantages that white privilege has bestowed upon us, because as one study shows, acknowledging the existence of white privilege is the first step toward resolving and remedying both bigotry and racial inequality.
Despite the evidence presented here, not to mention the wealth of qualitative and quantitative data that exists in support of the fact of white privilege, I am almost certain that many who find it too hard to bear will still simply deny it or else employ ego-protecting rationalizations, and so I would like to conclude this part in the series with a few words from the father of Cognitive Dissonance Theory, social psychologist Leon Festinger, who made the following observation regarding belief persistence after studying a UFO cult in the U.S:
‘A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point. We have all experienced the futility of trying to change a strong conviction, especially if the convinced person has some investment in his belief. We are familiar with the variety of ingenious defenses with which people protect their convictions, managing to keep them unscathed through the most devastating attacks. But man’s resourcefulness goes beyond simply protecting a belief. Suppose an individual believes something with his whole heart; suppose further that he has a commitment to this belief, that he has taken irrevocable actions because of it; finally, suppose that he is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence, that his belief is wrong: what will happen? The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before. Indeed, he may even show a new fervor about convincing and converting other people to his view’.
White Privilege – (Miscellaneous) Academic Books, Articles & Studies
Melvin L. Oliver & Thomas M. Shapiro, Black Wealth/White Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Inequality (10th Anniversary Edition), New York: Routledge, 2006.
George Lipsitz, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006.
George Yancy, Black Bodies, White Gazes: The Continuing Significance of Race, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2008.
David Holmes, Kate Hughes and Roberta Julian, Australian Sociology: A Changing Society, Melbourne: Pearson Australia, 2015.
Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, 2nd Ed., New York: New York University Press, 2012.
Joe Feagin and Eileen O’Brien, White Men on Race: Power, Privilege and the Shaping of Cultural Consciousness, Boston: Beacon Press, 2003.
Bettina Bergo (ed.) and Tracey Nicholls, “I Don’t See Color”: Personal and Critical Perspectives on White Privilege, University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015.
Naomi Zack, White Privilege and Black Rights: The Injustice of U.S. Police Racial Profiling and Homicide, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.
Frances E. Kendall, Understanding White Privilege: Creating Pathways to Authentic Relationships Across Race, 2nd Ed., New York: Routledge, 2013.
Linda Faye Williams, The Constraint of Race: Legacies of White Skin Privilege in America, University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003.
Academic Articles & Studies
Naa Oyo A. Kwate and Melody S. Goodman, An empirical analysis of White privilege, social position and health
Linda Darling‐Hammond, Race, inequality and educational accountability: The irony of ‘No Child Left Behind’
Stella M. Nkomo and Akram Al Ariss, The historical origins of ethnic (white) privilege in US organizations
Stephanie M. Wildman, The Persistence of White Privilege
Michael R. Wenger, White Privilege
Nocona Pewewardy, MSW & Margaret Severson, MSW, JD, A Threat to Liberty: White Privilege and Disproportionate Minority Incarceration
Dan J. Pence and J. Arthur Fields, Teaching about Race and Ethnicity: Trying to Uncover White Privilege for a White Audience
Nathan R. Todd, Rachael L. Suffrin, Elizabeth A. McConnell,
and Charlynn A. Odahl-Ruan, Understanding Associations between Religious Beliefs and White Privilege Attitudes
Elizabeth A. McConnell and Nathan R. Todd, Differences in White Privilege Attitudes and Religious Beliefs Across Racial Affect Types
Nathan R. Todd, Elizabeth A. McConnell and Rachael L. Suffrin, The role of attitudes toward White privilege and religious beliefs in predicting social justice interest and commitment.
Ashley Davis & Sabrina Gentlewarrior, White Privilege and Clinical Social Work Practice:
Reflections and Recommendations
Todd Ruecker and Lindsey Ives, White Native English Speakers Needed: The Rhetorical Construction of Privilege in Online Teacher Recruitment Spaces
Nicholas Spaull, Poverty & Privilege: Primary School Inequality in South Africa