Hello, I’m here to apologize for the “black privilege” that I, as a black woman, benefit from every day! Just kidding. But CNN’s John Blake spoke to some real people who really believe in this—that “black privilege” is a thing, while white privilege, of course, is not.
In an in-depth piece, Blake spoke to a few white citizens—one of whom wrote a book called Black Skin Privilege and the American Dream—who feel African Americans have an unfair advantage in the U.S. that’s evidenced by things like (1) affirmative action, (2) insane white people deciding they want to be black like Rachel Dolezal and (3) Black History Month.
“In America you can’t even talk about whiteness,” said Drew Domalick, who lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin. “If you try to embrace being white, you are portrayed as being a racist. If we had a White History Month, that would be viewed as a racist holiday.”
Dominick represents a not-so-new group of white folks dedicating their thoughts and ire to the idea that—as white privilege becomes more legible to “mainstream” America—there must be a way to fight it. Their weapon is the symmetrical but false idea of “black privilege.”
Blake even cites a “Black Privilege Checklist” that points out organizations like the NAACP: apparently some of these white people believe they can’t have equivalent organizations because then they’d be labeled racist. What they don’t mention is that there is a group like the NAACP for white people, and it’s every political organization in this country. Pick any single one.
Blake writes that he asked a few scholars about “black privilege” and received both giggles and fury, the latter from Peggy McIntosh. A retired Wellesley College professor, McIntosh wrote an essay called “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” in 1989, breaking down how white privilege swirls around white folks without them ever noticing how they benefit from it, until someone points it out and they become defensive. Here’s an excerpt:
“I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed; If a traffic cop pulls me over ... I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.”
Now McIntosh sees the push to make “black privilege” a credible threat as a “prolonged whine” from spoiled people who don’t want to be checked or challenged.
Blake is careful to point out part of the endless slew of disparities illustrating how black folks have to fight an uphill battle that whites simply don’t. Here are just a few:
The wealth of white households is 13 times the median wealth of black households. Black children represent 18% of the nation’s preschool enrollment but make up nearly half of all children with multiple suspensions. Job applicants with white-sounding names are 50% more likely to get called back for an interview than similarly qualified applicants with black-sounding names. And prison sentences for black men are nearly 20% longer than those of white men convicted for similar crimes.
And then there’s the unavoidable fact that, after World War II, the G.I. Bill gave white veterans a government-funded education and financial help to purchase homes in areas where minorities weren’t allowed to live. This leg up was not available to black soldiers, cutting them out of a financial base to build a solid financial future upon, which Rev. Jim Wallis writes about in his book America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America.
“I’m the beneficiary of the biggest affirmative action program in American history,” Wallis says. “A free education, a loan for a house. But black veterans didn’t get it. We got made middle-class by our government program. It was good. That’s privilege.”
Former Daily Show host Jon Stewart and Fox News blowhard Bill O’Reilly parsed this same topic recently, and O’Reilly himself had to admit that white privilege is pretty much a thing. Nonetheless, it’s hard to believe that there’s much hope for anyone who believes in “black privilege” in 2016.
Image via Getty.