Recognizing my White Privilege

White Privilege – many deny it’s existence, unaware that the leg up they’ve received in their own lives simply because they’ve been born with the right skintone – yet in the wake of Mike Brown’s death in Ferguson, 12 year old Tamir Rice’s murder in Cleveland, and Eric Garner’s murder at the hands of police in New York many other whites are still having a hard time recognizing their own white privilege.

While I personally posses a trifecta of privilege – being straight, white, and male – I cannot deny that white privilege has probably been the most beneficial to me throughout my life, and most detrimental to my black counterparts throughout theirs.

Defining White Privilege

“Experts define White privilege as a combination of exclusive standards and opinions that are supported by Whites in a way that continually reinforces social distance between groups on the basis of power, access, advantage, majority status, control, choice, autonomy, authority, possessions, wealth, opportunity, materialistic acquisition, connection, access, preferential treatment, entitlement, and social standing (Hays & Chang, 2003; Manning & Baruth, 2009).”

Vang, C. T. (2010), An educational psychology of methods in multicultural education, New York: Peter Lang, pp. 36 and 37, ISBN 978-1-4331-0790-0




I think the above definition covers all the bases, but what are the roots of white privilege in America?

A Concise History Of Black-White Relations and White Privilege In The United States

A Concise History Of Black-White Relations & White Privilege In The United States: Source

Privilege generally occurs when any one group has the advantage of population, wealth, and power over another in any given area and over a given time frame – in America it’s blatantly obvious that whites have long held all three and blacks (among other races) have a very long history of being the marginalized group. Whites have the advantage having no immediate ancestry who were slaves or who couldn’t determine their own destiny, yet when asked if blacks still feel the effects of their ancestors’ slavery and later persecution after emancipation many whites will loudly pronounce that these events happened generations ago; forgetting that while generations of blacks were unable to amass wealth, property, or rights whites were doing just that and passing it all on to their children. Furthermore, barely a generation has passed since Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in the struggle for equality just 46 years ago.

White people must not believe that finally leveling the playing field 450 years after the foundation of a society actually eradicates white privilege because it is that very privilege that has been compiled and compressed over those long years on the backs of the blacks that our privilege disenfranchises.

The playing field isn’t level so long as white privilege exists – it’s just ever so slightly less advantageous to whites since legislation like the Civil Rights Act.

 My White Privilege

I grew up poor and without a stable father figure in my life, but when I compare my life to the life of a black male living just a couple miles down the road from me in the projects I know that it was much easier because the sole provider in my household (my mother) was always able to be employed in some way and she never had to worry about an employer holding her race against her – so we certainly struggled, but we didn’t struggle like someone who had difficulty finding employment might or who might make 1/3 less than his or her white counterparts.

Every interview I’ve ever had prior to the 2008 economic crash lasted roughly 5 minutes with instructions to either report to work the next day or after providing 2 weeks notice to my current employer, I recognize that isn’t a luxury often afforded to people of color.  In most of the jobs I’ve held I’ve always noticed that my black counterparts get nitpicked by white supervisors over performance issues while white employees – including myself  – with the same issues get no feedback regarding them. I’ve seen a number of black coworkers either pressured to leave their jobs or fired because their work was scrutinized far more than that of their peers.

I’ll likely never have to worry about my kids or relatives being killed by an overzealous police officer over some minor offense, in fact – my family tree has quite a few lawbreakers and brawlers in it, none of whom were shot 6 times at a distance of 135 feet as they surrendered.

As a white male my interactions with other white males are often superseded by racist remarks, epithets, and disrespect of President Obama- which leads to an often uncomfortable conversation about what words mean and why it’s not acceptable to pretend like it’s still 1950, even in Georgia. Some white people often assume that other white people think, act, vote, and discriminate just like they do – they feel a kinship based on race and a superiority to all others, and when confronted about this the time honored tradition of “my black friend” is always defense number one.

Simply because I am seen as “same” by white people I will be given the advantage of their business and their trust before a black person with the same or better skills – even though the very thought of our “sameness” makes us as different as night and day.

Without a doubt my white privilege has been a benefit to me in far more ways than mentioned here that I have the luxury of not recognizing in my life.


Admitting you have a problem is the first step toward correcting it so recognizing and admitting your own privilege as a white person opens the door to becoming an agent and an ally of change.

Beyond admission and recognition we must also be cognizant of our privileged behavior and speak up when racism occurs in our presence, align with people of color on issues that they find important, support strong voices in these communities, and become one in your own. It’s important that we shame those who say the shameful, and lift up those who carry our generation into a better place.

Listen and learn to become the best proponent of change that you can – and you will.

  • Jim Etchison

    Matt, I continue to enjoy your writing. You are a beacon of reason where it’s needed most.

    I have very recently learned a powerful lesson about white privilege. I also have the trifecta of privilege, being white, straight, and male. I have perhaps been overly optimistic about how little racism I’ve seen in my country, because I now work for a multi-national corporation. It’s run by members of a non-white country, who do not speak English as their primary language. After working here for almost seven years, I’ve realized that racism is woven into the institutions of their society. I can’t point to a single, specific person and say, “he is racist,” in fact, I don’t think any of those individuals actually are purposefully racist. They’re good people just like us.

    No, the racism is hidden in the shadows. It’s in the language, in the customs, in values. If a society were a mind, it tries consciously to be indifferent to race, but is subconsciously racist because it has been that way for centuries. America is no different. People think that we as a group of individuals are mostly not racist anymore. Consciously, that may be true, but the battle is far from over. Subconsciously, we’re all still racist, because the deep neural pathways that live at the subtlest regions of our brain were given racist defaults before we could even speak.

    We do not need to blame ourselves unless we lack the courage to humbly admit that we are, at least subconsciously, racist.

    • Jim,

      Thank you – for your comments and kind words.

      I think you’ve found what everyone is reading past in all the commentary that this post has generated (on Facebook) – most people aren’t overtly racist. They don’t go around calling every black person they meet the N word or setting out to not hire them for jobs they are qualified for, but built in biases that we’ve taken centuries to acquire have led us to think a certain way about people who are different from us – and it’s not just black people.

      Acknowledging it gives us the opportunity to check ourselves when we find ourselves doing it subconsciously – and that’s why I write things like this: because I’m as guilty as anyone else of having an inherent bias toward my own kind and I have as much inherent bias that I have to evaluate as I walk through life interacting with people that aren’t like me as anyone else.

      I’m not, like many want to believe, calling every white person a racist – I’m calling our brains biased and I’m also calling us good enough to overcome those biases thru conscious effort and intent.

  • #TroLL

    So your saying that white lives do not matter, and only the killing of blacks should be in the news? Cheer on the white women raped? Cheer on the white children murdered? If your wife, girlfriend, mother, sister were raped and murdered, that would be ok, no spot on the news, no nothing. But if a black man (not child) robs a store, beats the clerk, then tries to kill a cop, he is Time Magazines “Man of the Year”? Or if an obese black man, in the middle of committing a crime, is resisting arrest, and dies of complications of his health problems, NOT the choke hold, then he is Racist Al Sharpton’s newest martyr? Wait… Al “I am the criminal that owes millions in tax crimes” Sharpton holds more rallies for white deaths than blacks right? Oh wait,he holds some rallies for whites? Oh wait, he holds NO rallies for whites.

    It is not white privvy my friend, it is white guilt.

    Too bad only whites think that white lives matter huh? I wonder why whites do not loot and riot when blacks rape and kill young white girls? Or loot and riot when blacks kill white children? Or loot and riot when blacks kill white men? Hmmm.. Oh ya, we are at work, paying taxes, making sure that the protesters who are protesting, and NOT at work, NOT paying taxes, are getting their EBT card reloaded monthly, getting their Medicaid financed, getting their TANF checks on time…

    White lives do matter. Too bad they don’t matter to you! Your wife, girlfriend, mother, sister should be worried, because you will be on the side of the black man who has his hands up, and can’t breathe, after he rapes and kills them.

  • Thurston NeSmith

    What’s really not racist is how I can make $10,000 a month working from home. All you have to do is click my link to find out how.

    • I can’t believe my spam filter let this through…

  • CA

    I’m having an awful hard time finding my white privilege.

    Fuck this hippie bullshit, this stuff literally infuriates me. What privilege do I have? I’m a medically and honorably discharged veteran of the United States Marine Corps, and now that I’m back home, do any of you REALLY think that I came back to a hotshot lifestyle with money everywhere and a hero’s welcome? No! I came back to a normal life, albeit one that forces me to start back at square one.

    You people that out people based on their color, background, and gender are part of the problem that is outing individuals based on their color, background, and gender. The thing is, you’re all too fucking naive to realize this, along with being eager victims for your agenda.

    White privilege does not exist, and it certainly does not exist outside of your suburbs and private schools or wherever the fuck it us people who seriously believe in this shit. If it did, my whole family, who so happens to be white, would not have been struggling my entire life. Every white person around us would not be struggling. And every black and Latino and Asian and Native American person around us wouldn’t be struggling either.

    Black, Latino, Asian, or white, do you think I am going to respect you if I know your background is as some sort of fool that has no respect or consideration for others around them? No. The problem in this is how that persons racial culture identifies itself. For example, it’s really unfortunate that modern black culture is typically what the majority of people are exposed to via rap music. Anybody that listens to that is going to eventually have the ideas that pervade some rap music ingrained in them, and the vast majority of that “anybody” is going to inevitably be black people because it’s marketed as black music. Those ideas are typically based in negativity, and so you have a culture rooted in negativity. And that’s just one aspect of an infinite number of aspects.

    Where does the above merit respect or protection? And why doesn’t that hurt me and my amazing, nonexistent white privilege?

    It doesn’t hurt me or my amazing, nonexistent white privilege because I, along with millions of other whites – and black and Asians and Native Americans and all other races – is because we worked hard to distance ourselves from what we knew was wrong and immoral and worked doubly hard for any sort of advantage. We kept a clean presentation, clean mindset, clean morals, and clean hands, something these people who cry victim don’t have. These same people that you rush to the aid to. Again, you are too naive to see it that way.

    Now, I’m going to go search for my white privilege, because it’s awfully difficult living as a 21 year old disabled veteran. Maybe my white privilege will help me get into college with zero hassles. Maybe my white privilege will help me more quickly get the benefits my government owes me. Maybe my white privilege will help me get a job that pays more than minimum wage and more than twenty hours a week.

    If I had white privilege, and if it existed, I would use it to make all of you realize how you have all reached inaccurate conclusions.