In Brief—The currently popular phrase, “Check your privilege,” suggests that whiteness confers advantages not enjoyed by people of color who are most often disadvantaged by the difference in skin color.
The Advantages of Whiteness—
They called me “Whitey.” It stung but it influenced my life’s philosophy. I experienced what it was like to be “The Other.” It was a long time ago when I was one of very few Anglos in a school where most students were Hispanic. They were the majority while I was one of only three in the class whose skin was of a lighter hue than my classmates. Does it mean that they are clannish and tribal like the rest of humanity? Yes, but it also reveals what it is like in a society long identified with “whiteness” and the privilege that goes with it. For our purposes, American society.
By now, many of you have read about the Princeton freshman, Tal Fortgang, who recently wrote an essay that expressed resentment over the expression of fellow students that suggested his efforts and that of his grandparents and parents weighed little in the scheme of things. He has naturally been embraced by the Right Wing while in my view as well as that of many others, he has missed the clear but sometimes obscured point that “Check your privilege” means that whiteness confers advantages that are not given to those of a different skin color, notably people with black and brown and, to a lesser degree, yellow skins. As far as I can see, it has nothing to do with individual or family efforts or respect for education, but everything to do with structural racism that exists today and has existed since the nation’s founding.
Years of respected research have shown that Black and Hispanic children are far more likely to attend public schools that receive significantly less money than schools in wealthy areas; that college graduates of color not only make significantly less on graduation than comparably-educated white men, they make less throughout their careers; that accused defendants of color receive tougher sentences than white defendants with the same charges, and so on at all levels. Recall that more than a hundred thousand people of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated during WWII despite a total absence of evidence of disloyalty and based solely on being “The Other.”
A cursory glance through the daily press shows that discrimination against people of color exists in education, law enforcement, the courts, the workplace and generally throughout American society. To ignore the implications is to hide one’s basic, often subconscious, assumptions and biases.
Since many reading this are of the white hue, readers are challenged to examine their own assumptions. You may be surprised at what you find. Check your privilege.