I Really Hate the Phrase “White Privilege”

I really hate the phrase “White Privilege” for so many reasons, probably none of them what you’re thinking right now.

“White Privilege” implies that, somehow, being white confers on people certain benefits that other people do not have, but using the world “privilege” implies that maybe people should not always have those things.  But what things fall under “white privilege”?  Access to decent education, being treated respectfully by the police when you are compliant, and not being detained when you are not a suspicious person leap to mind.  Those things don’t sound like “privilege” to me; it sounds like the way life ought to be.  People should have access to education, not as a privilege but as a right.  Persons who are cooperative with the police should not have good cause to fear those police.  People should be free to come and go as they please when they are not suspicious.  Those are rights, not privileges.

Privileges can be taken away, sometimes for no reason at all.  Privileges are advantages that maybe everybody shouldn’t have.  So when people talk about “white privilege” but they list things that sound like rights, it makes me nervous.  It makes it sound like they don’t understand that those are rights, and that all people (and I’m specifically including black people when I say that) ought to be able to enjoy them.  Is frequent unlawful detention really the way the world ought to work?  No, of course not.

This leads to another reason I hate the phrase “white privilege”.  One of the things I hate about the phrase “white privilege” is that it takes the focus off the real problem, “black oppression”.  Using the phrase “white privilege” immediately puts the focus on the lifestyles of white people, and the rights they get to enjoy.  But there’s literally not a problem with having access to education – there is a problem when you are denied education.  The problem is not that white people are privileged, but that black people are oppressed.  Black people should have access to education and be secure when they have to deal with the police.

Yes, the lives that white people lead seem to have something extra when compared to the lives that black persons live under similar circumstances, but that’s not the result of “privilege”, but the fact that white people’s rights are respected when black people’s are not.  In a roundabout way, that is the point that the people who talk about Asians are trying to make when the conversation comes up; they are trying to say “White people are not privileged, because see here, there’s another race that is also doing fine”.  When a white person defends that they are not privileged, they are not changing the topic.  It was changed when we started talking about “white privilege” instead of “black oppression”.  We have to stop changing the topic as soon as we start talking about the oppression of black people, and the phrase “white privilege” immediately derails the conversation and changes the topic.  I believe our goal should not be to undermine the rights of white people, but to finally, at long last, recognize the rights of black people.

So yes, I recognize that there seems to be something extra in the lives of white people, but I refuse to call it a “privilege” because I believe everyone ought to be entitled to their rights.  If we could focus on how black people are being oppressed instead of changing the topic as soon as it comes up, we might finally make some progress.


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