Racism has been prevalent for centuries. And it has been an issue that requires action for just as long. Racism is defined as a system of advantage based on race. Due to this racism, white people are those that receive the greatest advantage. White privilege is the term given to that advantage. According to Peggy McIntosh, “white privilege is an invisible package of unearned assets” (McIntosh, 1). George Lipsitz similarly defined white privilege as “the unmarked category against which difference is constructed” (Lipsitz, 1). This privilege has worked its way to underpinning the systemic inequality within the United States through its belief to be the norm and securing its authority as such. Racism comes in multiple forms all of which can be overt or covert. Examples of such forms include Cultural that is the cultural images and messages that assert the dominance of whites and the supposed inferiority of people of color. Another example is that of Institutional racism which is formal practices and traditions in social organizations that harm or deny the same opportunities for some racial groups as others.
Over time much of the racism exemplified in the aforementioned forms has become covert as many have come to believe that racism is not an issue any more. However, racism is as big an issue as it always has been due as a whole to the fact that ‘white’ is not considered to be a racial identity. This simple fact is the key to unlocking all of racism and white privilege. We as a population see white as the normal state, and the proper one. We are taught to think that our lives are “morally neutral, normative and average, and also ideal” (McIntosh, 2). This has caused us to erase from our minds the idea of our being privileged at the cost of others, forcing their being underprivileged. Due to this we believe that when we work to assist others and other racial groups, what we do is seen as work that would make and let other racial groups be more like us whites. This has been perpetuated through history as white power was originally pinned on the manipulation of other races centuries ago. The white settlers pitted racial outsiders against one another “to compete with each other for white approval, and to seek the rewards and privileges of whiteness” (Lipsitz, 3).
An example of such is how in history classes, we are taught that we live in a world which is the way it is now because white people made it the way so. Our collective history is shaped by the experience of the white population. This is similarly reflected in the curricular materials that are circulated in schools everywhere. These books tell the history of the world form the point of view of the white man, rarely if ever discussing the lifestyles and history of other cultures and peoples, except for when and how they relate to the history of the white. All of this is to say that the lifestyle and ability of the white population was, and is, to be idealized and strived for, however never to be truly granted. For that would mean that the same privileges to be granted to someone who is of a different racial group would be to diminish the availability of that privilege for whites. White privilege has sustained as it has due to much the similar reason, the white race is not considered to be a race like the others and perpetuates itself as being what is the norm.
In doing so it allows the privileges it provides to remain unrecognized and unchecked. This means “white power secures its dominance by seeming not to be anything in particular” (Lipsitz, 1). Most will not recognize that they benefit from their whiteness and simply believe that the way that they live their life is what is the right and proper way. This can also be blamed partly on the idea of a “meritocracy” which states that democratic choice is available to all equally, which is not the case. In fact a white person getting a job is more likely than a person of color, with the same qualifications, receiving the job. This exemplifies how white privilege provides a service to whites that they will believe was based solely on merit, because maybe they had one more year of experience or a few extra GPA points that one year. This form of privilege is also granted in cases such as these due to prejudice and stereotyping of people of color.
The entire idea of a meritocracy preserves white privilege as it keeps most people unaware to the privilege they have daily, instead having them believe that their success is due wholly to their own work ethic and ability, when in fact their race has opened doors for them that would have otherwise stayed shut. Not only does white privilege grant opportunities, it protects from “many kinds of hostility, distress and violence” (McIntosh, 4). Examples of such are numerous, especially in light of recent events in Ferguson and cases of violence and killing of the white cops against black men. Due to white privilege’s historic foundations, and current state of ignorant bliss, it will persist and prevail as it has for centuries.
So long as those who benefit from white privilege do not recognize it for what it is, a system of advantage and disadvantage given to people based solely on race, it will continue to underpin all structures of culture and society. Due to its foundation as a basis for the society we live in, it will take a great force of awareness and comprehension of what it means to be privileged and how racism is more than “individual acts of meanness” (McIntosh, 5). It will also require the willingness of the privileged to give up the privilege they have grown so accustomed to having, and accepting it for the unfair advantage it is. Only then can we truly begin to change the ways that our systems of culture and society work.
McIntosh, Peggy. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Rachel’s Democracy & Health News [Annapolis] 15 Feb. 2007: n. pag. Print.
Lipsitz, George. “1.” The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1998. N. pag. Print.