Privilege is the greatest enemy of equality. This quote from a noted Austrian novelist, Marie Von Ebner-Eschenbach, perhaps describes the harm of white privilege on American society. By its very definition privilege is a grace bestowed on one over another (Webster, 2006). In that sense, privilege is in and of itself an opposition to equality. In racial terms, if one group has been historically privileged over another, there will never be equality between the groups until a catastrophic new beginning can occur removing all trace of the bestowed privilege.
White American privilege is the result of a country developing around a racially charged society featuring whites on top. Since the inception of colonial America, Whites heeded themselves as the superior race. This is seen evident through the submission and elimination of the Native Americans as well as most directly in the institution of slavery. As the nation of riches began to develop, and the American Dream came into fruition, nonwhites were left out of any chance to profit. Skip ahead to present day and we see a nation that has made drastic leaps toward social equality between races, but still struggles with remnants of the past.
Simply put, white privilege is the social advantage given to whites through wealth and power that nonwhites never had the opportunity to earn. Despite all of societys strides toward racial equality, how do you equalize the advantages one group has had over another? The most obvious advantage today is that of wealth. White Americans have had greater opportunity for previous generations to accumulate and pass on wealth to todays members, whereas nonwhite Americans were historically denied the opportunity to do so.
Specific cases include the subjugation of a race with Native Americans, the enslavement of race as seen with Black Americans, and the fleecing of a race as seen with Japanese Americans. However, perhaps most prevalent, but certainly not obvious is the power that White Privilege bestows to White Americans. In a society being controlled by white Americans, it is natural for that society to show a bias toward whites. This bias manifests itself through legislation, opportunities and within the very fabric of society itself.
However prevalent its effects might be, White Privilege seems nonexistent to those who benefit from it (McIntosh, 1989). In modern American society, as a nation that has existed with White Privilege, it is commonplace and goes by unnoticed to white Americans. Among its subtle manifestations, but arguably the most relevant, is the fact that actions committed by a white individual are attributed to that individual and very seldom to their race, whereas, actions committed by nonwhites are usually viewed as stereotypical of their race, even if those actions are in fact atypical.
It is in these subtleties that the often made argument that disenfranchised white Americans do not benefit from the effects of White Privilege is proved inaccurate. The factor of wealth only gives a reason as to why white privilege exists. The fact that all but a very small percentage of wealthy Americans are white correlates to that fact that all but a very small percentage of Americans in power are white. The bias and controlling interest exerted by this white power majority is apparent through all aspects of American government.
As described in The Coming White Majority a black man recalls coming to America, he quotes, We came here as Africans, but no one called us Africans. They called us Negroes (Maharidge, 1996). White Privilege is a phenomenon that cannot directly be undone. As discussed the underlying causes of White Privilege exist in the mindset and power structure of American society. Perhaps most conceivable would be to begin by diversifying the power structure of the government. However, as has been proven many times in American government, politics are won through financial support.
So for this reason, we look again to wealth and must focus on equalizing the wealth of the nation. If, through these steps, we engineer a social system that has power equally distributed among races, there still remains the perceived power created by societal mindset. Unlike tangible aspects of government office and wealth, how can we conceivable attempt to change the minds of an entire society of people (Bonilla-Silva, 2006). It can be presumed that the only way to begin to undertake this task is through education. Contrary to popular belief, race cannot be ignored.
Race education will help to educate both white Americans to be aware of phenomenon such as White Privilege, and to help educate nonwhite Americans in what to expect living in a society filled with White Privilege. As discussed, White Privilege is a permeating factor of American society and its effects slowly widen the riff between white and nonwhite Americans. However, although difficult, it is possible to begin to overcome the effects granted by White Privilege. Ignoring nonrealistic way such as a mass racial equalizing of wealth and power, the first step is to educate both sides of society in race relations throughout.
After all, as has been coined may times, education and understanding are the end all of strife and despair. Works Cited Webster. Websters Dictionary. 2006 McIntosh, P. White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Peace and Freedom. July 1989. Maharidge, D. The Coming White Minority. Random House Inc, 1996. Bonilla-Silva, E. Racialized Social System Approach to Racism, in Gallagher, Charles. Rethinking the Color Line: Readings in Race and Ethnicity. 3rd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006.