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White Privilege: A Case of Collective Guilt and Accidental Condescension
On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. orated his famous “I Have a Dream” speech where he shared his vision of the future with the world: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Since then, America has come a long way in pursuit of building the world that Martin Luther King Jr. had dreamt of. America elected its first black president, Barack Obama, in 2008 and there are more conversations being had around issues of race than ever. One of the terms we increasing hear being mentioned is the concept of privilege - notably ‘white privilege.’
White privilege as a concept has gained prominence as a colloquialism that often pops up in conversations dealing with matters of race and interracial dynamics. What exactly is white privilege? We can start by examining the definition:
“White privilege, or white skin privilege, is the societal privilege that benefits white people over non-white people in some societies.” - Wikipedia
Based on the definition, we can infer that white privilege communicates a belief that there is a hierarchy where people who have white skin have an inherent privilege that people with different skin colors, minorities, do not.
Next we can outline two common scenarios where white privilege is often invoked:
When a white person is sharing their opinion on something to which someone else gives a response along the lines of, “Check your white privilege and sit down to make space for other voices.”
When a white person makes an apology of sorts for having white privilege to a minority for perceived imbalances in power.
The first scenario can be accurately chalked up as an ad hominem attack to silence white people from sharing their opinions on a topic on the basis of identity. Determining whether or not someone’s voice should be silenced or judging who they are on the basis of skin color rather than the content of their character is a deep moral wrong. A person’s identity has no bearing on the legitimacy of an argument and white people should not meekly accept being silenced. White people today do not need to feel collective guilt for sins committed by white people yesterday.
Before examining the second scenario lets peel back the layers and compare the concept of white privilege to the concept of white supremacy.
“White supremacy or white supremacism is the belief that white people are superior to those of other races.” - Wikipedia
When comparing the definition of white privilege to that of white supremacy it becomes clear that there is overlap as both concepts are defined such that white people inherently have an edge up on other races. This hilarious comedy sketch from Ryan Long pokes fun at how racists and the woke have similar outlooks even if the intentions might be different. In addition let’s also examine the psychological state of learned helplessness:
“Learned helplessness occurs when an individual continuously faces a negative, uncontrollable situation and stops trying to change their circumstances, even when they have the ability to do so.” - Psychology Today
To invoke white privilege is to rob minorities of their agency and to treat them as lesser incompetent beings who are incapable of solving their own problems. Therefore, when examining the second scenario (where white privilege is directed towards a minority) minorities should reject the concept of white privilege; to accept white privilege is to accept an inferiority complex that is being imposed on them by the woke and others who preach the ideology of white privilege. To accept white privilege is for minorities to accept their destiny is to fall into a never ending state of learned helplessness - a cycle that can only be broken by seizing control over their destinies.
Ultimately, white privilege is a concept that punishes white people for the wrongs of those they happen to have shared similar skin tones with in the past and robs minorities of their agency by invoking similar hierarchical logic (in placing minorities below white people) as that leveraged by white supremacists. For white privilege to remain popularized is to surrender to past sins and abandon Martin Luther King Jr’s dream of a country where people are judged on the strength of their character rather than the color of their skin. It is time to stop letting ghosts from the past haunt us and for Americans to join hands with one another as we venture closer to the future MLK dreamt of.