White privilege serves no purpose but to further politicize an already-too-tribalistic and polarized political atmosphere. Instead of fanning the flames of identity politics, we should take a sober look at the data available on racial class structure in the United States, and foster a genuine discussion about how to mend the trends to which those on the Left all-too-often blame on the mystical notion of ‘white privilege.’
The idea of ‘white privilege,’ one which I choose to surround with air quotes to highlight my derision of the term, is the Left’s most recent attempt at taking an institution like race and turning it into one of culpable intention. ‘White privilege’ is a way to discredit the successes and opinions of individuals who are not of color or those who do not belong to a minority group. In other words, “You’re not historically oppressed, so close your mouth.” I find the whole idea to be degree a racism in reverse of how it is often mentioned, and challenge anyone who believes otherwise to make a convincing argument that condemning another group based on the color of their skin – the skin color with which they were born – is not racist. This is not to insinuate that racism has never existed in the United States, or that every corner of the nation has been purged of the idea. That is simply not true. Suggesting that it is an ongoing institution that is successfully feeding power to a white establishment, however, is also not true.
Peggy McIntosh, who serves as the Associate Director of the Wellesley Center for Women, defines ‘white privilege’ as an “invisible knapsack of unearned assets.” White people enjoy perks that non-whites do not enjoy, and white people are more likely to earn successes based solely on the color of their skin, as opposed to those who are not white. White people are immune to the challenges of society, and the world around us is shaped by white culture, which non-whites are restricted from enjoying. Among the more ridiculous claims of ‘white privilege’ I have heard are those found in Jennifer Holladay’s White Anti-Racist Activism: A Personal Roadmap, where Holladay writes in agreement with Peggy McIntosh’s idea that the light tones of Band-Aids are a product of ‘white privilege.’ If you are a minority, you are being forced to live in a society that is dictated by white culture, and that it is utterly inescapable, no matter the level of educational attainment or financial status. It is tragic to have such a barrier to genuine discourse as the ‘white privilege’ narrative. Too often is it used to silence, as it was in The Arch Conservative’s annual Spring lecture, rather than to promote consequential and altruistic dialogue aimed to address the issues that both those who do and those who do not employ the term lament. To insinuate that the white race is guilty of imposing some underground social institution that will continue to keep black men and women under the boot of racial oppression not only disregards the social, economic, and cultural data available regarding race structure in the United States, but is a purely emotional presumption. Subjectivity aside, facts trump emotion …
The Economics Behind ‘White Privilege’
The first argument that discredits the idea of ‘white privilege’ is economic. For example, one assumption highlighted by conservative commentator and author Ben Shapiro is that many in the black community believe that race discrimination is commonly practiced by lenders to those who apply for loans from banks or other financial institutions. Sarah Harkness, a sociology professor at the University of Iowa, conducted a study showing that, ultimately, black women and white men were lent to at the same percentage, defeating the arguments to race and gender altogether. So, where did the federal government obtain the data to support the inaction of a lending program that would increase the number of loans granted to those of minority status? The notion sounds like a form of financial affirmative action, and it indubitably is. Moreover, we hear often enough that capitalism breeds the desire for money. Well, yes, exactly. Therefore, the lender lends to those who can pay the interest and garner the lender a profit. To discriminate against qualified minority clients is to miss out on profit. Even the not-so-economically minded Bernie Sanders would be quick to point out that the greedy lender would jump at the opportunity. Another statistical bombshell comes with the proof that white people do not have the highest household income in the United States.
Contrary to common belief, Asian-Americans seem to be the wealthiest family unit in the United States. A report released by the Institute on Assets and Social Policies revealed that the median household income for an Asian-American family is $58,000.00, while the average white family’s median household income is only about $48,000.00 a year. When this is broken down into smaller ethnic sub-groups, the gaps between races become much greater. A Japanese-American household’s median income is $70,000.00 a year, while French-American households trail behind at $61,000.00 a year. Iranian-American households bring in $72,000.00 a year, while Dutch-American households bring in $59,000.00 a year. The wealthiest ethnic group in the United States is Indian-American, which is not white. Doesn’t the term “Asian privilege” sound more fitting to the data; or is the idea of the Left using that term laughable? No, they do not dare employ the term, because it simply does not fit the narrative.
Also surprising is that the report reveals certain black sub-ethnicities to be more financially stable than the average black American family unit. On average, Nigerian-American families bring in an average of $62,000.00 per year, and the average Ghanaian-American household sees a yearly income of $59,000.00. How is it logical, therefore, to argue that we are living in a society where higher financial statuses are achieved by white people, when certain black sub-ethnicities consistently see greater annual household incomes than white ethnicities? How do these black ethnicities see a greater financial status than other non-ethnic black American families? The answer is simple; it boils down to culture and choices.
In 2003, the National Center for Policy Analysis published a study which emphasized that there were a series of crucial steps that individuals, black, white, and otherwise, should be taking to avoid poverty. The first step is to stay in school (finishing high school, university, tech school). Those who did not complete high school find their chances of living in poverty 11% higher than those who completed high school. Can you make a logical explanation for why the successes of black and white cultures generally contrast when the white dropout rate is 14% as opposed to a black dropout rate of 31%? Is it any surprise that whites have a higher income than non-ethnic black American families in the aggregate? And back to those Nigerian-Americans… Is it any surprise that their annual income is far greater than non-ethnic black American families when they are considered the most highly-educated black ethnicity in the United States (17% have Master’s degrees)? Again, the sooner we look to the facts, the sooner we can begin to have a serious and consequential discussion about how to budge that dropout rate through mending education policy and the like.
The Legal and Sociological Foundation of ‘White Privilege’
There is a familiar simplicity in basing the argument against ‘white privilege’ on the black community’s own portrayal of absent fathers in popular culture. However, rap music and Tyler Perry movies are not to blame for the heightened the incarceration of black men that has contributed massively to the problematic trend. Our government, with figures on both sides of the political aisle, have aided in the erosion of the black family unit. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan declared a ‘War on Drugs,’ with the idea of which being popularized by President Richard M. Nixon in 1971. President Reagan’s policies regarding convictions of drug abusers stemmed from mania garnered by the media’s portrayal of “crack,” a smokeable form of cocaine, in the late 1970’s, and early 1980’s. Although the Reagan Administration amplified legal ramifications for drug abusers, President Bill Clinton’s Administration is responsible for eliminating inconsistencies between criminal sentences in cases involving crack and powder cocaine. Clinton’s stance on the harsh penalties faced by drug abusers changed dramatically during his transition from Presidential candidate to Commander in Chief. President Clinton has since admitted to this mistake – if you don’t believe me, take a look at his 1994 crime bill.
Many fail to realize that men and women in the black community are also statistically the least prepared to become parents. Black Americans more commonly give birth to children out of wedlock, either to men who are fatherless or to teenage mothers. According to the most recent Census data, 72% of black American households are headed by a single mother while only 29% of white households and 17% of Asian households are headed by single mothers. This means that 83% of Asian-American households have two parents with a steady income. Is it a surprise that they experience far greater financial success than, say, white or black families? Ethnicities with higher percentages of single-mother-run households simply have higher chances of falling below the poverty line. White people are not forcing fathers to walk out on their families, rather, the government’s subsidizing of single-motherhood has created perverse incentives and the War on Drugs displaces parents in jail away from their children for non-violent offenses. At the very least, these clear correlations in very relevant data should be discussed, rather than dismissed promptly upon–arrival. These articles select the data that fit their narrative rather than struggling with the more significant data: the percentage of black children growing up without fathers.
Making the conjecture that white people are inherently racist, with no sociological evidence or data to support your claims, means that you are making a de facto racist conjecture. Herein lies a devilish irony in the Left’s agenda to use the courts and legislature to impose programs upon the American people that are paraded as ‘racially inclusive,’ while failing to acknowledge that the government has throughout history served as the sole inhibitor to equality of opportunity. Is it plausible to assume that programs like affirmative action and equal hiring are, on their face, a less-than suitable remedy for past racial discrimination and inherently racist in practice? Perhaps there was a time where these practices were needed, but surely we can now forgo the Left’s somewhat implicit assumption that minority groups within the United States are bound to the very social stereotypes which they condemn, and that they are incapable of achieving economic academic, economic, and professional success without assistance from the very same body that served as a barrier to their freedoms a couple despicable decades ago.
If we are going to racially disaggregate the data that supposedly supports the notion of ‘white privilege’ (poverty rates, educational attainment, etc.), we must also compare other racially disaggregated sets of data. What is undeniable upon viewing this data is that there are plenty more explanations than the color of one’s skin as to why people of color are, as a group, more likely to be materially worse off. And yet, to which explanations do the Left tend to lean toward?
Perhaps it is the manipulative ‘race-baiting’ tactic so well-employed in Detroit that it contributed to the destruction of the city. Perhaps it is mere negligence. Perhaps it is the product of the horrid memories of racism in the past. There is no doubt that the Left’s intentions in this discussion are altruistic, but, as Milton Friedman aptly notes, “sincerity is a much-overrated virtue.” On the topic of ways to resolve these statistical realities, I know not exactly where to begin. However, imperative to a discussion that will yield such commonly-sought results is the realization that crying ‘white privilege’ accomplishes nothing except to fuel an already-too-tribalistic political atmosphere. The country can suffer through such demagoguery no more.
— Andrew Logan Lawrence is a junior studying Political Science. He has previously served as Chairman of Young Americans for Freedom, works actively in campus reform, and is a former columnist for the Savannah Morning News. He is a new contributor to The Arch Conservative.
1. McIntosh, Peggy. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” 1990. Accessed March 14, 2017. https://www.deanza.edu/faculty/lewisjulie/White%20Priviledge%20Unpacking%20the%20Invisible%20Knapsack.pdf.
2. Holladay, Jennifer R. “On Racism and White Privilege .” Accessed March 14, 2017. http://www.intergroupresources.com/rc/primer%20on%20white%20privlege.pdf.
4. Mattson, Amy. “African-American Females Have Good Odds to Get a Loan.” Iowa Now. March 19, 2015. Accessed March 14, 2017. https://now.uiowa.edu/2013/08/african-american-females-have-good-odds-get-loan.
5. Data Access and Dissemination Systems (DADS). (2010, October 05). Population Profiles in the United States. Retrieved July 26, 2017, from https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=bkmk
6. Bailey, Blake. “How Not to Be Poor.” National Center for Policy Analysis. January 15, 2003. Accessed March 14, 2017. http://www.ncpa.org/pub/ba428.
7. Baker, Peter. “Bill Clinton Concedes His Crime Law Jailed Too Many for Too Long.” The New York Times. July 15, 2015. Accessed March 14, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/16/us/politics/bill-clinton-concedes-his-crime-law-jailed-too-many-for-too-long.html?_r=0.
8. Washington, Jesse. “Blacks Struggle with 72% Unwed Mothers Rate.” NBCNews.com. November 07, 2010. Accessed March 14, 2017. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/39993685/ns/health-womens_health/t/blacks-struggle-percent-unwed-mothers-rate/#.WMgXlJfD-Ul.