got privilege? : Thoughts on White Privilege in America

by: Terrence A. Merkerson

***This is not written to offend, admonish, or shame anyone specifically. It is purely to acknowledge the systematic privileges afforded to the dominant that creates unfair advantages and puts marginalized groups at a significant detriment.

What is privilege? In the scope of our purposes, privilege represents the advantages and immunities afforded to the dominant group. It is important to acknowledge that privilege is directly correlated to power. Those who have power, in the form of social, political and economic capital, are innately inclined to benefit from their status. I want to focus on the privileges yielded in relation to race.
As a Black man, I have always been acutely aware of where I stand in America. I am constantly reminded of adversarial factors that affect me and other members of my race. As disheartening as it may be, this is the reality that Black people face in this country and we have very little capacity to change it. White privilege, in particular is one form of privilege that unfavorably affects all other minorities. Let me be clear not to confuse racism with privilege. They are interrelated in a number of different ways, be they are quite different in application. Racism is voluntary in its prejudice. Privilege, which historically stems from racism, is often involuntary and unconscious because of its institutional and structural foundations. The greatest benefit of White Privilege is its invisibility. Most white people are not confronted with their privilege because most of our country is still very much segregated. Without meaningful racial interaction, it is nearly impossible for a white person to recognize how deeply they may benefit from simply being white.
The typical response that I receive when I have these kinds of discussions with my white friends or associates is something that I like to call “Defense, by Inclusion”. Often, I will hear things like:
“Well, I grew up poor too! We both have had similar struggles.”
“Race shouldn’t matter. I’m colorblind, the color of somebody’s skin shouldn’t matter.”
Or more recently,
“It’s not that Black lives don’t matter, #AllLivesMatter.”

These are other examples as to how some White People are oblivious to their privilege. Obviously, poverty affects more than just one or two races; it is a global epidemic. There is a shared experience amongst those living in poverty, but it is not so much the experience that is significant, it is the disproportionate racial gap of those who are living that experience. Black people in America are two times more likely to live in poverty. The average Black household has accumulated less than one-tenth of the wealth of the average White household. The median income for Black households are about 60% less than that of White households. I’m not going to even touch the employment rate disparity. There is significance in shared experience, but when less than 10% of all White Americans live in poverty, compared to nearly 30% of all Blacks, the associations between the two fall short


Another phrase mis-aimed towards inclusiveness is the excuse of being “colorblind”. Just being able to say that is a statement of privilege in itself. People of Color are not afforded the luxury of being “colorblind” because we are confronted with our race every single day. The truth of the matter is that RACE DOES MATTER! A LOT. What a lot of White people fail to realize is that WE WANT YOU to acknowledge race! Saying that you are “colorblind” is dismissive and completely untrue. You know my ass is Black, Hispanic, Latino, Asian, or Middle Eastern as soon as you see me. By acknowledging our differences and creating a dialogue as to how we can minimize those differences, we can inch closer to this non-existent, “post-racial” society that many people speak of. But until opportunities are fair, free and open and people of all races and nationalities have EQUAL access to them, kill that “post-racial” non-sense. I’m Black. I know it and you know it. By not acknowledging my race, you are also not acknowledging my experience, my history and my heritage and that is the exact opposite of what we ALL need. Do not allow history to make us uncomfortable and inattentive.

The #BlackLivesMatter campaign is in place to spread awareness and protest violence against black bodies. In an attempt to undermine this movement, some White person somewhere decided to state the obvious. Of course #AllLivesMatter, but “All Lives” have not been affected as heinously and unjustly as Black lives. “All Lives” have not had to endure the outright assault, battering and murder of members of their race. “All Lives” have not faced the highest levels prejudice and discrimination for the last 239 years in the United States. Black people stating that #BlackLivesMatter is not a proclamation to suggest that other lives do not matter. Stating that #AllLivesMatter as a direct response to #BlackLivesMatter is a refusal to acknowledge the specialized plight of Black people in America. Divesting race from the conversation just fuels the cycle of willful ignorance and obliviousness in regard to race relations in America. It also perpetuates the White Privilege of not having to experience life in racial terms, as People of Color must do every day. Saying #AllLivesMatter as a direct response to #BlackLivesMatter is the contemporary equivalent of yelling “White Power” and waving a pale (or brazenly-tanned) fist in the face of all Black Americans. #AllLivesMatter is a rebuttal or counter-statement to #BlackLivesMatter, disguised as a misguided attempt at inclusiveness.

Dead that shit.
–Thanks, Black People.

There are many forms of dominant privilege that detrimentally affect our society. When gone unchecked, Male Privilege is as equally as demonstrative as White Privilege, if not more. There is also Heterosexual Privilege, Able-Bodied Privilege, Religious Privilege, Economic Privilege and many others. It is the responsibility of members of the dominant group to be ever-cognizant of the advantages that they benefit from and avoid utilizing those advantages when they present themselves. We must educate ourselves to better understand and empathize the challenges that others face. We must hold other members of the dominant group accountable and call them on their bullshit. Call for fairness. Advocate for equality. If you truly wish to be inclusive, do the work; don’t dismiss it.

To the non-dominant groups, keep fighting the good fight.

Terrence Merkerson is the Founder & Creator of Avenue Fifteen. Terrence earned Bachelor’s Degrees in both Political Science and Gender/Race Studies from the University of Alabama. Terrence also completed Graduate School at the University of Alabama earning a Master’s Degree in Communication.

He currently resides in Baton Rouge, LA.


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