Defining White Privilege

As you all know, the news is full of terms that are not ever clearly defined. They shift like sand or wind in the hands of an unscrupulous author. I am talking about terms like socialism, communism, Marxism, capitalism, Critical Race Theory, white privilege, elitism, fascism, defund the police, and death tax to name just a few. These terms become problematic when the writer defines them one way while the reader defines them another. It especially becomes dicey when the writer confuses terms, such as confusing socialism with totalitarianism and then uses a guilt by association fallacy to claim that socialism killed hundreds of millions when it was really totalitarianism (Stalin and Mao) that killed them. But that’s another essay.

One of the most confusing terms we see today is “white privilege.” There are two main reasons why this term is confusing. Black and white. When black people think of privilege, they think of white people. When white people think of privilege, they think of the children of rich white celebrities. They don’t think of themselves because these types of economic comparisons are relative in nature. Economists will talk about how poor black people in the US are wealthier than black doctors in Africa in absolute terms, but that isn’t how the mind works. We make comparisons in the context of our lives in relative terms and not in absolute terms. We know this from experiments in behavioral economics and Capuchin monkeys.

Researchers placed two Capuchin monkeys in transparent cages next to each other and then had them both complete the same task. One was paid in grapes — gold. One was paid with cucumbers — lead. The monkey paid with the cucumber, seeing that the other monkey got a grape, proceeds to throw the cucumber at the researcher and shake the cage in a display of protest at the injustice.

So, to help each side better understand the problem here we need a better explanation, a better definition, or even a better explanation of what it means by white privilege.

Instead of calling it white privilege, a better term might be white cooperation. Think of it like this. We know from research that people like to help people who are like them.

The second part is that there are just a lot more white people than black people. According to the US Census Bureau, white people represent 76% of the population, about 266,000,000 people. Whereas black people are only 13.4% at about 50,000,000 people. This is a ratio of 5 to 1. Think of it like this. Black people only have one other black person who will help them, but white people have five people who will help them. Five times the opportunity seems like a privilege to a lot of people who don’t have that.

The research bears this out. The book The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood follows white and black males with similar socio-economic backgrounds and criminal records. In each case, the white male does better economically. Why? It turns out they all know someone and that someone helps get them a job. It’s like when Adam Corolla compares himself to rich educated black people and then wants to know where his white privilege is. Well, Adam, your privilege is the fact that you’re a rich celebrity while being completely uneducated. Your privilege is the fact that you can have a podcast where you white whine and white cry all the time yet still have an audience because you’re crying for the majority.

As an example, I am the epitome of white privilege. I started working when I was 12 at a restaurant as a janitor. My parents knew the owners. I worked there, every summer, for five years. At 17, I got a job at McDonalds. The assistant manager was a friend. I worked at a gym; my best friend’s dad was the owner — nicest guy you’ll ever meet. This was a double privilege because it meant that the protein bars were 100% company subsidized. The manager hated me, but he couldn’t fire me. He wasn’t even allowed to yell at me or be an a-hole. The professional job I had for over 30 years was acquired because I knew someone — an in-law worked at the firm. 90% of the jobs I had in college and high school were acquired through another white person’s help.

There you are. If you’re a white kid living in a trailer park remember that you have five times the people who will help you than a black kid and those white people who will help you are most probably better off than the black people who would help that black child. Looking at a county by county political map, assuming that red areas are predominantly white, you can see that geographically speaking, black people have fewer geographic opportunities as well.

I hope this helps.

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