The Pel Mel

OP ED: Whiting Out White Privilege

Camilla O’Keefe, Junior, Features Editor

White privilege, as defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, is, “the fact of people with white skin having advantages in society that other people do not have.” Historically, fairer-skinned folks of European descent (Vikings, Anglo-Saxons to name just two) conquered and dominated a good portion of the world for centuries, so the idea that white privilege exists should be a given. Some still insist it is a myth. To those people, I say: “Congratulations! You have been living a life full of privileges when it comes to things like education, employment opportunities, and human rights. In fact, you’ve been enjoying them so fully, that you take them for granted.”

A 2015 study by data scientist David Mosenkis found that school funding decreases proportionally to the number of African-American students. The U. S. Department of Education report from 2012 found that black students are six times more likely to attend school in a high-poverty area which lacks simple necessities like textbooks, while minority and low-income children get the least qualified teachers. Lower paying school districts, the study states, attract 17 percent fewer teachers rated as “Highly Effective.” So, non-minority students start with an advantage – funding, resources and the best-qualified teaching staff to start them on the road to success. Since many take for granted the amazing advantages a good school offers, they don’t see that as anything special. That’s white privilege.

People of color are at a disadvantage when it comes to jobs. A Northwestern University study found that white applicants got 36 percent more callbacks than black applicants and 24 percent more callbacks than Hispanic applicants. Katherine DeCelles, Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, found that a bias against minorities is a pervasive part of the résumé screening process at U.S. companies. She found that 15 percent of minority job applicants were called in for interviews after they changed their ethnic-sounding name to a “white-washed” nickname on a résumé. So, if one is even perceived by employers as being anything but white, one might not get that first foot in the door – an interview. Many take job interviews for granted and don’t see that as anything special. That’s white privilege.

Even Hollywood perpetuates white privilege. UCLA College of Social Sciences released The Hollywood Diversity Report in 2018. It found that though minorities made up about 40 percent of the U.S. population, they were significantly underrepresented, making up an average of 15 percent of lead roles. The release of Ghost in the Shell came under fire when Scarlett Johansson, a Caucasian actress, was cast to portray an Asian character. This practice is called “white-washing,” and is particularly repugnant to minority actors who see ethnically-specific roles taken by actors who see nothing wrong in appropriating both their culture and their employment opportunities. Studio heads, directors and actors take for granted that this practice will be accepted. That’s white privilege.

Those who deny the existence of white privilege enjoy it every day, often without realizing they are reaping its benefits. Maybe the greatest danger doesn’t lie in whether society perpetuates white privilege; it lies in the person sitting at the desk next to you who doesn’t even realize they’ve been the recipient of special favors and choose to ignore that life has dealt them a pretty good hand. And it is a pretty good hand when you are not one of the 89 percent of people stopped-and-frisked in New York City in 2018 (as black and Latino people were); when you can walk into a store without being followed by sales staff who expect you to shoplift; when you don’t risk death or injury merely trying to gain access to your own apartment. Think about that the next time you get your latte from the same store that had two African American men arrested last May. Their crime? Sitting at a table. Or should that be considered a “privilege” to be taken for granted now, too?

1 Comment

One Response to “OP ED: Whiting Out White Privilege”

  1. Rachel Lief on January 9th, 2019 7:07 pm

    This is very well written, bringing out an issue in society, faced by many. The way you bring this to life, with examples of it, greatly enhances your argument. You are very good at proving your point, and I cannot wait to see what else you write.

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OP ED: Whiting Out White Privilege