Is white privilege a real thing? The question is incredibly polarizing, and different people give wildly different answers. To make things even more complicated, the definitions range from obvious to ludicrous, depending on who you ask. A polarizing term with slippery definitions and a lot of controversy will be misused. Unsurprisingly this is exactly what's happened. If we actually want to find truth, we’re going to have to pick the entire concept apart.
As always, the best place to start is a good definition, which leads us to our first problem. Do you know who coined the term white privilege? It’s the brain child of a very white, feminist scholar named Peggy McIntosh, who came up with the idea in an ancient time known as the 1980's. Her thinking comes out of a school of thought called critical theory, which according the mainstream media is either a right wing boogie man that doesn't exist, or is a 100% accurate way to understand our world. To summarize, critical theory claims that basically all human problems come from ideology and power structures, and can only be solved by dealing with them.
Critical theory is a topic for another day, but it should sound familiar. It's basically modernized Marxism applied outside economics. You will find it at the base of ideas coming out of the far left. Like all Marxist world views it's inherently hostile to liberalism. I'm not here to debate Marxism (today anyways) but people will often try to obscure this connection. Regardless of your opinion on white privilege, this is where the idea comes from. Proponents of the term should be transparent about it.
In normal conversations about white privilege it's safe to assume most people will not have dived into the philosophy of critical theory. Here's a less academic, but good faith definition of white privilege:
[white people] "having greater access to power and resources than people of color [in the same situation] do."
A fair definition without too much Marxist baggage. We can work with that.
So white privilege is when a white person has an unfair advantage over an otherwise identical nonwhite person in a given situation. This obviously implies that past and/or present racism is the cause. At first glance this seems to be a reasonable claim. Even if you don't think there’s a spec of racism in the US today, you can’t seriously claim that being considered white didn’t have massive privileges in the very recent past. So what’s all the controversy for?
Right off the bat, we have a few problems. Regardless of whether or not white privilege is a currently a real part of American life, the term itself sucks. It’s catchy, jarring, and provocative. That’s exactly what you want if you’re trying to get people to vote, protest, donate, or read your article, but it’s a terrible way to find truth. We should be suspicious of provocative language. When used, it usually means someone is trying to bypass your rational mind by hijacking your emotions.
The bigger issue is that provocative language, while effective, is often logically sloppy. In the case of white privilege, there’s a ton of assumptions baked into the concept. That doesn't necessarily make it wrong, but disprove any of those assumptions and the entire idea falls apart.
What are these assumptions?
- Race is and has been clearly defined in the US. Race perfectly mirrors class in traditional Marxism. Racial hierarchies are static, with oppressors (white) and the oppressed (black) persisting through generations.
- White people have a set of privileges, that non-whites do not. These privileges could be the result of intentional or unintentional actions, and range from small to large. They are universal to all white people in Western countries, especially the US.
- The absence of these privileges actively harms non-white people in general, and black people specifically. Much of the harm is very serious, up to and including death.
Are these claims reasonable? Perhaps, perhaps not, but they can certainly be tested. Lets start with a simple question.
What Does It Actually Mean To Be White?
If white privilege is real, the concept of "white" and "non-white" must be relevant, prevalent, and powerful. Remember dear reader,that race is not real in the scientific sense. Race is a totally arbitrary system of classifying humans, and was always a half baked and absurd concept. When people talk about race, they're talking about an artificial social construct. Your race is totally dependent on who’s observing you. Race is decided based on how well your physical features match whatever racial stereotypes the observer has in their head. There’s no such thing as an objective racial identity.
This is where things get interesting. There are lighter and darker skin tones, but where’s the dividing line? Can you pull out a color chart and say everything to left is white, and everything to the right isn’t? How does this fit into alleged power dynamics? What happens when people from Saudi Arabia, Brazil, India, Italy, Greece, Egypt, and Mexico all have the exact same skin tone? What happens when it’s summer and people from France, Slovakia, and Macedonia also have the same hue? What about people of mixed race? How is it that some of these individuals would be considered oppressors, and others oppressed when they all have the same skin tone?
There are millions of people living outside of Europe who are physically indistinguishable from Europeans. There are millions of people (like aboriginal Australians) who have dark skin, but aren’t African. What about latinos, who are treated as non-white in most progressive circles. Latino immigrants from South America speak a European language, have a European influenced culture, and have the same skin tone as people from Southern Europe. Is it fair to say that a Spanish speaking Argentinian immigrant with German ancestry, isn’t white? What about people from Northern Africa, Anatolia, the Caucuses, and the Middle East? People in these regions share a huge amount of genetic, cultural, and linguistic information with much of Europe. Are they white? If not, why?
To make matters worse, not even the actual racists have a historically consistent definition of whiteness. In the American context, the meaning of white has changed every few decades. At first, true whites could basically be defined as English, and maybe a few other Northern European ethnic groups. It took several centuries and total assimilation before the dirty Irish, Italian, Southern, and Eastern Europeans gained their coveted “white” status. This process was only completed around the 1950's. A big chunk of the white population in the US today would not have been considered white for most of American history. Which means they, didn’t actually have white privilege for most of American history. As far as America was concerned, they weren't white.
You could convincingly argue that European immigrants were slightly above blacks in America's racial hierarchy, but this wasn’t a cut and dry rule. Italians and other European immigrants often suffered discrimination and violence in similar ways as black people. After WWII, the benefits of whiteness were probably available to basically everyone who looked white and spoke with an American accent. Perhaps this mattered more than the distant past. But this also means that whiteness is malleable, and who's included has changed significantly over time. This suggests that culture, not just physical traits plays a role in race.
Speaking of culture we can't ignore immigration when talking about race. Many descendants of European immigrants can tell stories of how there ancestors were forcibly assimilated into American culture. Before Italians were considered white, they had their names changed upon entering the US, and many learned to be ashamed of their heritage. My grandma often told me how at school the teachers would beat Italian kids with rulers if they spoke Italian in class. Still immigrants typically adopted whiteness because assimilation meant opportunity.
Today the exact opposite is true. Being white is viewed as a negative. Immigrants and their are encouraged to stay as far away from whiteness as possible (even if they look white). In popular culture, most people from the Middle East, South America, and perhaps a few smaller enclaves in Central Asia aren't considered white; despite the fact that in most cases they appear just as white as European ethnic groups. This contradiction is almost always ignored. Immigrants benefit if they identify as non-white, both culturally and materially so no one complains.But it’s hard to claim that an immigrant from Afghanistan has any less privilege today than an immigrant from Italy had at the turn of the century.
If assimilation can make you "white", then whiteness is primarily cultural, not racial, (at least for the billions of people with questionable skin tones). If race is a choice for billions, then we have a big problem. The entire reason racism is viewed as one of the most vile forms of discrimination is because you can't change your skin color. It’s an objective symbol of your oppression that you can’t hide from. Culture is subject to debate and criticism, race isn’t.
Discrimination against other cultures can be viewed as repulsive and bigoted, but it's certainly not in the same category as overt racism. Saying that the French are pretentious and cowardly just doesn't have the same sting as saying they are subhuman. People can change their culture. As I already mentioned, most European immigrants were forced to. It was the culture, not the ethnicity that mattered more. The privilege that came with the assimilation was arguably earned and thus not a privilege at all.
That may well be true, but what about America’s two founding groups, the English and West Africans? The physical differences between these ethnic groups is not subtle. In a society dominated by racist English people, it would seem that there’s no escape for West Africans. This is another very fair point. I wouldn't argue that white privilege wasn’t more or less a thing in the past. But the debate is about post 2020 America, not 1940. Perhaps we can use a thought experiment to illuminate the truth.
Consider black Republicans. They’re an anomaly. They make up a small portion of the black electorate, but there are enough of them to cause problems. From the political left, they're often viewed as deluded at best, and Uncle Toms at worst. Which is unsurprising when you see how most Democrats view white Republicans. So here's a nasty question. What if every black person in the US decided tomorrow to become a red meat, evangelical, MAGA to the max, America loving Republican? How would the allegedly racist white Republicans react? Would they be horrified? Or would they be overjoyed that millions of people have finally seen the light. Would they prefer the company of black Republicans over white Democrats? If the majority of white Republicans embraced the newly converted black electorate, then it was culture, not race that mattered. Very troubling indeed.
I don’t want to get lost in the weeds here, and I need to add some important caveats. None of what I’m saying should imply that racism past or present isn’t real. Tragically, there are plenty of real racists in the world. Most of the racism in the US is aimed at black people (and the Jews). However, I think you can confidently say that racism is less significant than it was in the past, and that it’s trending downward, but I’ll let others handle that argument. The point was never to say that racism is not real. Rather, it’s a question of how much. For white privilege to be real, America would need to be teaming with racists at every level of society.
We also need to keep in mind that conceptions of race are dynamic. Culture, demographics, and who’s in power have changed dramatically in the 35 years since Peggy coined the term. Change will only continue in the coming years, and that matters a lot. Regardless of whether or not white privilege is real now, we can confidently say that it was more real in the past. The further away we move from the past, the less real white privilege will be.
Is White Privilege Universal?
Lets assume that we haven't advanced that far, and white privilege is still real. White privilege is first and foremost an American term, applied to an American context. There are only handful of countries that recently had large scale racialized slavery. Even fewer imported those slaves from West Africa. America is unique in that it was one of the largest countries to engage in this behavior that still exists as the same political entity today. When Americans talk about white privilege, they mean in America, but this isn't the full picture.
The world is big. Really big. The US, by both population and geography, only makes up a small part of that world. In the US, we say there’s a latino culture, a black culture, and a white culture, but they don't really exist. Funnily enough, billions of people inhabiting vast continents have much more complex cultures and identities than the flat, monochromatic ones imposed by (progressive or conservative) American racial politics. In Africa, a continent roughly three times larger than the US there are thousands of ethnic groups and languages, dozens of countries and a similar number of religions. There are over 1 billion people living in the world who would be considered black by the US government, and only 46.9 million of them live in the US. For easy math that’s about 4% of all black people on Earth living in the US. The same applies to Europe, Asia, and South America. Each are massive continents home to thousands of ethnic groups and billions of people. Very few people from those groups live in the US, so we get lazy and lump them into color coded groups.
I bring this up because I think we Americans (of all races) tend to believe that we're the center of the world. Just because America is currently the global hegemon and our culture has been spread worldwide, doesn’t mean that the American perspective is representative of all (or even most) of humanity.
America is unique in that we have a lot of immigration. Most of the US population is descended from immigrants who arrived after slavery was abolished. In the near future (if it hasn't happened already) most people in the US with dark skin won't be the descendants of slaves, but immigrants.
This raises an interesting question. Lets say two people of identical age, gender, health, and wealth immigrate to the US. The only difference between them is that one is from Kosovo and the other is from Nigeria? Does the person from Kosovo have white privilege while the Nigerian does not? Would the fact that Nigerians are one of the most successful ethnic groups in the US make a difference?
In the US, immigrants from non-European countries are considered “marginalized” by progressives, and definitely don’t have white privilege. But how does someone from Syria with blonde hair and blue eyes, not have white privilege? Because they’re an immigrant? Well than you are talking about native born privilege, not white privilege.
The more you look at white privilege the more exceptions and contradictions you find. This doesn’t mean it’s not real, but it raises serious questions. If every example of white privilege has dozens of exceptions, how universal is it? If it’s not universal can we say the concept is even meaningful? At the very least it proves that the term really sucks! But there's something going on here! There has to be. Racism is like climate change. You can’t attribute any single weather event to climate change, but the pattern is there. You can’t say for sure if you were pulled over because you were black, but the statistics are still there.
This is a problem when talking about racism in general, and white privilege specifically. Most of the mundane examples of white privilege have reasonable, non-racist explanations. The fact that the default band aide is the neutral flesh color we all know and hate is often used as an example of white privilege. It may not be deliberately racist but if you’re white, you’re the default. But is that true?
I hate buying suit jackets. I have broad shoulders, long arms and a short torso, so nothing ever fits right. I could say America dislikes stocky men of Italian ancestry, but there’s a much simpler explanation. Making a mass market suit to fit everyone's body type is impossible. To produce products at the low prices consumers want, a company looks at the population and try's to design something that will fit reasonably well on most people. This way it can be massed produced to take advantage of economies of scale. A better fit for more bodies would increase the cost on all products.
The same goes for band aides. Skin tone like many other things, follows a normal distribution that can be modeled with a bell curve. People with extremely light or dark skin are in the minority (globally) with most people converging somewhere near the middle. If you’re a redhead who burns just thinking about the sun, that neutral band aide is as far away from your skin color as someone who has really dark skin. The neutral band aide is too light for some people, but it’s too dark for others. This is a bit inconvenient for people on the extremes, but tolerable for the majority. It's not the result of racist capitalism ignoring the needs of black people, but of common sense manufacturing practices that reduce costs for everyone.
You can use this logic for almost all the mundane examples cited as white privilege, and it’s not unique to being white or American. In Nigeria, it would be really weird to see stores selling traditional Scottish cuisine. Not really shocking because there are way more Nigerians in Nigeria than there are Scottish people. In Nigeria the Scottish food (or hair care, or clothes, etc.) market is incredibly small. Whether or not that makes Nigerian privilege ok, and a Scottish person should just deal with it depends on your philosophy.
In almost all business decisions about product mixes, marketing, casting, and messaging, we should expect to see the majority as the target audience. This is normal, not malicious. It only becomes malicious when it’s deliberate and unprofitable. If there’s a significant market for dark colored band aides, we would expect it to be filled, and today it is. In the past when it wasn't, there where very few choices for consumers in general. Three brands of beer, one band aide color etc., so it should come as no surprise that niche markets were ignored. Today consumers expect a ton of choice and smaller run manufacturing has gotten cheaper, so we see more niche products. No racial conspiracy and no moral progress, just efficient distribution of goods through capitalism.
What is Privilege?
No one seriously claims band aide color is a major problem in the US. But being harassed by suspicious store keepers or pulled over by the police most certainly is. Which brings us into the second part of the phrase “white privilege”. What actually is privilege?
Privilege - a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor
Someone has to grant you a privilege. It doesn’t just fall out of the sky. In order to grant anything the granter needs to have more power than the grantee. I was privileged to grow up in a stable two parent household because of the efforts of my parents. They had power over me, and granted me the privilege of growing up in a stable household. White people only have the privilege of not worrying about being pulled over if cops are generally racist. The cop has more power and can grant white people privileges withheld to others. However this only works if:
1. The cop is white.
2. The cop is racist.
3. The cop acts on his prejudiced beliefs. He doesn’t pull over white people for things he would pull a black person over for, thus granting white people privilege.
The common retort is that a black person would have to worry whether a cop was racist or not. The worry itself is the problem. But if most cops are honest, then this worry is mostly irrational. More importantly, location matters. Making universal claims about a country like the US is absurd.
What happens when the person in power is the same race as you? What if they aren’t white? The US has changed a lot since the 1980's. There are more non-white people in positions of power than ever before. Up and down the economy, the government, and the military you can find people of every possible race in positions of power. It’s often said that at the highest levels, most intuitions look white, and this is true in a shrinking number of cases. However privileges are granted where people of different power levels interact. The more interactions the more opportunities to receive privilege. Which means the biggest impact isn't at the heights of power, but down on the front lines. Here racial equality has been achieved or even superseded in most cases. There is no white privilege at play if you're black and pulled over by a black cop.
There's even less opportunities for white privilege when we look at how the population is distributed. Small towns are more likely to be majority white, but most of the population lives in urban areas. Politically and economically, the major urban centers are much more important than small towns, and have much higher levels of racial diversity. According to the US census NYC, Chicago, and Atlanta are roughly 26%, 28%, and 46% black respectively. All three cities have black mayors, and black people in positions of power at every level of government. If you include people who progressives would define as non-white, those percentages would jump even higher. So is white privilege a major part of life in these cities? If you live in an area where most of the government, police, and business owners are not white, is white privilege a real thing? It seems unlikely.
Again I don’t want to ignore the fact that racism obviously exists in the US. But as we continue to make progress, the picture becomes more complicated. The statistics show that black people are over-represented in many areas (both positive and negative) in American life. On the negative side, black people as a group have significantly lower wealth than whites. Black people are more likely to commit violent crime than whites, but are also more likely to be victims of it. Since most of the conversation around white privilege came about after police shootings of unarmed black men, this is highly relevant.
These negative disparities are far more important than mundane debates over shampoo, and are all to real. Personally, I believe they can be attributed to three things that happened in the past, only one of which was specifically designed to harm black people. Housing discrimination and urban renewal, particularly in the post war period allowed whites to build massive generational wealth, while black people where excluded. Crime, substance abuse, broken families, and lack of economic mobility, are all caused or made worse by poverty. Since black people where excluded from one the greatest wealth building events in American history (mass home ownership), they've suffered disproportional harm from the effects of poverty. This an obvious example of explicit racism and white privilege in the past. It’s worth pointing out that this discrimination was mostly done by central planners and bureaucrats in the federal government.
The biggie is the way the US welfare state operates. I recommend the works of Thomas Sowell to anyone interested in the subject, but to make a long story short, the American welfare system makes it more profitable to be a single mother than married. It creates culture of poverty, not economic mobility. In the long run the welfare state destroys families and communities. Stable two parent families have been shown to alleviate basically every problem I’ve mentioned. This phenomena is not specific to blacks, and the welfare state was not specifically designed to harm blacks. It harms millions of white families as well. Tragic, but not white privilege.
The third issue is the American education system. This is really a subject for another article, but I’ll summarize again. College is viewed as the best way to advance in America. We prioritize university at the expense of vocational and technical training, and much of what you learn in college could be taught quicker and cheaper. We have no formal apprenticeship structures outside the trades. As a result, college is overpriced, fails to give meaningful skills, and buries students with a mountain of debt at the beginning of their lives. This doesn’t just harm black people, so while bad, doesn't count as white privilege.
All of these issues play their part, but pointing out where whites win across the board is impossible. This is the problem with critical theory in general; it ignores individuals. Privileges, almost by definition are something given from one individual to another. This is why there’s a ridiculous amount of contradictions that show up when trying to shoehorn a concept of white privilege into discussions about complicated social phenomena. It's doesn’t represent a nuanced reality, it represents a political ideology based entirely perceptions.
So what are we left with? A mixed bag really. Racism and white privilege were real in the past, and no doubt still exist in some contexts today. They’ve basically disappeared in pop culture, while disparities in measures like wealth and health persist. It’s completely impossible to point to a specific example of white privilege that is applied consistently in the modern context. Even seemingly strong examples dissipate under a microscope. Anecdotes are everywhere, facts remain elusive.
The term white privilege was invented by a white critical feminist several decades ago, and is a part of a very specific, inflexible world view called critical theory. Critical theory isn't settled science, it’s a social theory based loosely on a crackpot economist and perpetuated by an incredibly biased field.
When overt racial bigotry was common, or legally mandated, white privilege was an easier sell. Today racism that was practiced as recently as the 1950's is totally extinct in polite society, and displaying it will get you canceled into oblivion. Modern ideas of white privilege instead rely mostly on peoples’ perceptions. Someone got a job that you wanted. Was this white privilege or nepotism? Did they just work harder, or did the boss like that they were fans of the same football team? Just because you think you were racially discriminated against, doesn’t mean you actually were. Unless the person you suspect of being racists confesses, there’s really no way to know.
Contrary to many voices in our culture today, I don’t think that people are stupid, evil, or liars. When a lot of people claim that something happened to them, that they are feeling hurt, I think we should listen to them. Especially when our country has a long history of doing the exact thing they claimed was done to them.
In the case of white privilege, there’s plenty of evidence to show that something is going on. However, feelings, opinions, and perceptions are not truth. Humans are incredibly fallible creatures. Our thoughts and emotions are easily influenced and mislead into false conclusions. This also assumes people are acting in good faith. People looking to profit off of conflict are everywhere and are happy to push inflammatory, disingenuous, bad faith, and flat out stupid ideas.
In the case of white privilege I don’t think the term can be salvaged. For one it was never a well thought out, and has been incredibly misused over the past several years. More importantly, critical theory like its Marxist grandfather, is a narrow world view that hides more than it illuminates. It fails to correctly identify the phenomena it observes (at least in a modern context) so its conclusions are inherently wrong. White privilege sees two very real things, and rolls them into one, half baked idea that misses both. Serious racial disparities in wealth and health are not neatly connected to culture war issues and band aide colors.
Lets shine a light on what’s really going on.
Most of the problems facing the black community are from idiotic federal polices and the mistakes of FDR. These actions harm everyone who is poor. They disproportionately affect black people because of the actions taken between reconstruction and the civil rights movement. The persistence of this inequality is complicated by the fact that recent immigrants from Africa are outperforming their American black and white counterparts. I suspect this is because of the cultural damage done by past discrimination and decades of overexposure to US government poverty reduction policies. How much inequality is from discrimination and how much is from culture is unclear. Unfortunately we won’t be getting an answer anytime soon because suggesting any cause of racial disparities other than racism is a one way ticket out of academia.
The more mundane examples of white privilege paradoxically seem to be more controversial. Thankfully they're also easier to explain. I’d like to introduce a new, better term for these discrepancies: dominant class privilege. As far as I know, this term isn’t being used by anyone else so I get to set the definition. It’s a simple idea :
The institutions, laws, customs, and commerce of a country are going to be set up by and for that country’s dominant class.
To clarify, in this context dominant is synonymous with most numerous, and doesn’t have to mean race at all. In France, the dominant ethnicity is French. Therefore we would expect the food, culture, language, and institutions of that country to cater to French people. In it’s mild forms, I don’t really see anything wrong with this. If you want to move to France, you probably admire French culture. Culture is defined as much by what is without as what is within. If a culture does not engage in some assimilation of newcomers and some rejection of those who don't want to assimilate, it will cease to exist. While I’m militantly pro human, and don't think this kind of thinking should be legally enforced, it would be kind of sad if everyplace in the world was the same as every other. I think most people would agree that communities have a right to maintain themselves.
Under normal circumstances, it's entirely reasonable for a country to expect voluntary immigrants to assimilate at least a little bit. I can't just waltz into Saudi Arabia and burn a Quran, and then be upset when I'm thrown in jail. This probably puts me at odds with most progressives, but I think if people have an existing community, new members who want to join should:
- Actually want to be a part of that community because they like at least some of it's traditions.
- Be willing to respect those traditions.
It doesn't really matter if you agree or not be cause basically every country outside of the the English speaking world expects some assimilation.
This really only becomes an issue in the American context, because broadly speaking America is made up of three very different groups of people. Descendants of people who came here voluntarily, descendants of people who used to be the dominant class but were conquered and displaced (Native Americans), and descendants of people who were kidnapped and brought here to be slaves. Native Americans and slaves did not willingly choose to be part of America. So how does this factor in?
You could make an argument that whether I call it white privilege or dominant class privilege doesn't matter, Native Americans, and slave descendants are living in a culture they didn't want to be a member of, and that culture isn’t dominated by them. Another strong and fair argument, but here’s he counter.
The reality is that we are generations away from slavery and native genocide. No one alive today or in the recent past was a party to those conflicts. How much these evils still affect modern life is difficult to prove and constantly debated. But the politically inconvenient fact is that they matter less and less everyday. In every area of harm there are numerically more white people suffering than any other group. There are millions of non-white people thriving at every level in America. When we talk about disproportionate impacts, we aren't talking about a racial cast system. We are talking about a difference of less than 50% in most things.
The smaller, more mundane things I would call dominate class privilege are a normal part of every human group. Assuming that basic human rights are respected, I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Personally I would prefer a more cosmopolitan world, but expecting immigrants to your country to speak your language and respect your customs is a pretty standard opinion held by most of the world. It's seems to only be taboo in parts of the West.
So where does this leave us?
The Path Forward
A fair observer would be willing to admit that in the recent past white privilege (as defined by critical theory) was real in some form. However the term (like the theory behind it) is woefully deficient in nuance. It's conclusions are absolute and universal, which means they are guaranteed to be wrong. Race is a fictitious concept with flexible usage. The entire experiment of grafting race onto Marx's economic ideas was doomed from the start.
The question of who does and doesn't count as white was never clear cut. How much of a difference that makes in modern America is even more murky. I have no doubt that racism, is was, and will be a problem (until we transcend such silly concepts), but that doesn't prove anything. The issues of police brutality, violence, poverty, and ignorance are not unique to black people. In absolute terms these issues effect more white people than black, but proportionally black people suffer somewhat more. Much of this can be explained by recent (but not contemporary) discrimination.
But is this disparity worth tearing down our civilization over? It took Italian Americans almost two centuries to achieve parity with Anglo Americans. Jim crow was only repealed 60 year ago, and things have been getting exponentially better since. The issues caused by that foul system are the ones that matter, and most of modern America’s problems have more to do with federal policy than racism. Namely, the education system and the welfare state, which are supposed to be forces for economic mobility are instead the progenitors of dilapidated culture and permanent poverty. Racism as a force of any kind seems to be weakening everyday (despite the very visible examples of few nut jobs).
As for the milder examples (band aides, actors in commercials, etc.), we have a simpler, much less moralistic term: dominant class privilege. In its extreme it can become unpleasant, but in its milder forms it is found in every nation or community with a unique identity. Dominant class privilege is neither a great conspiracy nor life and death. It's simply basic humane nature playing out as it always has. It’s not something anyone should take personally. You may not like it, (I'm not a huge fan), but it has nothing to do with race.
At the beginning we asked a simple question, is white privilege real? The answer is that we need to ask a better question. White privilege is a political slogan. It's a product of Manichean ideology that has brought misery wherever it was implemented. The term and the ideology behind it destroy nuance, corrupt the truth seeking process, and turn neighbors, friends, and even family against each other. It uses ancient injustices to justify modern discrimination and political handouts. Claiming to do good, it only creates more harm.
The world has changed, and it will keep changing. As progress towards the death of race continues, its use a political tool will diminish. This means entire schools of thought, political organization, and cultural identity will be threatened with extinction. Don’t expect them to go quietly. As race becomes less relevant, it will be talked about more. People will claim that nothing has changed exactly when things have changed irrevocably. Today all but the most extreme examples of claimed discrimination usually have plausible, innocent explanations, yet we are told overt racism is everywhere. Take this as sign that entrenched interests are threatened and we're making progress. It'll get worse before it gets better.
There a black cops, judges, policemen, generals, billionaires, presidents, vice presidents, all star sports players, actors, singers, artists, etc. More and more mixed race babies are born everyday, and more black people immigrate to the US each year. A black and white worldview was never correct, but in modern America it's a flat out lie.
We should pay attention to the unfair advantages people may have, and the injustices that our society may contain. But we should do this while resisting the urge to generalize, to simplify the world into clean categories of black and white, oppressor and oppressed. Simplistic ideologies make for good stories, but they aren't truth.
Most of all, we need to tackle these questions in good faith, and ground our thinking in objective reality. In that endeavor, terms like white privilege have no place.