Now, if you haven't read White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh, you should. She's far more eloquent than I on this subject. But she does kind of conflate white privilege with class privilege, which causes some hangups among white folk. Papa Bear O'Reilly has pointed out that Asians on average make more money than whites, on average; yet nobody talks about Asian privilege. And lots of white folks in terrible financial situations argue that they can't possibly be privileged, because look how little they have.
And these folks wouldn't be entirely wrong if privilege were just about money. There are plenty of black people who make a hell of a lot more money than me. Like Barack Obama. What does that guy even do all day?
But here are some advantages that white folks may not know they have, that have nothing to do with money.
- If I, a middle class white person, went to a hospital with an injury:
- Doctors would be more likely to take my pain seriously than they would a middle class black person with the exact same injury.
- I'm more likely to receive pain medication than a middle class black person, and I'll receive more of it.
- Doctors and nurses will feel more empathy toward me, and that will affect how much attention I get, how much care I get, and how I'm treated.
- All of this is partially due to a subconscious (or perhaps simply unexamined) belief that black people have a higher pain tolerance than whites. This perception, which is objectively false, is likely a relic of slavery, when whites justified cruelty toward black slaves by claiming that slaves felt pain less than the rest of us.
- If I, as a middle-class white woman, had a baby (god forbid):
- The hospital would be more likely to help me breastfeed, according to the CDC - more likely to give me instruction, more likely to give me supplements, and more likely to let my baby stay in the room with me. Nobody would respond to my choice to breastfeed with surprise and condescending approval.
- Doctors are less likely to suspect me of using drugs while pregnant. Hospitals are way more likely to drug test a black baby (without parental knowledge or consent) than they are my baby, even if the black baby's mom shows no evidence of being on drugs.
- People are less likely to condescendingly praise my husband for being "in the picture."
- If I'm accused of a crime:
- Jurors are more likely to feel empathy toward me than they would a black defendant who is otherwise demographically the same as me. They'd also feel more empathy to a white victim of a crime than they would a black victim of the same crime.
- If I were a white man and got convicted of a crime, I'd get a 20% shorter sentence than a black man convicted of the exact same crime (15% if you control for variables like class); a black man would be 25% less likely to receive a sentence below the sentencing guidelines' range.
- If I'm convicted of murder, jurors are far less likely to sentence me to death than a black person who committed the exact same crime.
- It's worth noting that I'm way less likely to be charged with a crime in the first place. I'm less likely to get pulled over while driving, less likely to have the police search my vehicle (even though I'm more likely to be carrying contraband). I'm way, way less likely to be stopped and frisked than a black person, even though I'm more likely to be in possession of something I shouldn't be.