Language/Definititions: White Privilege

Key Definitions


Privilege exists when one group has something of value that is denied to others simply because of the groups they belong to, rather than because of anything they’ve done or failed to do. Access to privilege doesn’t determine one’s outcomes, but it is definitely an asset that makes it more likely that whatever talent, ability, and aspirations a person with privilege has will result in something positive for them. (Peggy McIntosh)

White Privilege

A social construct which benefits and gives preferences for whiteness that saturates societies around the world and that creates rights, advantages, and protections enjoyed at the expense of and beyond those available to people of color. Generally white people who experience such privilege do so without being conscious of it. (2015 White Privilege Conference.)

White Supremacy

The assumption or theory that whites are superior to all other races and should be in power or control. White supremacy as a term captures the pervasive magnitude, and normalcy of white privilege, dominance, and assumed superiority. It is embedded within systems and well as an attitude or culture of individual White people. The term white supremacy has often been associated only with extreme hate groups. However, this terminology captures the magnitude of a larger system and way of being.

White Fragility

White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress, leading to what I refer to as White Fragility. White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium. (Robin D’Angelo, White Fragility in The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, Vol. 3 No 3 (2011))


If you have five minutes...

Watch one or more of these videos:

America Continues to Repeat Mistakes James Baldwin Brought to Light. White privilege is the ability to be without second guessing.

Robin DiAngelo explains white fragility, a term she uses to capture the defensiveness that so many white people display when their world views, their identities or their racial positions are challenged (6 minutes). Robin DiAngelo is the author ofWhite Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism.

If you have twenty minutes...

Ponder this list of white privilege from the article White Narcissism by Ron McDonald, 2014 

  • no one checking your ID when you use a check card, preceded by a black person’s ID being checked
  • getting service with a smile just after a black customer gets served with a frown
  • not being carefully and conspicuously watched in a store walking into fancy places without being questioned
  • being treated like royalty when buying a big ticket item like a new car
  • not being stopped while driving in an all white neighborhood
  • not hearing car doors locked while crossing streets at stop lights
  • not being murdered in Florida for wearing a hoody and resisting a neighborhood watch fanatic
  • being treated politely on the telephone, then, upon being seen in person, not being turned away with rudeness or pseudo polite rejection

Take a moment to read stories and if you are white, think about what it would be like to have someone call the police on you for waiting for a business meeting to start at Starbucks, falling asleep in your dorm's study room, babysitting, showing up at a house you've invested in, canvassing your neighborhood as a politician, your backpack brushing against someone in a store, speaking Spanish, or mowing a lawn. In short, going through life knowing that at any moment you might be told, "You don't belong here. You might be dangerous. I'm calling the cops because I'm 'suspicious' of you."

If you have an hour...

Read or listen to The Case for Reparations - Ta-Nehisi Coates (2014), an exploration of housing segregation, systemic racism, and the wealth gap. The link includes audio of article (90 minutes), photo galleries, and related videos.

America was built on the preferential treatment of white people—395 years of it. 

. . .

To celebrate freedom and democracy while forgetting America’s origins in a slavery economy is patriotism à la carte.

Perhaps no statistic better illustrates the enduring legacy of our country’s shameful history of treating black people as sub-citizens, sub-Americans, and sub-humans than the wealth gap. Reparations would seek to close this chasm. But as surely as the creation of the wealth gap required the cooperation of every aspect of the society, bridging it will require the same.

Questions for Conversation and Journaling

What ideas challenged you in the above materials you engaged in?

Can you feel internal push-back to some of these ideas? Or guilt or shame? Or some other reaction or emotion? What do you do with those feelings?