White privilege, black fears


Zack.jpgIn a fascinating interview of the Opinionator blog at The New York Times, George Yancey, a professor of philosophy at Duquesne University talks with Naomi Zack, a professor of philosophy at the University of Oregon, about race, Ferguson, the killing by police of unarmed young black men and white privilege.

This exchange begins after Zack has talked about the conversations that black parents must have with their children about interactions with the police.

G.Y.: We can safely assume white parents don’t need to have this talk with their children. Do you think white privilege is at work in this context?

N.Z.: The term “white privilege” is misleading. A privilege is special treatment that goes beyond a right. It’s not so much that being white confers privilege but that not being white means being without rights in many cases. Not fearing that the police will kill your child for no reason isn’t a privilege. It’s a right. But I think that is what “white privilege” is meant to convey, that whites don’t have many of the worries nonwhites, especially blacks, do. I was talking to a white friend of mine earlier today. He has always lived in the New York City area. He couldn’t see how the Michael Brown case had anything to do with him. I guess that would be an example of white privilege.

Other examples of white privilege include all of the ways that whites are unlikely to end up in prison for some of the same things blacks do, not having to worry about skin-color bias, not having to worry about being pulled over by the police while driving or stopped and frisked while walking in predominantly white neighborhoods, having more family wealth because your parents and other forebears were not subject to Jim Crow and slavery. Probably all of the ways in which whites are better off than blacks in our society are forms of white privilege. In the normal course of events, in the fullness of time, these differences will even out. But the sudden killings of innocent, unarmed youth bring it all to a head.

What do you think the phrase “white privilege” means. In what ways does its existence affect you?

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Philip B. Spivey

Ah, let me count the ways! Understood at its most meaningful level, "white privilege" is not personal; it's institutional. If you'd like to learn more, Google "Tim Wise". A white man who can tell you everything you want to know about race privilege, but were afraid to ask.

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