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What is White Privilege?

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Tim McGettigan     Permalink
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From flickr.com/photos/66351465@N00/5483089542/: Democracy and white privilege. Whites are on top of the world.
Democracy and white privilege. Whites are on top of the world.
(Image by tolworthy)
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White privilege can be understood as an environment of accumulated social advantages that lightly-pigmented Americans have created for themselves. From its founding, the US has been a fanatically pro-white and virulently anti-pigment nation. White privilege grows out of social policies that have been crafted to benefit whites and inflict crippling disadvantages on people of color. For example, the infamous Naturalization Act of 1790 stated that only "free whites" could become US citizens. As a result, throughout American history whites have consistently made themselves comfortably at home -- while callously dispossessing millions of non-whites -- in all of the North American and Pacific territories that they have conquered. In addition, whites have always conferred exclusive access upon themselves to the highly-advantageous rights and privileges of US citizenship.

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On the flip side, the Naturalization Act of 1790 "denaturalized" people of color by treating people with brown skin pigment as unwelcome, subhuman aliens in the USA. This is reflected in Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 of the US Constitution, aka "the Three-Fifths Compromise," which endorsed black slavery and, to this day, literally fractionates the perceived merit of African Americans. Also, by denaturalizing Native Peoples, the US sadistically transformed Indigenous Peoples into unwelcome aliens in their own homeland. Denaturalization also opened the door to continent-wide genocide and property theft.


Apparently, crimes against humanity are not punishable misdeeds if we commit them against people whom we conveniently define as subhumans. This is certainly a hypocritical operating principle for a nation that describes itself as "the world's greatest democracy." However, the USA has never shied away from hypocrisy if doing so effectively augmented white privilege. Native Americans remain one of America's most marginalized and oppressed peoples. Casino's have done nothing to remedy the monumental injustices that the US has inflicted upon its Indigenous Peoples.

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Though the Civil rights Act of 1964 abolished overt race-based segregation, it left the USA's deeply entrenched legacy of white privilege largely intact. Racism remains as widespread as ever in the USA, but its pervasive everyday exercise has become increasingly covert.


The USA's exuberant celebration of white privilege continues to shape perceptions of normality vs. deviance throughout America. In a culture that celebrates whiteness, people of color experience alarming hostility -- up to and including murder -- for committing no greater crime than being black (or a person of color) in public.


For their part, whites often react with hostility to the suggestion that white privilege exists. If white privilege exists then, on some level, whites must admit that they owe their good fortune to past and present injustices. Resistant as white Americans may be to acknowledging the reality of white privilege, it remains possible to bring an end to the abuses of white privilege. Should democratically-minded activists choose to do so, they can terminate the anti-democratic abuses of white privilege by dismantling the USA's architecture of racism. Dismantling America's architecture of racism will involve systematically re-humanizing all of the people who have been dehumanized by heartless, calculating white supremacists. Specifically, rehumanizing those who have been villainized by white privilege would involve erasing the 3/5 Compromise and rescinding every other law, policy, superstition and practice which suggests that people of color are anything but 100% bona fide human beings.


The US can still become the great democracy that it has always falsely described itself to be.


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Prof Tim teaches sociology at CSU-Pueblo and he writes books about social change, such as... A Formula for Eradicating Racism, http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/113759974X


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