Privilege is an invisible, special advantage which can rarely be seen by those who have access to power, influence and resources. My developing mind could only ever conflate the idea of what constituted as ‘the privileged person’ with the stereotypical prototype of Hollywood’s wealthy, with their copious houses diffused across the globe; hedonistic expenditure and high social status. The inherited advantages I had throughout all my upbringing – the physical safety, first-class education, food on demand and a heated house to come home to each and every night out the week – were blurred by the fascination of Hollywood’s elite. I, like many others today, characterised privilege with their successes.
Often privileges are viewed as benefits that are universally available to everybody if you strive for your goals and achieve. For this reason, race as a privilege is frequently miscounted. Many white people consign to oblivion that their skin colour grants them automatic access to doors which aren’t open to others. The very fact that a skin colour grants socioeconomic advantages to some whilst simultaneously disfavouring others is a phenomenum which is deeply rooted in the core of humanity and often over looked as a privilege. Contentious issues behind the idea of white privilege are never far from the limelight with many black lives becoming a mere statistical figure in the face of police brutality, crime and corruption.
Crime & Law Enforcement
The gross injustices which remain at the core of the relationship between black community and law enforcement have catestrophically festered in recent history. Criminalisation of entire groups of people is remarkably evident in the current American incarceration system which is skewed by race and wealth. Statistical evidence confirms the well-known racial disparities in American state prisons with:
- approximately 12–13% of the American population being African-American, but them making up 35% of jail inmates;
- african Americans being incarcerated in state prisons at a rate that is 5.1 times the imprisonment of whites and;
- the disparity in five states – Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont, and Wisconsin)- being more than 10 to 1.
Racism’s heinous grasp knows no geographical boundaries and is not limited solely to American culture but police brutality in America has stormed headlines at alarming frequency in the past decade. An estimated 258 black people fell victim to police killings in America in 2016 – 39 of which were unarmed. Eric Garner , who was choked to death by a NYPD officer for selling loose cigarettes, pleaded eleven times “I can’t breathe” exhibiting the inhumanity of having to plead for one’s own life at the hands of a law enforcement officer. Looking at these crimes simply as raw numbers, it would appear that more white people are killed by police. However, once the numbers are adjusted for the population where the shootings took place, it’s evident that the police still killed blacks at three times the rate of whites. People of color are being stopped, arrested, charged, and imprisoned whilst white people are evading such discriminatory regulations simply due to the colour of their skin. This is white privilege.
Institutionalised racism became a reality when the Federal Housing Administration and the Veterans Administration financed more than $120 billion worth of new housing between 1934 and 1962, but less than 2% of this real estate was available to nonwhite families—and most of that small amount was located in segregated communities. The reverberations of the past are still felt today.
Mortgage lending discrimination is the practice of banks, governments or other lending institutions denying loans to one or more groups of people primarily on the basis of race, ethnic origin, sex or religion. Deplorable socioeconomic patterns have emerged in recent years highlighting that black borrowers in a handful of American cities, Missouri and Wisconsin to name but a few, are less likely to get a mortgage than their white counterparts in similar economic situations. Financial inequities created by discriminatory housing practices have led to what is known as residential segregation where the majority of urban inner city populations have become suffused with racial minorities while the affluence of the suburbs greets much more white populations.
Black Criminal Myth
Escaping the social stigma of black gang association seems to be inconceivable premise for many. Many young black men are not affiliated with a gang; done dealings with a gang or even have a member of gang reside in their family homes. Local news, media coverage and movies set in black neighbourhoods have all perpetuated this misconception whilst white people are rarely categorized within a group of people predisposed to crime. Some continue to use this fictitious assumption to denigrate activist movements, contending that racist oppression from the police and economic explotation are not the issue but instead “black-on-black crime” is the catalytic problem facing black communities.
The study “Dangerous associations: Joint enterprise, gangs and racism” completed by Patrick Williams and Becky Clarke in 2015 drew upon a survey of nearly 250 serving prisoners convicted under joint enterprise provisions and found that more than three-quarters of the black and minority ethnic prisoners reported that the prosecution claimed that they were members of a ‘gang’, compared to only 39 percent of white prisoners. White privilege is escaping the racial stereotype that gangs are dominated by black and minority ethnic people and not facing convictions, under joint enterprise provisions, for offences they have not committed.
Acknowledging that intersectionality means that people can be marginalized as well as where they might be privileged or, in other words, people can be privileged in some ways and definitely not privileged in others. There are many different types of privilege, not just skin colour privilege – citizenship, class and sexual orientation for example. However, we can recognise that we do have power, recourses and influence to actively dispel institutionalised racism. The non-violent advocate for social change, Martin Luther King, once said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” to a nation divided by race and seemingly called upon people to exercise their fundamental freedom of expression in times of dissension, controversy and challenge. The words of Dr King should resonate throughout society today as we relieve ourselves of the myths in order to progress on the quest to equality and nondiscrimination.