October 2019 – Does White Privilege Exist?

October 2019 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Does White Privilege Exist?

  Monday, October 21, 2019
  7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

White privilege has been called the implicit or systemic advantage that white people have relative to people who are objects of racism. It is said to exist in cultures where racism is prevalent, and whiteness is considered normal. It supposedly includes the absence of the suspicion and negative reactions that people subjected to racism experience. But it may also include mostly hidden benefits that whites possess in society: It has been called “a special advantage beyond non-whites being disadvantaged…an invisible, weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks” that all white individuals unconsciously wear. Is this real, or a fantasy of social activists and the politically correct? Does white privilege actually exist?

Are there not only phenomena like “driving while black” but also “being let off with a warning while white”? Is such segregative treatment more than class-based? Is this a serious societal problem needing redress by Black Lives Matter? If whites stereotype it as “an excuse for underachievement,” could it be whites who’ve actually been the underachievers? Can white people even know if they’ve coasted along on privilege?

Who has such privilege? Aren’t stereotypes about blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans once directed at Asians, Jews, Irish, Italians, East Europeans, poor whites, and Catholics? Has that gone away? Is affirmative action the answer or the source of more stigma, claiming that minority achievements aren’t “real”? If Oprah succeeds in business or Obama in politics, is white privilege disproven? Do whites rise on escalators while blacks must race up the one going down? Have Asian Americans actually progressed from being “the Yellow Peril” to being a “model minority”? Did Catholics graduate to being “white” in the Twentieth Century? Do poor white Appalachians count as white? If so, where did their escalator go?

Is there institutional racism that makes white privilege possible? Are minorities confined in “those neighborhoods” by past explicit racial zoning, lack of access to bank loans, criminal records for minor offenses for which white offenders escape arrest and punishment, and hiring processes that permit employment discrimination against applicants named “Tanisha” over “Tanya”? Or are complaints about a stacked deck excuses for refusing to work? Haven’t other groups faced white or WASP privilege and still made it out of the ghetto? Is it society’s fault or the individual’s fault? If it’s both, who must solve the problem? Have government solutions done more harm than good?

Should white privilege be addressed by education and awareness? Or does that just lead to pushback and cynicism? If a person is told success isn’t possible without such privilege, why even try to succeed? Are whites now talking of a reverse “minority privilege” or claiming it seeks to deny opportunity to less affluent whites, all in the name of diversity? Is white privilege a reason not to judge whites by the content of their character, but to judge them by their skin color? Are whites and minorities equally at risk of being judged wrongfully? Do we eliminate white privilege by creating new privileges for non-whites? Do we give reparation for past wrongs? Do we trust that time will heal hearts and wounds and transform our own prejudices into celebration of differences? Who do we blame for white privilege —the white descendants of slavers, or of whites who came to America long past our Civil War?

On Monday, October 21 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will explore white privilege and its consequences, or maybe conclude it’s all a whitewash. Agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will help explore who wears the white hat and who the black hat in how we treat each other. But even if our views are in shades of grey, we’ll have brightly colored treats!