The politics around ‘white privilege’

The Publisher’s notebook of Nov. 9 dealt with the importance of establishing an open dialogue on race relations in our community. In an effort to foster such a dialogue the Chautauqua County League of Women Voters would be sponsoring a program on Nov. 16. It was noted that Rianna Moore, Ph.D., coauthor of the book “Journeys of Race, Faith, and Culture” would speak at the program on “white privilege.” While I wanted to attend this program, previous commitments precluded that.

However, the article did get me thinking about “white privilege” and what it really is and how it fits into establishing and maintaining a dialogue between the races.

According to its proponents white privilege is the advantage that persons with white skin have in society. Whites receive this privilege irrespective of their level of wealth, gender or any other factors but only because they are white. It makes their lives easier but it’s also something you would hardly notice unless it was taken away.

The concept of white privilege first saw the light of day in an article by feminist and Women’s Studies academic Peggy McIntosh in her 1989 article “White Privilege: Unpacking the invisible Knapsack.”

Ms. McIntosh begins with a discussion of “male privilege” and her belief that while men may acknowledge that women are at a disadvantage in society, men have been conditioned and in fact taught not to recognize male privilege.

The author then writes that “white privilege” developed in the same manner. White Americans may abhor individual acts of racism but have been conditioned not to recognize white privilege, to accept unthinkingly its benefits, and to protect “unearned advantage and conferred dominance by making these taboo subjects.” She goes on to claim that white privilege “is kept strongly enculturated in the United States so as to maintain the myth of a meritocracy, the myth that democratic choice is equally available to all.”

Ms. McIntosh and other progressives seem to feel that if only privileged whites would acknowledge that their lives are made easier because of unearned benefits, that we would develop a more empathetic and socially conscious view towards racism and people of color. With that all of our racial problems would be solved. In fact, at its core it is a Marxist concept that encourages hatred for those who we perceive as better off then ourselves and encourages us to refuse to admit that those who are successful usually do so through their own efforts.

White privilege is a questionable and simplistic way of placing blame for racial problems in our society while allowing liberals to engage in self-flagellation for their own sins in race relations, although I don’t think for a minute, they actually believe they committed any such sins. It allows them to pat themselves on the back once the welts have healed and then with the assistance of academia and the national media capture the moral high ground in the politics of race relations. To hear progressives talk they have, in the process of discerning the impact of white privilege, developed a more acute social conscious than their conservative opponents.

This misplaced aura of moral superiority makes them feel justified in painting President Trump, other Republicans and conservatives as racists and to flatly deny that American society has made any progress in eliminating the evil of racism. By its very definition, white privilege divides us into the privileged and the unprivileged, creating an adversarial relationship which is not conducive to dialogue between the races.

White privilege has been wielded as a political cudgel by progressives so often in the recent past that its mere mention raises the hackles of Republicans, conservatives and clear-thinking people of all political stripes and skin colors. I agree with those who see the opening of a dialogue between the races as vitally important. However, is making white privilege a major theme in that effort a wise idea? I, for one, say no.

Thomas Kirkpatrick Sr. is a Silver Creek resident. Send comments to