Reflecting on my White Privilege

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Bert Perry's picture

My grandparents certainly could have said about the same thing as does Brandenburg, but it's worth noting that in the towns they lived in, in the Midwest and not the South, there used to be signs telling blacks to get out before nightfall.  I don't believe they phrased it that politely, though.  In those same towns, realtors would refuse to show many properties to prospective buyers if they were black, churches either nudged blacks away or consigned them to the peanut gallery**, and even graveyards would refuse to sell plots to blacks--I've got the title to such a plot.  

So yes, Brandenburg did benefit from quite a bit of white privilege, even though it wasn't necessarily apparent to him at the time.  Thankfully a lot of this is prohibited by law today, and it is true that much rhetoric on the topic overstates the realities.  But even in a post-MLK era I grew up in, I can see some examples and view it as important to overcome them.

**I'm using a somewhat more printable version of the term than was commonly used in many places.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Joel Shaffer's picture

From my 28 years of experience as a missionary in the inner-city, the African-Americans I minister to already know this message.   They are not "feeling sorry for themselves" because they don't have many of the same privileges that white people have.  They don't see life as a "zero-sum game" where someone's gain is their loss.   These comments from Brandenburg's article only reinforce prejudicial stereotypes about black folks that persist within conservative/fundamentalist circles; stereotypes that Christians who believe this need to repent of.   

What's ironic is that Brandenburg applies the "white-privilege" argument to African-Americans as if they were the intended audience.   Rather the concept of White Privilege is to help white people understand the subtle systemic racism that permeates our nation.  Although some progress has taken place since the civil rights era, objective study after study has shown that Blacks still do not have the same opportunities as Whites in America. (I could point to hundreds of anecdotal evidence that I've seen as well) And many whites, no matter how strong the evidence, still refuse to acknowledge that reality.    Sadly,  whenever I talk about this, it seems as if many white Christians think I am trying to shame them or make them bear the blame for these racial inequalities.    Nothing could be further from the truth.  Pointing out the existence of white privilege is not at all about shaming white people into white guilt and pointing an accusing finger.  Rather it is about helping them see the reality of racial inequalities in the 21st century and looking for ways to make sure that black and brown people have the same opportunities in this country as I do.    



David R. Brumbelow's picture

There is something to be said for white privilege, but there is more to be said for a stable family and strong work ethic.  I regularly see Black folks in good paying jobs making more money than I’ve ever made.  It kind of annoys me when a race activist that makes multiple times my salary wants me to feel sorry for the tough life he has. 

Walter E. Williams, an economist and columnist who happens to be Black, speaks on white privilege: 

“Then there's white privilege. Colleges have courses and seminars on 'whiteness.' One college even has a course titled ‘Abolition of Whiteness.’ According to academic intellectuals, whites enjoy advantages that nonwhites do not. They earn higher income and reside in better housing, and their children go to better schools and achieve more. Based on those socio-economic statistics, Japanese-Americans have more white privilege than white people. And, on a personal note, my daughter has experienced more white privilege than probably 95 percent of white Americans. She's attended private schools, had ballet and music lessons, traveled the world, and lived in upper-income communities. Leftists should get rid of the concept of white privilege and just call it achievement."  -Walter E. Williams

David R. Brumbelow

TylerR's picture


I appreciate Joel's passion and his lifetime in ministry in inner-city contexts. I;m willing to concede that I "might not understand," but I don't understand why I don't understand:

  • I'm the first person in my family to graduate from college
  • My father had no degree, was a self-taught chef, helped found a mortgage company and was the VP for about a decade, and a self-taught web-based programmer who contracted with Microsoft. He worked for everything he had, and was never given anything
  • I'm a product of Tacoma , WA public school system - along with folks of every ethnic class you can imagine from roughly the same socio-economic class
  • My "upward mobility" came from the military; my parents didn't have money to pay for me to go to university and I didn't ask them to.
  • I was in the military with hundreds of thousands of people from every ethnicity and socio-economic class
  • I took the skills I learned in the military, and transitioned to government service - along with thousands of other people of every ethnicity, and socioeconomic class

I jsut don't grasp the discrimination argument, with respect to opportunities.  

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Rob Fall's picture

you're like me a Westerner. I'm from San Francisco. After WW1, my dad's family settled around Yakima (grandfather's side) and Sedro Wolley (grandmother's side). My maternal's settled in LA after WW1 where my mother was born. Out here, Blacks did not experience the same kind of de jure\de facto racially inspired segregation they faced in other parts of the country. In California, that kind of racism was focused on the "Orientals". Though, when the Giants moved to San Francisco, Willy Mays did have a problem buying a house in one of the ritzier neighborhoods in the City. He ran into a whites-only clause in the deed. Out here, for the most part, the only color that mattered was green and how much you had of it.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Bert Perry's picture

Here's a word picture that illustrates where both groups are coming from; affirmative action set-asides and different standards by race.  Back when I was at MSU, it became known that black students would be admitted to the College of Engineering with SAT scores up to 200 points lower and GPAs up to half a point lower--no small deal on the scales of 1600 and 4 at the time. really.

Now is that black privilege because lesser qualified black students got in, or is it white privilege because whites never had anybody wonder whether they got in because of affirmative action?  Kinda depends on your perspective.

A lot of other examples really hinge on the assumption that all blacks are the urban poor, which goes over badly among those who are, and even worse among those who aren't. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Joel Shaffer's picture

I jsut don't grasp the discrimination argument, with respect to opportunities.  

Two of the big ones when it comes to opportunities is employment and housing.  Several studies, including this one, have been conducted and have shown that whites are twice more likely to receive a callback for employment for the same position as blacks.  

The results of these studies were startling. Among those with no criminal record, white applicants were more than twice as likely to receive a callback relative to equally qualified black applicants. Even more troubling, whites with a felony conviction fared just as well, if not better, than a black applicant with a clean background.  Racial disparities have been documented in many contexts, but here, comparing the two job applicants side by side, we are confronted with a troubling reality: Being black in America today is just about the same as having a felony conviction in terms of one’s chances of finding a job. The young black men posing as job applicants in this study were bright college kids, models of discipline and hard work; and yet, even in this best case scenario, these applicants were routinely overlooked simply on the basis of the color of their skin. The results of this study suggest that black men must work at least twice as hard as equally qualified whites simply to overcome the stigma of their skin color.

There is also the lingering issue of redlining when it comes to housing discrimination.  Although outlawed in 1968, there are still banks and real estate companies that still steer African-Americans from predominantly white neighborhoods or refuse to loan money, despite being just as or more qualified as whites.   Check out both articles.       

I could go on and on about the broken Criminal Justice system, where blacks are treated unfairly.  If you'd like, I could share article after article about it.  I could share how black boys are treated harsher than white boys in public schools by teachers and administrators, helping to contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline.  Of course, fatherlessness is a very large contributing factor as well, but many liberals/progressives don't like to mention that.   

Racial Discrimination at a systemic level is still around.  It just looks different than it did 50 years ago.  


Bert Perry's picture

Regarding Joel's point, one thing we've got to consider is that a huge portion of studies these days, even in the hard sciences, can not be replicated.  Nobody gets his Ph.D. or tenure for retaining the null hypothesis (finding nothing new), and sociology studies are often the worst because sociologists don't usually understand math well, which won't help your statistics.  They're also renowned for bias and "company thinking". To draw an example, one study I looked at completely lacked statistical tests or even a control sample, but did not hesitate to draw a conclusion.  When I contrived a control sample and did a statistical test, I found the exact opposite of what the study had claimed to have found, but their conclusion was what the establishment wanted to hear.

That noted, even with that grain of salt, I think there's something to what Joel is getting at.  In hiring, you have the resume/obvious qualifications, and then you have the "soft" information that really makes the difference between hiring and the resume going to the circular file.  For this reason, there is an entire industry coaching applicants in how to play up their strengths and play down their weaknesses--these including age, sex, gaps in work history, other factors, and yes, race.

How it works; see my comments above about affirmative action, and assume HR has identical resumes for "Joshua" and "Davante" from the same school.   HR knows the hiring manager is looking for such and such a culture, which is not inner city black culture, and furthermore has a nagging suspicion that "Davante"  benefited from affirmative action--that his degree doesn't indicate what it ought to indicate.  Having limited time, and not wanting to risk the wrath of the hiring manager for forwarding a bad candidate, who does she call?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

In interacting with anyone, black/white/whatever, who is having trouble taking steps up the economic ladder, one of the first things to do is see what "soft" information is coming through on their resume and social media.  For example, when I looked through the resume of my stepbrother (fishbelly white as I am FWIW), one thing that was obvious was exactly when his father had died.  Any sharp HR person would have seen it almost immediately, so I advised him to change the structure of his resume to a more topical, rather than chronological, structure, and I pointed out that he'd been making some really good progress up to the point his father had died.  It wasn't all my doing, but pretty soon, his job status improved.

Along the same lines, I would guess as well that if the concern is "driving while black" citations and the like, it might be good to have a peace officer come by and tell people what they're looking for in traffic stops, pointing things out on their own cars.  For example, I drive a somewhat rusted out 1997 pickup, and my wife noted a police officer looking at me very closely while we were out on a date.  Sometimes it's all about those subtle social cues.  (and it's not just blacks who are affected)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

Look carefully at this article and see if you can spot the biases.   My take is that it omits some very relevant points.

For example, who really believes that restaurants are doing detailed demographic studies to avoid certain neighborhoods?  (besides the Obama DOJ, of course)  What's really going on is that drivers and store managers are noting carefully where they are at risk by mapping out gang graffiti, bars on windows, robberies of drivers, and the like--and not delivering there.   Can we really blame them?  

Regarding banks not placing branches in certain areas, again, the questions of property values, income, and crime come into play.   To blame a bank for not locating branches where there is no money is like blaming a barbeque joint for not putting a branch in a Muslim neighborhood. 

Moreover, given the record of the Obama DOJ for veracity, you've got to question their claim that the borrowers were indeed "just as qualified."  Are they simply comparing credit scores, or are they also taking assets and income into account?  Usually, it's just credit scores, which means prospective borrowers were not "equally qualified" by any stretch of the imagination.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

mmartin's picture

I recently watched a video of Ben Shapiro where he said there was no such thing as "White Privilege," but there is "Decision Privilege."  Yes, many whites have had advantages people of color do not.  However, there are many people of color who grew up with significantly greater advantages than I ever had.

I'm still not sure what to think of this "White Privilege."  Doesn't "Decision Privilege" have significant merit?  Don't 99% of all Americans have the same opportunities?  

This "privilege" term gets thrown about so much these days that it is challenging to understand what it actually means.  Plus, I think it is often used as a club for some people/groups to bully and attempt silence those they disagree with and as an excuse for either making bad decisions or to not even try.  OR, for some as an excuse to not even try to listen to people explaining it.

BTW, I have worked for two african-american female bosses.  Both were terrific!

But, I almost cringe at saying that.  Makes no difference to me what color, sex, species, or race they or others are.  It is a simple matter of competence and how people treat others.  Why should it matter what race or sex anyone is?  I almost think the worse thing we can do about race relations is to talk about it.

So, why then am I talking about it?  Because in today's world that does seem to matter and it does affect my perception of "white privilege."   

mmartin's picture

One more thing, recently on Facebook I saw a video of a group of young people where going to have a race.  The group leader asked those who grew-up with parents to step forward towards the finish line, that those who had access to private schools to step forward and so on.  He then pointed out that the "black guys ( or kids)" in the back (because they weren't able to step forward per the questions) would still beat many of the kids who had stepped forward (almost all white kids).

I'm still confused at how that exercise shows "white privilege."  How does the color of one's skin have to do with making a good decision, i.e. to not have children until married (no matter the race).  Isn't that in fact a matter of an advantage and making good decisions as opposed to "privilege?"

Maybe the label on the video didn't match-up with what the group leader was trying to show the kids, but I didn't get it.

Steve Newman's picture

Don't you think it is an unfair generalization to make privilege racial? It isn't the color of my skin that gives me privilege, it is the culture that I am steeped in. Clearly, not all of us are in the same culture.

I am sympathetic toward African-Americans and the culture that has developed around them. They do have disadvantages in general in their culture. 

But is it not part of being in Christ that we are not simply products of our culture? Aren't we supposed to create our own culture rather than just accepting what the world shovels at us?