The myth of eradicated racism: A proof of the existence of white privilege

By Christin Howard

(Joie De Cleve Flickr)
(Joie De Cleve Flickr)

I want to talk about white privilege. We hear about it all the time and yet I consistently run into white people who believe it doesn’t exist. This disbelief, in my optimistic opinion, is often caused by a fundamental misunderstanding of what white privilege means and how it affects the American population.

The anti-political correctness movement generally posits that we live in a post-racial society and that we have begun to swing to the other extreme in an effort to be PC.

My goal here is to simply explain what white privilege is and to demonstrate that discrimination against black people, both on a small scale and more importantly on a systematic and often-unconscious level, is still a huge issue.

The confusion people often run into is this: I am white and yet I don’t feel as though I have any special privileges. I still struggle. I am not rich, happy, or comfortable. Just because I am white and struggle, since I myself do not experience this privilege, it must not exist.

This logical jump can be best disproved if we think of privilege not as a positive (the gaining of something), but simply as the standard. This means that white privilege is simply the condition of being allowed a fair chance at success in society.

White privilege is the norm while minority groups live in the absence of this fair chance. If you lived your whole life with a certain standard of fair social living, it is perfectly reasonable to assume that you would not notice that this standard is not equally shared with all members of society.

White privilege means that your race does not negatively affect your overall experience of life. It means that the system has been constructed for your benefit. It does not mean you will have a good life; it just means that your race is not one of the factors that contributes to any sort of destitution or struggle you may experience.

This is hard for some people to grasp because society has agreed that racism is a bad thing. This means you are not allowed to be outright racist. Many people mistakenly conflate this with the death of racism. However, it is important for us to remember that Jim Crow was only abolished 40 years ago, and so those same issues of systematic and internalized racism that existed then have lingered into the 21st century, and there are statistics to prove it.

Let’s start with job discrimination. A study published by John Nunley, Nicholas Romero, Richard Seals and Adam Pugh for the Auburn University Department of Economics found that job applicants with “black sounding names” were a whopping 16 percent less likely to get called in to interview for a job than their white counterparts, even when their resumes were otherwise identical.

Housing discrimination is also an issue. A new report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found that when searching for a new home to rent, black people are shown 17 percent fewer available homes than white people.

The biggest issue is the hugely disproportionate numbers of black citizens (especially black males) who are currently incarcerated. According to the Bureau of Justice, in 2009 black people accounted for 39.4 percent of the prison population while whites accounted for only 34 percent. Blacks make up only 12.3 percent of the American population while whites make up a 63 percent. This means that the incarceration rate for black people is over six times higher than that of white people.

Now, many racists claim that this is just because black people are somehow more naturally violent or prone to crime. Let’s examine that claim further.

New York City recently lost a federal civil rights lawsuit about their stop-and-frisk policies because the NYPD stopped over 500,000 people annually without any indication a crime was committed. Of those stopped, 80 percent were black or Latino.

In addition, black drivers are 31 percent more likely to be pulled over than white drivers. Black drivers are searched by police at traffic stops two times more than white drivers.

Additionally, 15 percent of all inmates in the United States are jailed on drug-related offenses. Of this 15 percent, 32.6 percent is white and 38.4 percent is black. Again, when adjusted for differences in black and white population, black people are six times more likely to get arrested and incarcerated for drug offenses.

Almost half of these drug arrests are due to marijuana. According to a 2010 study by the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse and Health, despite the fact that marijuana use among blacks and whites remains constant, black people are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than their white peers.

According to the Department of Justice, African Americans account for 24 percent of those fatally shot and killed by the police despite being just 13 percent of the U.S. population. Again, clearly disproportionate.

Now these statistics show that today America is still a racist society. If you are black you are more likely to have trouble finding housing and getting a job. You are more likely to be pulled over, searched, arrested, incarcerated and shot. But what about the fact that crime rates are in fact disproportionately higher in black urban areas?

Poverty affects black citizens disproportionately. In 2008, the Bureau of Justice found that 34 percent of black children were living in poverty while only 10 percent of white children shared the same conditions.

Blacks are more likely to live in what are called high-poverty census track neighborhoods. This means neighborhoods where most people are poor.

Living in a very poor area means many unfortunate outcomes. It means schools are most likely underfunded and understaffed, making it difficult to get a good education. It means violence and crime is likely to be higher and thus easier to take part in. This simply means that for a poor black child growing up in a poor black area, it is incredibly difficult to achieve any upward mobility and ascend out of poverty and crime.

Combine that with the higher incarceration and high stop-and-frisk rates, you have a recipe for high crime rates among a minority group. To underscore that, black and white crime rates in middle and upper class neighborhoods remain the same.

This was no accident. During the Jim Crow era America was systematically set up to segregate black people to ghettos in which they were not given proper access to education, health care and food.

When you think about racism in America, it is important to remember that our society was fundamentally constructed out of slavery and then segregation. Yes we, as society, agree that racism is bad today but that does not mean that the systematic issues which have plagued our country since its inception have somehow been eradicated.

If you are white and reading this, I urge you to consider these facts. Saying that you have white privilege does not mean that you are somehow a bad person or have led an easy life; it simply means that these statistics don’t apply to you. You do not have to worry about being discriminated against based on your race from employers, realtors, police and justices. It means that you have not had to contend with the systematic oppression of your race throughout your lifetime.

Christin Howard is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]