White privilege is invisible and omnipresent — if you have it, it’s likely you don’t realize it. As made popular by Peggy McIntosh, the term “white privilege” reflects all the ways in which being perceived as white allows one “the ability and the freedom to be an individual” (Guinier, 2003, p. 82). Most of these are individual benefits — such as being free from fear of being racially profiled, or being able to see yourself represented in books and movies (Collins, 2018). When taken into account with structural or institutional racism, one can see the ways in which whiteness was created to benefit certain groups of people.
When the benefits of such a privilege may be pointed out to you, you may feel defensive or display “white fragility” (Waldman, 2018). This white fragility, which “describe(s) the disbelieving defensiveness that white people exhibit when their ideas about race and racism are challenged—and particularly when they feel implicated in white supremacy” is a roadblock in the journey to equality. Other reactions can include a plea for color-blindness (ex: I don’t see race, you’re the racist for talking about race!) as discussed in Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s seminal Racism Without Racists: Color Blind Racism & Racial Inequality in Contemporary America (2010). Or, individuals might claim that because they are poor, they did not receive any privileges, which shows confusion about the concept. We are all different, and we all have different, overlapping experiences; no one is just white, just bisexual, or just Filipino. Yet all over the world, certain experiences and identities are placed on a hierarchy. In some countries even when the majority or sizable amount of the population is “of color,” colorism is still at play, wherein the lighter you are, the more you seem to hold value (Garcia-Navarro, 2015).
While you may be poor and Appalachian, suffering in a city where there is no steady employment and all of your friends are victims to the opioid crisis, you’re still navigating your life as a white person, even if no one you know actually ever identifies as white. Your experiences will differ from those who are recent immigrants to the area, or those who are multiracial and navigating these same problems — all while facing racial prejudice at the same time. The term white privilege is not meant to instill guilt, but to provoke a transformation in racial consciousness.