What Is White Privilege, Really?
White privilege is—perhaps most notably in this era of uncivil discourse—a concept that has fallen victim to its own connotations. The two-word term packs a double whammy that inspires pushback. 1) The word white creates discomfort among those who are not used to being defined or described by their race. And 2) the word privilege, especially for poor and rural white people, sounds like a word that doesn’t belong to them—like a word that suggests they have never struggled. Hearing these words often creates defensiveness which derails the conversation, which means, unfortunately, that defining white privilege must often begin with defining what it’s not.
Francis E. Kendall, author of Diversity in the Classroom and Understanding White Privilege: Creating Pathways to Authentic Relationships Across Race, comes close to giving us an encompassing definition: “having greater access to power and resources than people of color [in the same situation] do.” But in order to grasp what this means, it’s also important to consider how the definition of white privilege has changed over time.