White Privilege is dead The scale has tipped toward protected groups

August 02, 1998|By Michael Holden


On July 19, Robert Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas, wrote a Perspective article that said many whites have prospered merely because they're white. The ultimate white privilege occurs when whites concede that they have unearned privilege and ignore what that means, he asserted. Today, Michael Holden takes an opposing view.

The problem with white privilege is that it gives rise to articles such as Professor Robert Jensen's "White Privilege Shapes the U.S.," which appeared in Perspective July 19.

For starters, Jensen apologizes for being born white in a majority-white country. Would he prefer to have been born in, say, the Sudan? Haiti? Rwanda?

He laments being born in mostly-white North Dakota. He is upset because he did not grow up near an Indian reservation.

To his dismay, he attended a well-funded, "virtually all-white school." There, he learned that white people made "this country great." To make matters worse, his school taught him how to take standardized tests, on which he did well enough to get into college and become a college teacher.

Now, from his lofty position as a professor of journalism, Jensen, a white guy, whines about - what? You guessed it: the "sins" of white privilege.

Apparently, Jensen lives in some parallel universe, where minority entitlements such as affirmative action, victims' rights, ethnic hiring and promotion quotas, and racial set-asides do not exist.

Jensen is at pains to apologize for being white and the recipient of whatever he means by "white privilege." (He never really explains or defines this term.)

In his guilt about being white, Jensen overlooks 130 years of efforts by the white majority in the United States to level the playing field for blacks freed from slavery after the Civil War. (Oh, yes, most of the 650,000 killed and wounded in that war were white.)

Starting in the 1960s, privileged, white legislators, including Southerners, put in place all manner of civil rights legislation. Their aim - unprecedented in history - was to create equal rights for, and equal application of state and federal laws to, all U.S. citizens, black, white and other. That process continues today.

Who did this? White people.

It is a fact, overlooked by folks such as Jensen, that no other country in history freed slaves and then worked so hard to enfranchise those former slaves, educate them and bring them into the legal, economic, educational and cultural mainstream of the society that had enslaved them.

And who did this? White people.

'Black privilege'

Is there such a thing as "black privilege"? I recently attended a graduation ceremony at a historically black college. There, every administrator on the podium was black - all the deans, vice presidents, assistant vice presidents, the provost, the president and so on.

An example of black privilege? Probably, but don't expect the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to object. The EEOC rarely looks at the hiring practices of black colleges.

An all-black college administration is a matter of blacks promoting their own. This is OK, it seems, to blacks. It is politically and culturally appropriate at an historically black college. It's a matter of black pride.

But, statistically, such a totally black administration is highly unusual. It is hard to believe there isn't a white, or someone of another race, qualified to serve in one of those administrative positions. What of equal opportunity for whites? Asians? Hispanics?

Or is this a case of black privilege?

Minorities sought

Also fascinating are the minority-recruiting efforts on college campuses today. These campaigns target minorities and say so. They are run by government agencies and large corporations. All are bastions of white privilege, according to Jensen.

Yet their advertising for job openings is explicitly directed at African-Americans and other protected groups, often pointedly so. These ads announce "Minority Recruitment Campaign," "Seeking Qualified African-Americans" or "Minority Outreach Jobs Program."

Such posters are on every college campus. What would happen if the U.S. Coast Guard or IBM advertised for "White People"? There would be all hell to pay.

The same double standard exists in many other places. Talk radio comes to mind. Locally, one black-owned Baltimore station regularly broadcasts racially derogatory comments about white people. Could a white-owned radio station broadcast such disparaging statements about blacks? Not in these days of black privilege. Yet radio talk show host C. Miles of WOLB regularly refers to whites as "Mr. Bobo" and suggests that all whites are supporters of the Klan and other forms of white supremacy.

If a white-owned station used the N-word or talked about "Sambo," how long would the Federal Communications Commission allow that station to keep its license?

White privilege? Not in America in the 1990s. Today, the only group that is not privileged is white people.

Despite being the majority, whites in America - particularly white men - have legislated away whatever privilege they might have enjoyed. The beneficiaries of all these laws passed by the white majority are members of newly entitled groups - blacks, women, the disabled, homosexuals and the like.

nTC Jensen needs to get over his white-liberal guilt trip, as does much of the rest of white America.

Whites who think like Jensen have given away all their privileges. They have nothing to whine about. Yet.

But demographics will change that in the next few years. Then, when whites have become the newest minority in the United States, will any African-American college professors worry whether blacks suffer from black privilege?

Michael Holden writes from Chestertown.

Pub Date: 8/02/98

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