“White privilege” and the Black gulf

The recent approval of the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court led me to reflect on her “privilege,” meaning two caring parents who valued education, the gift of high IQ, plus her determination and her quality education at Harvard.

I imagine she had a scholarship, because she was an outstanding student and because how could her parents afford to send her to the elite college and the law school?

(Photo: The Daily Beast)

In a roundabout way, that led me to mulling the concept of “white privilege,” and a column I wrote in 2014.

My feelings haven’t changed much, so here is that column, with minor updates. 


Privilege to be white? Not quite. 9/16/14.

My “white privilege” was sharing a bedroom with my sister in a South Bronx tenement until I was 15 and she was 11. My parents slept on a bed in the living room. Then we moved out of a neighborhood of close scrapes and fire escapes to public-housing in Brooklyn — the projects — where we had our own bedrooms.

We were lower class, but not “poor,” or at least we didn’t think so. In the early ’50s, not all that many people were “rich,” and I didn’t know any of them. My first full-time job was as a stock picker and packer in a Norcross greeting-card warehouse.

My situation today may be better than my Black Bronx classmates’, but I don’t know that for sure. I attended the same high school as Attorney General Eric Holder, and he’s done better than I. Much better. The hill was, and is, steeper for Blacks than whites. You would be foolish to deny that, but to believe all whites roller-skate downhill is ridiculous.

“White privilege” is repackaged “white guilt.” The “privilege” part gags me, as it does many (especially) working-class whites. The semantics are more galling than the concept because it smacks of cheating. It is a toxic mixture of race and class hate. 

A general definition of “privilege” is “special advantage enjoyed by a particular group.” If it is true that most whites find it easier to hail a cab, get a better table in a restaurant, and are less likely to be stopped by a cop, that is not ”privilege.” It is customary treatment,

A better term to explain the gap between Black and white might be the “Black gulf,” which I don’t like, but shifts the focus to the undeniable victim. Racism —being stopped by cops, trailed in retail stores, cold-shouldered by white neighbors — lays its hand on most African-Americans, but none of it improves white lives.

“White privilege” says whites get an undeserved boost, even when they are unaware of it. It’s part of woke belief that many of the beneficiaries of privilege are unaware of it. That’s almost hateful. And defending yourself is seen, by the woke, as proof of racism. 

There are millions more whites than Blacks below the poverty line, but I know the poverty rate is twice as high for Blacks as for whites. There are myriad historical causes for that, but ”white privilege” is not one of them.

Actual privilege is enjoyed by the classes above your own. The son of an African-American M.D. in Cherry Hill is going to find the hill less steep than the white son of a single mother in Kensington. That’s reality.

Whites are not America’s highest-earning ethnic group. That  distinction goes to Asian Indians, who are nonwhite and relative newcomers. Why doesn’t “white privilege” hold them back?

Many African-Americans won’t agree with me, but go sell “white privilege” to a white sharecropper in Appalachia or a white trapper in the Cascades. If “white privilege” is not always true, it should not be stated as if it were.

How many of these ”tests” remain true?

If we are going to have that elusive “conversation about race” we keep hearing about, both sides have to be willing to listen, otherwise it’s a lecture. When you hear all the points of view, and all the facts, I think most will conclude that America is not “systematically  racist,” but is a system with some remainders of racism in It. 

I find it odd that the academics who coined “white privilege” would vehemently oppose other racial generalizations directed at minorities. As they should.

The “white privilege” fallacy makes many whites angry and some Blacks bitter. It doesn’t help anyone.

The pain of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and redlining created indelible, negative impressions of America for African-Americans, as the Holocaust created indelible impressions of the world for Jews. Both exist more in history than in 21st Century reality. Ours is not a world in which every gain by one party is balanced by another party’s loss.

Here are my real privileges:

America. Every American —white, Black, brown, red, yellow — has a privilege over most people in the world.

Parents. Mine loved me and set standards. They demanded I get an education because any problems in life would be multiplied by ignorance.

Good health. I have it, but my good health doesn’t cause anyone else’s bad health.

Gender. When I was growing up and into the present, males were paid more than women. There has been progress: The disparity today is not as wide as grievance merchants would have you believe, nor as narrow as I want them for my daughter.

Height. I am more than 6 feet tall, and research shows tall men generally do better than short men. It’s also true that pretty does better than ugly, slim vs. fat. Is that right? No. Is it changeable? Probably not. Humans are imperfect.

What you “own” was not necessarily taken from someone else. A successful African-American — and there are many of them — didn’t cheat another Black person to succeed. 

Neither did a white person.

16 thoughts on ““White privilege” and the Black gulf”

    Excellent writing as always. Facts, amusing facts, serious facts. All kinds of facts.
    Take the serious facts: Our country is to be loved. Warts and all. We have improved much in only a few short ( hundreds ) years. We still have much to improve on. I said things before and I stand beside them. We were not raised to be racist. We grew up in a mostly white neighborhood, like most. We had a mix of ethnics. Mostly Italian but used to be German. There was – believe it or not, a mixed race family, as well as other minorities as time went on. I’m talking late ’50s, early ’60s. As I said before, we were ever so slightly prejudice without know it or knowing why. It was the times.
    The humor facts: There were close to 100 homes on our street. In the ’50s, you could count the cars on one hand. ( we had horses on the street ) Our block were 3 bedrooms. Parents got one. Sister got one. Four brothers got one. The block below us were 2 bedroom houses.
    I guess that was our version of ‘white priviledge’ .
    Black priviledge: No more real than white priviledge. We all know minorities that have succeeeded far beyond our capabilities. There are black Astronaults, doctors, politicians ( presidents ) and even lawyers. On the high side are the religious. ( Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. )

    1. Tony,
      I assume, like the Wetten’s bunk beds. Top or bottom?
      My sister had her own, too.

      1. HAPPY MONDAY Tommy !!!
        Actually no. We had two double beds, two bureaus. The front room should have been the ( ha ha ) master suite !
        Hope all ie well ith all of you.

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed your piece, Stu. We musn’t let the false premise of white privelege, white supremacy or white guilt take hold on us, especially young people. Again this is just another facet in what we spoke to the other day, by those who hate America.
    An aside: When are you going to give us an update on the January 6 commission?

          1. An ex NYPD COP just convicted of assault.
            It’s all over the Liberal msm

          2. I guess I have not been on liberal media. Mostly reading and working on my column for Wednesday.
            My feeling on 1/6 is as follows 1- The people who attended the rally and went home are guilty of nothing. 2- Anyone attempting to enter the Capitol is guilty of trespass. 3- Anyone actually getting in is guilty of trespass, breaking and entering and maybe more. 4- Anyone guilty of assaulting a cop or causing any kind or damage should be prosecuted. 5- No one accused should have been jailed for a year.
            In the case you mention, the guilty guy is a FORMER cop, but is a disgrace to the uniform anyway.

  3. I grew up in a neighborhood that was comprised of a lot of snooty wasps, a lot of Jews, and very few ‘all others.’ My family was in the ‘all others’ category, (my family being Italian-American Catholics), so I gravitated into the Jewish area to find friends, which was easy, as many of my classmates in middle- and high-school were Jewish and lived in the vicinity. Several of the Jewish kids I met in the 1950s are still my friends, and every Thursday evening I play poker with six Jewish guys (two of them from high school days) and me, jokingly called ‘the token goy.’ From all of my observations from tie time of my youth until now, I can say that that my Jewish friends had absolutely NO white privilege. What they DID have was dedicated and intense family support and a very serious desire to get educated and become SOMETHING. (I was a lazy shit and struggled because…because I was a lazy shit.) Somehow, in some way, the Black family has been destroyed, with a very large percentage now being led only by Mothers, and far too many young girls being pregnant out of wedlock. White privilege? That’s blaming the White person for Black failure. I will have none of it.

  4. Stu,

    I remember reading the older blog to which I had replied. For the sake of redundancy I will go over my youth. True we have been friends since the South Bronx days. It took my mother being mugged in 1963 to get out of the area. We had nothing. Dad was always borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. He worked three jobs and my mom worked at Alexanders on 3rd ave and 149th street. My clothes were always hand me downs from my cousin. I gave money home from 17 until my mom passed away 20 years ago. When they left the bronx.I gave up my bedroom so they could live in a better place.. In the early 70’s, when my dad got mugged in Flushing, my parents moved to Riverdale I put myself through college. Between working during the day, being in the National Guard and going to school at night, it took almost 14 years to finish college. . I have had two successful careers. There were no handouts for me. I am not trying to brag or anything but I do not consider myself to be any sort of “White Privileged ” individual. Being Jewish in the world is not exactly free from prejudicy or potential annihilation.

    1. I had no idea your folks were worse of than mine. I guess I was fooled by your beautiful living room furniture (under plastic covers). I am surprised you remained on the block until 1963.
      It turns out we BOTH went to college at night. (Thanks for your National Guard service.)
      Because of what you, and I, went through, I am sure we share the same view on the planned handout to reduce student debt.
      I am STUNNED that a majority of Americans would approve of some sort of debt reduction. It’s like 66%, which would mean even some Republicans are for it.

  5. Stu,
    Re. The convicted cop. I was confusing trials with Dem.congressional commission. I agree with your assessment on the participants.
    Jacob Chansley(Qanon man) got 3 years to set an example. Damn shame!

      1. Many hours of video have reportly not been released. This is a political weapon for the dems, and at this point of an election year, all they have left. I have friends who are infuriated at the mention of Trump. I’m frustrated and flabbergasted.

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