Lately I have been reading about this concept of “Check Your Privilege” and seeing things such as “If you don’t have to think about it, it is a privilege.”
Generally the concept of “Check Your Privilege” is aimed at those that are “White” and those that are “Male.” Because automagically “Whiteness” and “Maleness” confirms some mystical powers on those that are defined as “white” and “male”. And the elite are thus “white males.”
Now I do accept that bias and racism does exists. My difficulty is the concept of “white privilege” is basically a straw-man argument designed to distract from the reality of most peoples lived experience – no matter the color of their skin. A straw-man argument is one that exaggerates, misrepresents, or just completely fabricates the points so it is much easier to present another view as being more reasonable. However this is a form of intellectual dishonesty that serves to undermine honest rational debate on a topic.
Cheryl Harris describes whiteness as a form of property, which confers privileges on its holders. In “Whiteness as Property,” Harris writes, “The wages of whiteness are available to all whites, regardless of class position – even to those whites who are without power, money, or influence. Whiteness, the characteristic that distinguishes them from blacks, serves as compensation even to those who lack material wealth. It is the relative political advantages extended to whites, rather than actual economic gains, that are crucial to white workers.”
— Cheryl, Harris (1995), “Whiteness as Property”, in Crenshaw, Kimberlé, Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement, New York: The New Press, p. 286, ISBN 1-56584-271-5
While “white privilege” is an interesting academic thought exercise one aspect that is overlooked is that there are degrees of “whiteness”. Not all light skin people are treated as white and generally these light-tinted folks are given labels such as white trash, hillbillies, red-necks, and other descriptors meant to capture the low-status of these folks. Harris would seem to argue that anyone that can be classified as “light-skinned” is inherently blessed by the pinkish glow of their outer dermis.
The concept of “white privilege” imagines that north america society is a tiered cake arranged in discreet color layers starting with angel food-cake on the top and descending down into double dark-chocolate on the bottom. The societal reality is closer to it being a marble cake with swirls of white and dark mixed throughout the cake – and then topped with a creamy rich white icing on top. From the outside this marble-cake would seem to confirm that whiteness is indeed the key to success – when the reality is the white topping is more about the historical economic privilege of the elite European colonialists maintaining their economic head-start.
Yes the mixing of the marble is still uneven – so the cake is still darker on the bottom. However, more important than simply assigning “whiteness” is the understanding of the unbalancing impact of historical economic power that is still retained by a thin elite few. And yes they are mostly white. And mostly men. But their power actually flows from the control over things that are green and gold – economic clout to do as they please when they please. This is more about the eternal class disparity that has a historical white bias – and that economic power is a barrier that is harder to breakdown.