If you are swimming among the many fish in the ocean, ask one of the fishes: “How is the water?” “What water?” the incredulous fish is likely to respond. The fish will not be aware that it is swimming in water. I could not in good conscience resist responding to Rita Dunaway’s viewpoint: ”The Myth of White Privilege” (Dec. 7).
White privilege is the experience in which all the millions of people who are born white, not just in America but in the world, automatically enjoy certain advantages and opportunities because they are white without their making an effort or even being aware of the advantages.
Peggy MacIntosh, in a 1988 classic article, lists 20 examples of privileges that whites enjoy: in housing, dealing with police and the justice system, education curriculum, media, history books, travel, job applications, and overall ease of choices in their personal lives, whites enjoy to mention just a few. White privilege is real. The biggest misinterpretation is that white privilege says that all whites are lazy, racist, have it easy and don’t work hard for what they have, don’t struggle in life, are given everything on a silver platter, don’t experience poverty and hardship, that all whites are rich and well off. The argument about white privilege says none of these things.
Another distortion is that white privilege says blacks and other minorities never get opportunities to succeed in life. Many minorities succeed in education, in business, and other achievements. Certain individual minorities may be more successful than many whites. That’s why we have LeBron James, Tiger Woods, Beyonce, and Obama as examples of those minorities who have achieved success in this atmosphere of white privilege. But white privilege argues that these minorities achieve this success in spite the obstacles that they continue to face often because of white privilege, power and control. Many of the minorities have to work twice as hard to achieve the same levels of success compared to their white counterparts in exactly the same situations.
Robin Diangelo, in “White Fragility,” identifies 15 life spheres in which whites totally dominate and control. These include: 10 richest Americans are 100% white and full time college professors 84% white. People who decide what TV shows we watch 93% white, teachers 8% white, U.S. Congress is 90% white just to mention a few of the 15. This means the vast majority of whites are born and live their lives in a world in which whites are in control of the world that the rest of us nonwhites also live in trying to get a job, get a loan, drive without cops pulling us over because of our race. The white supremacy that creates the white privilege is so pervasive that like the proverbial fish swimming in water in the ocean, most whites might not even be aware or conscious of their white privilege. They take it for granted.
Mwizenge S. Tembo lives in Bridgewater.