White Privilege

What is White Privilege?

And what form does it take?

1. Refers to the unquestioned and unearned set of advantages, entitlements, benefits and choices bestowed on people solely because they are white. Generally white people who experience such privilege do so without being conscious of it.

2. Structural White Privilege: A system of white domination that creates and maintains belief systems that make current racial advantages and disadvantages seem normal. The system includes powerful incentives for maintaining white privilege and its consequences, and powerful negative consequences for trying to interrupt white privilege or reduce its consequences in meaningful ways. The system includes internal and external manifestations at the individual, interpersonal, cultural and institutional levels.

The accumulated and interrelated advantages and disadvantages of white privilege that are reflected in racial/ethnic inequities in life-expectancy and other health outcomes, income and wealth, and other outcomes, in part through different access to opportunities and resources. These differences are maintained in part by denying that these advantages and disadvantages exist at the structural, institutional, cultural, interpersonal, and individual levels and by refusing to redress them or eliminate the systems, policies, practices, cultural norms, and other behaviors and assumptions that maintain them.

Interpersonal White Privilege: Behavior between people that consciously or unconsciously reflects white superiority or entitlement.

Cultural White Privilege: A set of dominant cultural assumptions about what is good, normal or appropriate that reflects Western European white world views and dismisses or demonizes other world views.

Institutional White Privilege: Policies, practices and behaviors of institutions—such as schools, banks, non-profits or the Supreme Court—that have the effect of maintaining or increasing accumulated advantages for those groups currently defined as white, and maintaining or increasing disadvantages for those racial or ethnic groups not defined as white. The ability of institutions to survive and thrive even when their policies, practices and behaviors maintain, expand or fail to redress accumulated disadvantages and/or inequitable outcomes for people of color.

SOURCES: 1. Peggy McIntosh, “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspon¬dences Through Work in Women Studies” (1988).

2. Transforming White Privilege: A 21st Century Leadership Capacity, CAPD, MP Associates, World Trust Educational Services (2012).

How can we change or transform it?

Transforming White Privilege (TWP) is designed to help current and emerging leaders from a variety of sectors better identify, talk about and intervene to address white privilege and its consequences.

​ PowerPoint slides and video clips covering a number of key concepts, tools and strategies for change. For example, the curriculum helps groups explore dominant cultural assumptions and perspectives about what is considered normal, appropriate, desirable and/or valid. Dominant culture narratives or norms – e.g. what constitutes a “family,”’ who is considered dangerous, intelligent, acceptable and whose perspectives are valid – are codified in customs, laws, institutions, policies, and practices. They reinforce stereotypes and limit fair access in terms of who belongs inside and who remains outside circles of human concern (as the concept is used by john powell and others). In addition, cultural assumptions are part of what continue to advantage some groups and disadvantage others. And, even when those inequities are persistent and obvious, the history and current policies and practices that drive them often may not be. The deep investigation and chance to “work with” these ideas can help build participants’ capacity to identify, talk productively about and act to address white culture, white privilege and their consequences in their spheres of influence.

Major topics introduced, reinforced and “worked” over time include:
• Understanding how white privilege operates and is maintained within a system of inequity
• How “whiteness” itself was created
• Ways in which specific history, culture, laws and policies, economics and power helped to create and maintain a set of accumulated advantages for groups labeled “white” and a set of accumulating disadvantages for groups not considered “white” at various points in U.S. history
• Tools for change, including: strategic questioning, entry points, mental checklists, framing