Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person

(This was a much nicer camper setup than the one we had.)

(This was a much nicer camper setup than the one we had.)

Gina Crosley-Corcoran grew up in the type of poverty Americans like to pretend doesn’t exist, so it was hard for her to believe she had any privilege. 

Years ago, some feminist on the internet told me I was “Privileged.”

“THE FUCK!?!?” I said.

I came from the kind of Poor that people don’t want to believe still exists in this country. Have you ever spent a frigid northern Illinois winter without heat or running water? I have. At twelve years old, were you making ramen noodles in a coffee maker with water you fetched from a public bathroom? I was. Have you ever lived in a camper year round and used a random relative’s apartment as your mailing address? We did. Did you attend so many different elementary schools that you can only remember a quarter of their names? Welcome to my childhood.

So when that feminist told me I had “white privilege,” I told her that my white skin didn’t do shit to prevent me from experiencing poverty. Then, like any good, educated feminist would, she directed me to Peggy McIntosh’s 1988 now-famous piece, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”

After one reads McIntosh’s powerful essay, it’s impossible to deny that being born with white skin in America affords people certain unearned privileges in life that people of another skin color simple are not afforded. For example:

“I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.”

“When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.”

“If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.”

“I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.”

If you read through the rest of the list, you can see how white people and people of color experience the world in two very different ways. BUT LISTEN: This is not said to make white people feel guilty about their privilege. It’s not your fault you were born with white skin and experience these privileges. BUT, whether you realize it or not, you DO benefit from it, and it IS your fault if you don’t maintain awareness of that fact.

I do understand McIntosh’s essay may rub some people the wrong way. There are several points on the list that I felt spoke more to the author’s status as a Middle Class person than a White Person. For example:

“If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area, which I can afford and in which I would want to live.”

“I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.”

“I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.”

“If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.”

And there are so many more points in the essay where the word “race” could be substituted for the word “class” which would ultimately paint a very different picture. That is why I had such a hard time identifying with this essay for so long. When I first wrote about White Privilege years ago, I demanded to know why this White Woman felt that my experiences were the same as hers when no, my family most certainly could not rent housing “in an area which we could afford and want to live.”

And no, I couldn’t go shopping without fear in our low income neighborhoods.

The idea that any ol’ white person can find a publisher for a piece is most certainly a symptom of class privilege. Having come from a family of people who didn’t even graduate high school, who knew not a single academic or intellectual person, it would never occur to me to assume that I could be published. It is an absolute freak anomaly that I’m in graduate school considering not one person on either side of my family has a college degree. And it took me until my thirties to ever believe that someone from my stock could achieve such a thing. Poverty colors nearly everything about your perspective on opportunities for advancement in life. Middle class, educated people assume that anyone can achieve their goals if they work hard enough. Folks steeped in poverty rarely see a life past working at the gas station, making the rent on their trailer, and self-medicating with cigarettes and prescription drugs until they die of a heart attack. (I’ve just described one whole side of my family and the life I assumed I’d be living before I lucked out of it.)

…recognizing Privilege doesn’t mean suffering guilt or shame for your lot in life.

I, maybe more than most people, can completely understand why broke white folks get pissed when the word “Privilege” is thrown around. As a child, I was constantly discriminated against because of my poverty and those wounds still run very deep. But luckily my college education introduced me to a more nuanced concept of Privilege; the term Intersectionality. The concept of Intersectionality recognizes that people can be privileged in some ways and definitely not privileged in others. There are many different types of privilege, not just skin color privilege, that impact the way people can move through the world or are discriminated against. These are all things you are born into, not things you earned, that afford you opportunities others may not have. For example:

Citizenship – Simply being born in this country affords you certain privileges non-citizens will never access.

Class – Being born into a financially stable family can help guarantee your health, happiness, safety, education, intelligence, and future opportunities.

Sexual Orientation – By being born straight, every state in this country affords you privileges that non-straight folks have to fight the Supreme Court for.

Sex – By being born male, you can assume that you can walk through a parking garage without worrying you’ll be raped and that a defense attorney will then blame it on what you were wearing.

Ability – By being born able bodied, you probably don’t have to plan your life around handicap access, braille, or other special needs.

Gender – By being born cisgendered, you aren’t worried that the restroom or locker room you use will invoke public outrage.


As you can see, belonging to one or more category of Privilege, especially being a Straight White Middle Class Able-Bodied Male, can be like winning a lottery you didn’t even know you were playing. But this is not to imply that any form of privilege is exactly the same as another or that people lacking in one area of privilege understand what it’s like to be lacking in other areas. Race discrimination is not equal to Sex Discrimination and so forth.

And listen, recognizing Privilege doesn’t mean suffering guilt or shame for your lot in life. Nobody’s saying that Straight White Middle Class Able-Bodied Males are all a bunch of assholes who don’t work hard for what they have. Recognizing Privilege simply means being aware that some people have to work much harder just to experience the things you take for granted (if they ever can experience them at all.)

I know now that I AM Privileged in many ways. I am Privileged as a natural born white citizen. I am privileged as a cis-gendered woman. I am privileged as an able-bodied person. I am privileged that my first language is also our national language, and that I was born with an intellect and ambition that pulled me out of the poverty I was otherwise destined for. I was privileged to be able to marry my way “up” by partnering with a Privileged middle-class educated male who fully expected me to earn a college degree.

There are a million ways I experience Privilege, and some that I certainly don’t. But thankfully, Intersectionality allows us to examine these varying dimensions and degrees of discrimination while raising awareness of the results of multiple systems of oppression at work.

Tell me, are you a White Person made uncomfortable by the term “White Privilege?” Does a more nuanced approach help you see your own Privilege more clearly?


Originally appeared at TheFeministBreeder.com, photo and content courtesy of the author.

Follow Gina on Facebook and Twitter @feministbreeder


About Gina Crosley-Corcoran

Gina Crosley-Corcoran is the author and advocate behind TheFeministBreeder.com and contributing author to the recently released anthology "The Good Mother Myth" (Seal Press, 2014). Gina is also a doula, speaker, and Master of Public Heath candidate. She lives in Chicagoland with her husband and three small children.

Follow Gina on Facebook and Twitter @feministbreeder


  1. James Raymond Lane says:

    Hey, everyone! Life isn’t fair. Plain and simple. EVERYONE (if they look for it) can find a reason why, “it’s not my fault, it’s someone or something else.” You simply have to figure out what you CAN do and then either overcome or avoid the things you can’t. Some will make it, some won’t. That’s life. You just have to deal with it. Sorry.

  2. Let me start off by saying I am a middle class, white, male. I believe almost everything in this article, but am used to talking about it in terms that I think are more helpful. I’m a big believer in “Systems Theory” which understands that life is a series of systems. Our homes, clubs, family, teams, businesses, city/state/federal politics are all systems. What’s true in any system is that there are people who exert power in the system and there are people who do not. Parents, coaches, elected officials have their children, players and citizens.

    For those with power they get to make things go how they want. Having power means you don’t have to listen to the complaints of the weak. Sometimes you shouldn’t. My child screams he wants a toy at the checkout stand…no Johnny. It’s acceptable to shut it down. But sometimes Johnny has something to say to his parent that they should hear. If that parent can sort between the two, the system will work well. If not…the system goes off kilter.

    People with no power in the system are forced into the world of senses. Remember your first day of a new job. Looking around to find the norms in the workplace. What we say here, what we do here, how we respond to tension here. You’ll easily remember the day you crossed one of the norms. People with no power in the system are reduced to this role.

    Indeed privilege goes to the group with power in any system. If we talked about it in these terms it’s more universal. A black church can have a discussion about the privilege of power in their system. A discussion about White Privilege seems like a whole different discussion. It’s sets white people into a “put up your dukes” stance and freezes any exchange of thought that is helpful.

    I’m all for this discussion. Redeemed systems bring life to those who are part of them. I feel the terminology of white privilege does not help the discussion. It preloads people for a fight rather than understanding.

  3. My sister and I were suburban white kids born to older parents in the late 50’s. By the early 70’s our dad retired and moved us to a river retirement community full of trailer dwellers and drifters. Our mom took us mid year to register at the local school. She told us the story later that when she told them where we lived they looked down their nose and told her to have a seat.. She said the principal came out after a while after looking at our suburban report cards with all A’s and B’s and was so glad to see us. Turned out OK for us kids. We did well in school, went to college and raised kids who went to college. Kind of tough riding the bus and dealing with all bad kids, but it made us tougher and able to relate to a broader range of people.

  4. Chickenpig says:

    I grew up white and very, very poor. There were very few people of color where I grew up, and the very few there were were all better off than my family was. In my hometown you are still more likely to get pregnant/knock up your girlfriend than to go to college. When I went to college, I found it impossible to explain to any white students why I had to get good grades to stay in school (scholarships and grants require a minimum gpa) or why I couldn’t go out with them because I had to work. The only students who understood were my friends who were black. They had more I than me, but they understood privilege, and what it meant to have to work harder than our classmates to be taken seriously. I have been mistreated by cops because I was poor, but I also understand if in my hometown I was black AND poor things would have been much, much worse. The most important thing I leaned in college is that it is in the upper class’s best interest to have the disenfranchised fighting each other. If blacks and lower class whites are fighting each other, or fighting immigrants, or arguing about privilege, than they aren’t focusing on the real problem. Which is that the rich and powerful control everything. Instead of poor and working class whites arguing that they aren’t privileged, they should admit that being white is the only privilege they have (and a big one), and start wondering why that is. One thing us poor white people and black people, of any class, have in common is a healthy distrust of the police. Nine out of ten in them are no good and will be more likely to make a situation worse than better. We need to understand until there is something done about the fact that Justice goes to the highest bidder in this country, none of us are free.

  5. This article is fantastic, it describes it well. As a straight, white, cis, able-bodied, middle class male I know it’s certainly like I’ve won a lottery I didn’t even know I was in.

  6. It is true that there are privileges for many in this world, I certainly don’t look at it that way, but that’s how the world works. I believe each person can be different in their own way and make something out of themselves, that can defeat the purpose of privilege because it can show others something different.

  7. The Yellow Dragon says:

    Hey idiots, if you hadn’t noticed yet, more and more people are willing to help others to make their lives easier and better. Race, gender, sex, no matter, every social group get better. I like when you said that you don’t want white people to feel guilty about themselves, when you insensitives creeps are telling white people, especially white, straight guys to feel ”privilegied”, trying to ”put them in their places” instead of treating everyone equally and do wonders. ”Privilegied” or not, people help others, and you better do this yourselves instead of being failures at life. What, you think that if white people crush themselves that everyone will be equal? Get real, posers. All is this doing to do is create more tensions, and rightly so. Oh, and if someone is stupid enough to resort something stupid like ”Hurr, durr, white male complaing, hurr, hurr”, then you’ll prove yourself to others that you think that ”white males” opinion’s value is less important that others instead of as important, defeating your point as treating people equally, no matter the sex or the race.

  8. I am really starting to research intersectionalities and finding that privilege is not really an ascriptive trait such as male or white, but about a combination of things that affect one;s local position.

  9. ogwriter says:

    @Steve When exactly did issues like colonialism get resolved and to whose satisfaction? The reality is most Americans, of whatever color, do not know much about colonialism. Even after colonialism ended European countries continued to rape Africa. Which is similar to what happened to blacks in the south after slavery ended, they were punished by whites for 100 years. I don’t understand ,why was it sooooo wrong for Hitler to do exactly what America, Spain, the English, the French and so many others had done for hundreds of years, for the EXACT same reasons. What all of these groups had in common was bigotry. Colonialism fueled by bigotry has shaped the world we live in today. When was that fixed? When were these groups compensated for their injuries and sufferings? How in the hell does anyone expect these groups of thugs who did these things to be respected? Case in point. Commodore Perry used extortion-the threat of war -to force Japan to trade with us. Pure and simple extortion. Yet, in our history books, his bullying is congratulated. We were willing to kill people who offered no threat to us, for not trading with us. And yes, we thought we were superior to them. We taught them a lesson too. That in order to compete, they had to be like all of the white colonial powers. Hello Pearl Harbor. Hello colonization of China. Hello atom bomb. Bigotry is lethal and has controlled the world for too long. Nothing has been fixed ..

  10. Height. For a man, being tall provides privilege in most if not all societies.

    I am not tall.
    So, does pointing out the existence of “tall privilege” help me?
    Perhaps but I don’t see how.

    • Height does confer privilege. How it might help you? By understanding it’s not YOU but it’s how people are categorizing you and treating you in a way because of something you didn’t choose — and then you can relate to others who get similar maltreatment by who they are but didn’t choose, like being a person of color… how that’s like an inherent “shortness” as treated by the dominant society … but hopefully you’ll feel fine about who you are and be able to relate with people who treat you well because you’re a person who is fine.

  11. Yay, more white liberal self hating post-colonial guilt.I was beginning to think we’d ran out of that stuff. I guess not!

  12. As an older working poor white male I’d have to agree with the majority of this article. Worked with a friend 3 years ago, he’s black and younger, in his early ’30’s, and kinda dapper, a charmer. I needed to go to my bank, which was located inside a Walmart and the branch of which didn’t open until 10 am. We got there at about 9:20 and I’d been there many times by myself, construction shop clothes, never hassled. That day we found that, “May I Help You” really means May I Watch Your Every Move Because You Are Suspect; it was uncanny, employees popped up from the strangest places, asking if we needed help. At least 3 different times. I understand these political concepts but had never been, well, followed, for having a black friend.

  13. I grew up privileged. I was born into a family that loved me. My parents were married before I came along and are still married, more than half a century later. They raised me to be a Christian. I had grandparents of strong faith and honor who taught me and my brothers and cousins a great deal about how to live our lives. My parents worked hard to provide us with a good house, food on the table and a few possessions, although we were by no means wealthy. Their support and our own hard work enabled us to get college degrees and start our own careers and families. The values of loyalty and faith, hard work and discipline, personal integrity and accountability that we learned from our parents and grandparents have served us well. There have been potholes in the road and not all the choices I’ve made have been smart ones, but by and large I have achieved a measure of success and fulfillment with which I’m satisfied.
    Now, notice I have not said whether I am male or female, what my ethnicity is, or even what gender I have chosen to sleep with. We were raised to believe that those things didn’t really matter. Evidently to other people they matter a great deal.

    • My mother spoke similarly of how far hard work would take us. She pointed out the privileges that we don’t have and what we have to overcome in comparison to some others, but her focus wasn’t on what we couldn’t do or how society inhibits/inhibited us, it was on how I need to improve myself to achieve it.

  14. carolyons says:

    Great article. People tend to base their perception on silly anecdotes rather than reality. Census data in the US shows that minorities and women (and especially minority women) are the poorest in the country. I saw this great study regarding upward mobility that you might enjoy reading. It’s lengthy but worth the read and the researchers created a cool interactive map online. http://obs.rc.fas.harvard.edu/chetty/mobility_geo.pdf.

  15. “Nobody’s saying that Straight White Middle Class Able-Bodied Males are all a bunch of assholes who don’t work hard for what they have.”

    But that’s exactly what I hear. Phrases like “cis-scum”. Sweeping generalizations about white men like we’re such a uniform group.

    What I hear is essentially this: “I hate ageists, people who judge others by sexual orientation, racists, and sexists. Those old straight white men are jerks!”

    I understand that’s not the INTENT, nor the PHILOSOPHY, but it certainly seems to be the PRACTICE.

    The most optimistic thing I had ever seen regarding this sort of thing: A black man went to a nearly all-black barbershop pretending to be a racist, saying things like “those white people are keeping us down. I don’t have to give them haircuts. They aren’t sitting in MY chair”

    One by one, the surrounding black customers were standing up to this sort of talk. “How does this make you any better?” “Why can’t you treat him as a brother, rather than a race?” “You think because we are kept down that it means THIS MAN is keeping you down?” The whole theme was “equality and partnership”, not specifically “black empowerment”, which is what makes me much more comfortable talking about racial issues.

    You don’t see as much of this kind of cross-talk error-correction in feminism. Black rights is called, neutrally, “civil rights”, while gender rights is called “feminism”. Social issues are often turned into women-exclusive gender issues.

    (Worried about being raped in the parking lot? It’s certainly horrible and gender biased, but also compare how often it actually happens. Compare this to, say, being mugged in the parking lot, which happens much more often, and mostly towards men. If women have to constantly live in fear of being raped in public on the way to work, men should wear kevlar and carry automatic weapons for other kinds of assault. DATING and SEX are where this story flips.)

    Luckily, there are people like “Miss Representation” who talk about men and boys in “The Mask You Live In”. Not everyone’s favorite narrative, but we have to encourage the progress, rather than nitpick its imperfections. Most feminist-related groups I’ve been in wouldn’t dare talk about the male perspective like that.

    • This is tricky ground. I hear you and have the same kind of experience of being judged badly just because of being male and white, often by other straight males who want to be more “with the program” and by some strictly ideological thinking about hierarchy of oppression and privilege discourse. I am a white male and cis and straight and all, but i am *so* with the program, as much a i possibly can be — and meanwhile also recognizing that my perspective cannot truly fully understand what it is to live as a woman or as a person of color. Yet i try to understand, and never assume that i fully do… that’s what i can do. And yet i’ve been shot down on a couple occasions for questioning something where people said it was not my place to question it, even when it was an accusation about my own motives and behavior, and then treated really harshly in the aftermath. So i have felt this side of it, too. I’m deeply probing what masculinity means, and how i can redefine my own masculinity, which is why i ended up here on this website by the way. I’m currently reading “The Will to Change” by bell hooks and she speaks a lot to this. There are feminists who do, who do have the attitude of wanting to find a way to live with men, to help define a good masculinity that can work without oppressing women. So i will focus on what i can work with better. On the other hand, i hear talk about “shitty dudes” all the time and i can understand it, it doesn’t bother me too much, but then it gets grating after a while with me trying to be a good person as a man and hear trash talking of people in such an extreme form, always saying it’s because they’re men and not bad people in general … i have just said something that some more ideological feminists would say is really incorrect and would critique me and shame me about… and therein is the strange bleeding edge of this, in my experience. I’m still working out how to relate.

  16. It’s not skin color, it’s culture

    “There are some black and Hispanic groups in America that far outperform some white and Asian groups. Immigrants from many West Indian and African countries, such as Jamaica, Ghana, and Haiti, are climbing America’s higher education ladder, but perhaps the most prominent are Nigerians. Nigerians make up less than 1 percent of the black population in the United States, yet in 2013 nearly one-quarter of the black students at Harvard Business School were of Nigerian ancestry; over a fourth of Nigerian-Americans have a graduate or professional degree, as compared with only about 11 percent of whites.”


  17. yes, a more nuanced discussion would help me immensely.

    Thank you so much for what you’re doing with class in this piece. Class is important, and we do not put enough thought into it in the U.S.

    FWIW, i do not feel guilty about my white male privilege. That would be like feeling guilty about the color of my hair, since I was born this way and all. But neither do I accept any grief from people who look at my whiteness and masculinity and attach privileges to me which I don’t benefit from. Like wealth. I do not benefit from wealth, and it offends the hell out of me when people look at me and put that on me.

  18. Sewindo T. says:

    I have a friend, white, who grew up in Rhodesia in the early 1970’s. Did his skin-color give him privileged there (when his dirt-poor father and mother were killed for being white)?

    To take a specific scenario, such as black and white America and derive a ‘general truth’ from that example (too small subset) and apply that general truth universally is a fallacy (Hasty Generalization).

    White people in N. America is privileged because that is the dominant culture. In most ‘free dominant cultures’ the dominant culture is privileged. Cultures were the dominant culture is not privileged are often called ‘tyrannies’.

    It is privileged to be Arabic in Saudi Arabia for example (or Vietnamese in Vietnam), but if Arabs in Saudi Arabia were ‘disadvantaged’ instead, clearly some type of tranny would be in place. It is also a fallacy to suggest that just because a dominant culture that that dominant culture doesn’t experience hardship. (For example a white male in Vancouver Canada is disadvantaged trying to get an engineering job because many of those jobs are looking for ‘visible minorities’ yet white is the visible minority (by a wide margin) in Math/Science at typical British Columbia Universities (provincial statistics))

    White’s who spend time worry about ‘white privilege’ should try spending time in a nation with a minority white demographic or none-at-all. This would at least cultivate a balanced perspective.

  19. You get what you get and you don’t get upset. Anything else is bullhockey.

    I grew up “white” and I must have lost my privileges because the Govt cut funding for TAP and Pelll so I couldn’t finish my undergraduate degree, and, at 51 years old am still struggling to pay the bills.

    On the other hand, a friend of mine got a full scholarship under a program designed specifically for his ethnicity. I’m not going to say I’m jealous because he’s got his own issues…

    ‘We cannot blame the white people any longer.’ ~Dr.. William Henry ‘Bill’ Cosby, Jr., Ed..D.

    • I am not sure I get your point. The problem seems to be that some expect privileges to exist linearly, when in fact, they bob and weave like a hyperactive boxer. The exist in some situations and disappear in others. Few have privileges in all circumstances.

      Since black people weren’t free to enjoy or pursue enjoyment of their franchise; voting rights, getting good jobs and voting for representation, which means access to funds, until 1965,I’d say that white males who did had quite a head start. being the descendants of free white people rather than slaves is quite a privilege.

  20. The problem with the notion of privilege is that it is applied unilaterally. To say that males are privileged acknowledges that there are benefits to being male and drawbacks to being female, but denies the existence of benefits to being female, and drawbacks to being male (consider a history of military conscription spanning millennia). In most cases it is inaccurate to say that “group X is privileged over group Y”, it would be better to say that “In general, group X is privileged over group Y in situation Z”.

  21. One of the greatest privileges I’ve enjoyed is not having been taught that I can’t make it in this world because some other group is holding me down.

    • wellokaythen says:

      Yes, you have privilege because you are not hindered by the paranoia that another race is holding you back. I’m not sure how to give up that privilege except by becoming more paranoid. I’ll be hanging on to the privilege of not worrying about privilege. I won’t give that up.

      • “wellokaythen” — you are clearly implying that racism is either non-existant or not significant. Correct me if i am wrong about what you’re saying. You’re saying that someone who says racism is real and has real effects on a person’s life outcome are paranoid? If that’s what you’re saying, then i say it’s totally wrong as well as a really ignorant thing to think. Racism perpetuates itself through illusions like this. White people get to ignore racism and say it’s “not a thing” but people of color don’t get to. That’s one textbook “privilege” or just pretty much a fact of life. I’m white and i know it’s benefited me more than hindered me in my life, i’d have to be willfully ignorant to think otherwise.

    • Anonymous says:

      Evan, We are not “taught” that one group is holding another down. We see it happening. Call a spade a spade and move on. I personally know a realtor who did not let a large family of colour rent a house in my neighborhood. The house stayed empty for two years. I have countless personal examples. I hold no grudges or whine. Ignorance exists. Deal with it.

  22. wellokaythen says:

    White privilege does exist as some general tendencies and some specific effects.

    However, one problem with the analysis is that “white” is very much a moving target. In some bureaucratic systems like Equal Opportunity forms, census questionnaires, etc., “white” in America includes Arab Americans, Lebanese Americans, Turkish Americans, and Eastern Europeans. It’s hard to make a claim that Arab Americans enjoy the same level of “privilege” in society that WASP’s do. In the weeks after 9/11, some Italian Americans were kicked off of airline flights because they looked too swarthy.

    The categories are porous and have no objective definitions. Someone said above that no one can stop being white. That’s not entirely true. Over the past few centuries, some groups of people have “become white,” like Irish Americans, so it stands to reason that some people could stop being white. It has to do with the ways that today’s generation puts people in boxes. In 30 years, the categories may be very different. You could actually be expelled from the ranks of white people, the way that Native American tribal organizations can cancel your membership no matter what you look like, which means you stop having a legal status as a Native American.)

    I’m not saying it would be easy to stop being white, but people transition from being male to being female, and sex categories have way more biological reality behind them than racial categories, so why can’t you change your race? Tell people you aren’t white anymore, and if they challenge you, ask them how they intend to prove it.

    (By the way, shouldn’t more precisely be “non-Hispanic white” privilege?)

    When you add up the massive aggregate of exceptions to the rule, the theory starts to look a little frazzled. That doesn’t mean that it has no truth, but it’s not nearly as comprehensive as many of its true believers seem to think.

    Meanwhile, white privilege theorists better hurry. Among young people, the number of people who refuse to identify as a particular race is growing by leaps and bounds. More and more teenagers today think the categories are so archaic and stupid that they’re opting out of using them. At many colleges and universities, the fastest growing ethnic/racial category is “none of the above” or “choose not to answer.”

    • If I understand you correctly, you may be missing the point. White privilege isn’t about how a person self-identifies or fits into official bureaucratic categories, it’s about how the rules, laws, customs, traditions, economies and habits of a geographical area can negatively impact people of colour, those that are visibly different from the white majority.

  23. Black people get audited by the IRS cause they’re black? How does the IRS know?

    • Zip code.

    • The problem is that criminal tax preparers proliferate in low-income neighborhoods. Essentially, you get audited because you only knew/were only able to afford (or perhaps in some cases deliberately chose) a tax preparer who drives around in a van in city neighborhoods promising a “rapid refund” and then secures it through tax fraud with your name/income/data. Then everyone whose taxes that person prepared gets audited. (This might be a case where once again the problem adheres more to class than race, but I wouldn’t be surprised if these these tax preparers actually target poor people of color, under the assumption that they are low-information taxpayers.)

    • The IRS doesn’t discriminate against color, certainly not by zip code. The IRS is stretched thin, they audit only where they think they’ll collect revenue. If your return has mistakes, is prepared fallaciously, or shows you are self employed, take certain or excessive deductions or deal in large cash transactions, you’ll be targeted. They don’t harass people who don’t have potential, so targeting a zip code would be silly. I have never seen any data that suggests a black person is more likely to be audited than a white person, all other things being equal. Pulled over by the police, yes. Audited? They want revenue, and won’t waste time if it’s not there.

  24. As a white, male, etc., etc., mostly “easy-setting” individual, . . .

    I think it helps when explaining these things to other easy-setting people to tell them that privilege doesn’t preclude hardship. People experience hardship relative to their status and situation, and yet everyone experiences it the same. In my experience, few people live an easy life.

    For instance, I consider myself very neuro-atypical, though it’s probably a mild autism spectrum “disorder”. But the upshot is that I’m experiencing a ridiculous amount of neuroticism in this moment, and have been somewhat depressed for years.

    So if you can convey to white, middle-class, cisgender men that even though their struggles are REAL, they are still privileged, that will probably help. They need to be assured that their experience isn’t being denied, which is by far the most threatening thing.

  25. So I’m straight white male and cis gendered yet the one mark of non-privilege I have is a disability most people won’t immediately notice because I’m not in a wheelchair so I’m often lumped in with the other privileged white men even though I’m more afraid of other privileged white men than women, gays or people of colour. It’s like I’m rendered invisible to activists due to my whiteness because my disability isn’t immediately obvious, until somebody drags me to a night club and the dubstep ear poison they’re playing too loud makes me flee the place like Rain Man near a hot bath, a reference which would be offensive if it wasn’t so bitterly accurate as to how alienating certain sectors of youth culture can be to an audio sensitive autistic who feels pangs of guilt whenever The Lion King is brought up in BuzzFeed articles as this universal childhood milestone I missed out on because of a condition I was born with. I get angry when people tell me to get over myself in lower caps when they know nothing about my biography that’s as surreal and mythic as it is sad it parts.

    • wellokaythen says:

      Technically, you are not only cis-gendered but also probably cis-racial. If you think of yourself as “born white and raised white,” then that means you are cis-white.

      Race/ethnicity is even more fluid than gender or sex identity, even less clearly defined, so it stands to reason that one’s race can also be cis- or trans-.

      Why do people talk about cis and trans for sex and gender but not race?

      • John Anderson says:

        @ wellokaythen

        “Why do people talk about cis and trans for sex and gender but not race?”

        Good point. Not everyone who is white looks white and conversely there are light skinned minorities that are at times mistaken for white. I have a friend of Mexican decent, but very light skin. He was sitting in a waiting room with 2 women. The women were conversing in Spanish and one was telling the other how hot he was. When her friend finally convinced her to talk to him, she turned red when he responded to her English statement in Spanish.

        I suspect they don’t talk about cis-race because it upsets the rigid privilege hierarchy. Then they’d have to talk about benevolent racism and that just sounds weird.

  26. “If a traffic cop pulls you over…”

    I have seen white privilege…and was shocked to hear it from a white cop’s mouth…

    I was in a car driven by my Caucasian friend which got into a fender bender as he made a sudden left turn…the oncoming red sport car driven by a black guy made contact with his car….the black guy was freaking out because his car was new and did not have insurance….the white cop who came by was courteous to me (Asian female) and my friend who was driving, but curt with the black guy….later my friend told me the cop said to him: “What is that guy doing driving in this area?” ….this was northern New Jersey in the 80’s (shocking to me)….

  27. Thank you Gina for a thought provoking article. I am an educated, white, middle class female living in Australia. I teach high school in a lower socio-economic area than where I live. This has helped me to understand some of the inherent issues these children fac, despite being white in our society.

  28. White Olympics.

    • Thank you for the article. The relationship between race and class is confusing and I appreciate your message that we mustn’t conflate the two. Your background makes you the perfect messenger for that. This is confusing to me though because white privilege so often results in class privilege. If it didn’t, I suspect we’d see no correlation between race and class. In my life, it seems all but impossible to tease out the differences but at least your article gives me the humility to recognize that.

      As to how to explain white privilege to a broke white person, how about a sincere, “Oh, that’s so awful.The only way I could imagine it being any worse would be if you weren’t white.” How would that have hit you in your skeptical days?

  29. David Gaskill says:

    I appreciate the idea of intersectionality, but I feel race/class/etc. privilege keeps implying “unfair advantage,” and I disagree with that connotation. I am a middle-class white man who has enjoyed the “privilege” of a great liberal arts education, including saturation in the ideas of privilege and systemic inequality. I, along with many other middle-class, white males I respect are sleeping on their parents’ couches and living deep in poverty. When we discuss privilege, my friends and are lumped into a category that portrays us as rapacious elitists. It is untrue of almost all the white, middle-class men I know and care for; many of us recognize the inequalities and zero-sum nature of our economic system, and have sacrificed a first-world standard of living for more equitable opportunities for all.

    Also, while we’re evoking intersectionality, why don’t we characterize the benefits other races/classes/etc. enjoy as privilege as well? I can think of no more fortunate person than a black man at a liberal arts college in the U.S. How about the fact that a disproportionate number of the good jobs being created by the ‘new economy’ in science and engineering are being filled by south and east asians? The glass ceiling may persist, but for the first time in history, a majority of our country’s primary breadwinners are women. During the economic crisis no groups were more hurt by unemployment and poverty than children, and white, working-class men. How about the fact I cannot conceive or carry my own child, or that instead of getting raped, I’m more likely to get stabbed or shot? These are all examples where others enjoy privileges I do not.

    White, middle-class males may have historically enjoyes MORE privilege, and may still appreciate unearned access. But if you look at the economic, social, and political conflicts our society has been dealing with for the past five years, it’s apparent to me that this set of ‘privileges’ is well into being dismantled. It makes me angry that others would feel owed by me just because of my race… it spits in the face of judging people on the content of their characters, and it’s dehumanizing.

    • If you’re living on your middle class parents’ couch, you are not deep in poverty. You benefit from the advantages they had before you were born. You have access to the wealth they gained, the home they have, which is better than what they would have gotten had they not been White.

      Your litany of woe that you can’t conceive and carry a child has nothing to do with privilege. Women who have children are privileged over those who do not because they are doing what they are expected to do.

  30. I don’t know, Richard, that men aren’t willing to fight for social justice, because they are men knowing their privilege as we are speaking of it now. It may be more of a fear that if they do speak up then they run the real risk of being called pussified, thrown into the less then men category. And the sad thing is I see that coming from both men and women. Have you ever noticed from some the “side eye” look when you talk about such subjects with folks who may not be as enlightened as you are? You know, that look, the one reserved for their assumption you might possibly be gay?. I have, and stumble through that anyway, because if it’s one thing I do know is gay I am not.

    I think there’s more to class than race in Americas today, no matter how much the ones with an agenda, on both sides want to make of it. I think object poverty is the one thing that holds all people back. There are a few, black or white, male or female who can muster their courage to get past it. But frankly, the government poverty programs do more to stomp that courage out of more than the liberals would like to think about.

    If you have nothing, and get whatever little you got from these programs you are much more likely to be so scared to try for something better, because you might just lose what little you have, and the potential realistic reward isn’t seen as realistic enough for the risk. As a psychology intern working in the inner city I saw that over and over. Get their hopes up, encourage them, and then see the fear overtake them again and again. I, and others like me didn’t have enough time to get past this.

    But yes, there is something about white privilege. But seeing all those white faces in the newspapers or the TV isn’t it.

  31. wellokaythen says:

    “Sex – By being born male, you can assume that you can walk through a parking garage without worrying you’ll be raped and that a defense attorney will then blame it on what you were wearing.”


    By the same token, by being born male you are about 8 times more likely to be a murder victim, 4 times more likely to be homeless, about 19 times more likely to be killed on the job, etc.

    In a lot of cases, privilege gives and privilege takes away.

    • wellokaythen:

      Males would be 19 times more likely to die on the job because they have considerably more access to the job market than women historically, particularly to jobs that might be fatal.

      In the era of hobos, there were women who also voluntarily took to the rails in the US, but once the Depression hit, many women found themselves involuntarily homeless, and frequently starved to death (they were afraid to go to soup kitchens for fear of rape, or for reasons of shame), and the like. A large percentage of homeless are veterans; generally, no sizable numbers of female veterans have entered the ranks of the homeless. Let’s not forget (homeless or not), women overwhelmingly constitute those living in poverty.

      So, in point of fact, being 19 times more likely to be killed on the job is predicated the privilege of being allowed access to the job market in the first place.

      Since exploitation of the poor by the military denotes a problem in the first place, then the predominance of veterans who are homeless comes about through a lack of privilege (those who were unable to avoid going to war, who could not buy or bribe oneself an exception to the draft, to be able to afford to escape to Canada, &c). Being homeless, generally, seems a function of a lack of a privilege, not the presence of one.

      As for being more likely to be a murder victim, unless people break into your home, to be a murder victim involves being out and about and engaging in whatever sorts of activities you do that irk someone enough to kill you. It may not seem like much of a privilege to be out buying some drugs (and getting shot) but the woman who is kept locked up in her house doesn’t have that privilege.

      • “As for being more likely to be a murder victim, unless people break into your home, to be a murder victim involves being out and about and engaging in whatever sorts of activities you do that irk someone enough to kill you. It may not seem like much of a privilege to be out buying some drugs (and getting shot) but the woman who is kept locked up in her house doesn’t have that privilege.”

        …are you kidding me? How is this not victim blaming? Getting murdered is a privilege now?

        You are so incapable of seeing women as anything other than victim that you will twist reality itself to keep them that way. It’s a bit disturbing, frankly.

        • Definitely unfortunate phrasing about men being murdered. It would never stand up to the gender flip. Imagine if I said (please don’t think I believe this) that women murder victims were killed because they irked somebody, or domestic violence against women is caused by women annoying their partners. That wouldn’t fly, and it shouldn’t.

          • You are confusing being caused by and being responsible for.

            People are routinely murdered by people that they have irked. That is the cause of murder. People with benevolent feelings towards each other don’t engage in violence.

            Some one being irked by you doesn’t mean that you are responsible for them feeling irked and any violence they may feel justified in inflicting on you.

            It’s a subtle but important distinction at the heart of unpacking victim blaming and how it operates and how we can talk about oppression honestly without engaging in it.

      • Michael Rowe says:

        Talastra, your comment about how men are more likely to die on the job because men have “considerably more access to the job market” is idiotic. It presupposes that men had the “luxury” of picking and choosing which lethal jobs they could do—dying in wars they were conscripted to fight in, work in mines to support their entire families, etc.—and ignores the reality that men had no choice in these matters, and women were not battering down the doors eager to mount scaffolding so they could haul concrete. Men didn’t have choices in this, and their lives have always been considered expendable when it came to doing jobs like these. When they were told to go to war and fight, they went, and there were terrible, terrible penalties for those who didn’t. And they didn’t have to fight back any cavalcade of women screaming, “Take me instead!” Any first year university history course should have taught you that. Have you ever heard the expression, “Women and children first?” Hint: it wasn’t about going into danger, it was about being removed from danger.

        And your victim-blaming comment about how men bring on their own murders by “engaging in the sort of activities that irk someone enough to kill you” is absolutely repellent. It is identical to the equally repellent notion that women who get raped or battered “engage in the sort of activities that irk someone enough to rape or batter them.” I find it hard to believe a victim-blaming comment like yours would have even made it through moderation if it had been volleyed at women. Thank you for illustrating female privilege so clearly.

        • I don’t think Talastra is victim blaming here. She is simply pointing out that one might be more likely to become a victim, if they have the privilege of freedom to walk the streets, and engage in whatever behavior they choose. An extreme example with the other gender would be stating that a woman with the privilege of freedom is more likely to be raped than a woman who is locked in an attic. I haven’t blamed the victim or given the rapist any sympathy, I’ve only pointed out that there is a correlation between ones privilege of freedom and the level of danger they are exposed to. What privilege would you pick if you had to choose between freedom and safety?

          • Surely you see the incredibly circular logic that requires? It begins with an unfalsifiable premise and relates everything back to it. Its jawdroppingly, awesomely offensive to all the men out there who have had the patriarchal privilege of being assaulted, robbed, dying on the job etc…

            Try to draw a simple logic diagram of it…. Men are free because they are assaulted. Women are restricted because the y cannot have freedom. QED- men being assaulted is evidence of their privilege? seriously???

          • John Anderson says:

            @ Kripa

            “I don’t think Talastra is victim blaming here. She is simply pointing out that one might be more likely to become a victim, if they have the privilege of freedom to walk the streets”

            Men can also die in automobile accidents, which by this logic would be many more times as likely as women. Talastra chose to say this instead.

            “whatever sorts of activities you do that irk someone enough to kill you. It may not seem like much of a privilege to be out buying some drugs ”

            Why would that not be victim blaming? It doesn’t gave to be either or. Talastra point might be what you claim, but it was phrased in a way that is also victim blaming.

          • ” to be a murder victim involves being out and about and engaging in whatever sorts of activities you do that irk someone enough to kill you.”

            No… she straight up said they wouldn’t be killed if they weren’t doing soemthing wrong. 100% victim blaming. There is NO way to sugar coat it. They straight up said it’s a person’s own fault for being murdered.

      • John Anderson says:

        @ talastra

        One thing about men not having to worry about being raped and have the DA blame it on what they were wearing. Part of the issue is that in the vast majority of cases, their rapists are women. The vast majority of female perpetrated rapes of men do not require penetration. These incidents are not always legally recognized as rape. Men under report rapes at rates much higher than women according to the CDC 2010 NISVS 1,267,000 men were estimated to have been forced to penetrate another as compared to an estimated 1,270,000 women who were raped. Note the number of make victims does not include male victims where the crime would have been legally classified as rape so the numbers would be closer or male victimization could be higher. The numbers are very close, but if you look at reported crime men are about 10% of the sexual assault victims. Some of this may be attributable to the lack of support services for male victims of sexual violence.

      • wellokaythen says:

        Talastra writes:

        “Being homeless, generally, seems a function of a lack of a privilege, not the presence of one.”

        Yes, we agree on that. So, the homeless rate among men suggests a lack of male privilege. Agreed.

        “As for being more likely to be a murder victim, unless people break into your home, to be a murder victim involves being out and about and engaging in whatever sorts of activities you do that irk someone enough to kill you.”

        Though I disagree with the wording, I think the basic idea is plausible. We could certainly test it empirically. We could measure how much time men and women spend outside the home and see how that relates to murder figures. We could look at people who buy drugs (for example) and see if women who buy drugs are murdered at rates as high as men who buy drugs. Somehow, I suspect that the difference is not related to enforced domesticity. If that was the case, one would expect that in the last 40 years the death-by-murder rate for women would have skyrocketed, but it’s actually declined.

        What I hear Talastra saying: Men bring death on themselves for being irksome to other people. That’s one I haven’t heard before.

        • wellokaythen says:


          By the way, I agree with Talastra — any woman who is willing and able to work in a mine should not only be allowed to do so but *encouraged* to do so. (There’s actually quite a tradition for it. Two hundred years ago it was extremely common in coal mines in the UK.) Nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of that. If there really are thousands of women being turned away from road construction jobs, I say let them do those jobs. Until women die on the job at rates comparable to men, we cannot really say women have achieved equal employment opportunities. Stop preventing women from the chance to be killed on the job. Fair is fair.

          I fully support the creation of Take Your Daughter to Work in the Coal Mines Day. Or Take Your Daughter to Work on the Cell Block Day.

          Where are the women allies I can call on in making that happen? They seem to be thin on the ground….

          • Troy Benjegerdes says:

            I’ll take my kids to the farm any day, and I am glad to see more women taking farming as an occupation, one of the more dangerous occupations. It is also one of the few where there’s a general consensus that if you’re doing it right, you are an owner-operator, and can make your own damn decisions on the acceptable risk, without a CEO or shareholders looking to cut costs at the expense of employees lives.

            Farming is one of the few occupations where you might hear “My retirement plan is to die farming” and you believe it, and respect the choice.

    • Questionable Ethics says:

      No, men are more likely to die because, deep down inside we all know this, we are expendable. We are here to defend and protect the tribe and be the first to die so that the women can survive. This whole ostensibly male-dominated society is a veneer for the inconvenient fact that we will be called to die because civilization will go on without us.

      • Theorema Egregium says:

        We are here to die defending the tribe so that the fat cats who sent us into the trenches can stay at home and bed all the women when we are gone. I am beginning to think that much of that patriarchy as well as racial problems are actually a class issue.

        • It is almost always class. Almost every example of McIntosh’s book “you know your a privileged white man” could be class based as well. Very few positive poor people on TV. Drive a jalopy and watch the cops follow. Your probably safe from the IRS though I don’t think race has been a real issue here.
          I think a good example is the well off African American professor who was harassed by cops for breaking into his own house. What made everyone angry was that his class wasn’t recognized and he should have been treated better because of it. If he was a poor man of any color and the cops made this mistake and beat him it would be another little story that happens everyday.
          I could also state that the authors ability to marry into a class higher than her own is based on her female privilege. Look at the stats on class mobility and woman excel at a much greater rate. I believe that one of the greatest reasons men at the top horde wealth is so that they have more ability to select woman to use.

        • I think you’re right theorema. The protest songs of the late 60’s clearly saw this. The creedance Clearwater’s, the jimi Hendrix and the CSNY all spoke it.

        • wellokaythen says:

          Not just the fat cats, but the “beta males” like myself capable of some degree of independent thought, not easily manipulated by appealing to machismo. We act smug with the “I told you so” and “war is never the answer” and cash our paychecks from the military-industrial complex. Down with war, but please don’t close that military base near my town, because it’s good for the local economy…..

        • @Therorema Well, to a great extent you are right. The other problems exist as a means to an end. Which is to maintain power, control and the vast wealth of the country. White racial solidarity never truly trumped class in American elite circles. When white people finally figure that out there might be real substantial change.

  32. Thank you, John. Your own reply hadn’t posted yet, so I was trying to be helpful, heh. You yourself make some great points about multi-ethic people who “pass” as one or the other; seeing one-sided privilege can be very strange for people, particularly when you get “outed”; you said that everyone knew you are half-Asian, so you don’t think you saw a large aspect of white privilege (which I totally believe). Sadly, ethnicity is often overshadowed by the “non” white aspect–Obabma is a great example. He is Half-White, Half-Black, yet everyone always says “the black president”.

    Feminism has a bad reputation to it; people often think of women with hairy armpits/legs who (they think) are often man-hating lesbians that want to turn the world against men simply for being born with a penis. There were a vocal few like that, but that became the “face” of Feminism, which is why–as you said–many social justice champions call themselves “humanists” or anything other than Feminist. I am a proud Feminist; I believe all people regardless of gender should be treated equal. That’s really all it should mean.

    I spent both my undergrad & graduate schooling at San Diego State University; it is home to the oldest Women’s Studies program in the U.S., built in 1970. I was often the only man in he vast majority of my classes; does that mean men don’t believe in Social Justice? No, of course not. But it’s telling that men tend to not want to fight for it as much academically. The unfortunate vast majority of classes often descended into misandry (sexism aimed at men). I had to point out–consistently–that you cannot vilify all men as evil oppressors, as that does a disservice to them and to the cause of Feminism. Why would men want to help gender equality when they are being labeled as evil people who are the downfall of society? It was not a popular opinion, but I stuck to my guns (and did well academically for it).

    really, that’s the issue with any aspect of privilege; when it becomes the weapon that the “unprivileged” used to beat over the heads of everyone else, it turns people off to the message; as Gina says in her fantastic article, poverty is a great leveler from a social standpoint. I reiterate that sexuality is as well.

    Really, the intersectionality of privilege can be driven home in easier ways; have people describe something extremely difficult they just did, personally or professionally. Then tell them “now imagine how the experience would be different if you were a different gender and ethnicity” and go through specific examples. That’s the whole point; almost no one has it easy in life, but, even though we may not always think so, some still have it FAR worse.

    • John Anderson says:


      First, I’d like to wish you luck on the job search. There is a little clarification to make as it pertains to bi0racial individuals especially half white. I think you’re right when dealing with white people and (in my case) non-Asians who are familiar with my ancestry, I will be considered Asian. I’ve noticed that also with other bi-racial people I know. The difference being when I’m with Asians that I haven’t grown up with and even in some cases when I have, I’m considered white. I look white.

      I’ve got bi-racial black / white friends who’ve had their “blackness” questioned by other black people. I was listening to part of a conversation between a mixed race black woman I know and her grandma, who I also know. She was consoling her grand daughter because people were making fun of her because of her light skin. I know when I went to the Asian clubs in another part of town, the Asian friends I grew up with were accepted, but I was white.

      On a lighter note, I met this gorgeous half Filipino half white woman who looked white. We shared a lot of the same struggles with the exception that she grew up in Hawaii. It would drive my friends crazy how I at the age I was at could go out with a woman like that. I never told them it was because we could relate to each other in a way she couldn’t relate to other guys. Ironically, we broke up because her family was very wealthy and I couldn’t keep up with the lifestyle.

      I guess the point is that bi-racial individuals rarely are privileged because of their race and are often penalized even when associating with the members of their non-white race.

      • Thanks for your well wishes, John, I appreciate it!

        I understand what you are saying about bi-racial people often having it worse from both sides of the coin–if I implied otherwise, I greatly apologize. I was just using a specific example in Obama; many white people look at him being President and say “See, we’re a Post-Racial society because we have a Black President”. And then I know some Black people who say “but he doesn’t count because he’s not a REAL Black man”.

        Also, I did want to point out something you had mentioned about women being the majority in college: that IS completely true. However, women also gravitate towards academic areas that pay less. Even when becoming a Doctor, for instance, women are far more likely to become an OB/GYN than a Surgeon. Is one better than the other? Of course not, but monetarily speaking Surgeon’s make vastly more money than an OB/GYN.

        Ostensibly, the Gender Wage Gap comes into play here; women earning $0.78 to a man’s $1 on average is huge; once you factor in race, it becomes MUCH worse; a Latina woman will only make (on average) $0.51 to a man’s $1. That is deplorable and a shame–and very much factors into Male Privilege. Men make more money because of the sexist stereotype that a man “needs to provide for his family”.The only field where women earn more than men on average is the so-called “pink collar” profession, that of administrative assistants, secretaries, etc. Even then, they earn a paltry $1.01 to a man’s $1.

        Again, this is all extremely relevant to Gina’s article about White Privilege; as above, when I am using men as the “baseline” for pay, it’s not intended to vilify anyone. I am an optimist enough to believe most people would not actively think “oh, it’s a woman of color, let’s offer her half of what we would a white man”, but it happens; numerous blind studies have shown that even women discriminate against women for jobs; when faced with identical resumes, both male & female hiring managers overwhelmingly choose the male applicant. Similar studies have been done on racial aspects as well (though that’s harder to do as a blind study, obviously).

  33. Eduardo García says:

    I am going to have to link your article as a required reading on all my articles about a man’s obligation do to his privilege and gender inequality.

  34. Gina,

    Thank you for this well written piece. I grew up in similar poverty, yet I can see the differences between us as I happen to be a white gay male; being gay held many disadvantages, while being male supposedly held many advantages.

    Interestingly, much like you, I majored in Social Justice, even through graduate school (specifically gender & sexuality studies). I made similar arguments that you brought up about MacIntosh’s piece (very much a cornerstone of any Social Justice Class) in that probably half of it had to do with Class FAR more than race.

    However, there is an interesting avenue here as well; many of these “privileges” are only privileges in certain ways; being a gender non-conforming male, I quickly lost many of the “male” privileges in most situations. Unless one lives closeted, the heteronormative nature of gender roles will quickly come to the forefront in most situations. Similarly, “race” –as you said, even in the US–occasionally not favored in some circumstances, and that can affect how people see privilege as much as their own class.

    Example: my half-sister and I are both white (caucasian). However, she has amazingly tan skin and dark hair and looks Hispanic, whereas I am a pasty-white Irish looking person. She gets stopped at border patrol checkpoints all the time, and I never have. I’ve had white privilege there, and she never has, despite the fact we both should have it by birth.

    Ostensibly, much has changed since 1987; my aforementioned examples weren’t designed to say “see, I’m an exception, therefore a rule”, but to point out flaws in some aspects of how we think of things. I know the problems I’ve faced as a homosexual man, and I can only imagine how difficult it would be as a more obvious minority–such as if I was black.

    The thing I appreciated most about your article was the emphasizing the lack of blame, and pointing to acknowledgement. I was merely hoping to further push the envelope of Intersectionality to say that most of that list is nowhere near as cut and dry as it seems–and much less of it is about race alone than we might think.

    That being said, again, kudos for a wonderful example of privilege and the invisibility that many people do not understand that follows with it.

    • John Anderson says:

      You are very insightful and articulate. I have enjoyed your comments and I admit you have probably stated my position much better than I have. I think the concept of privilege detracts too much from people just treating others with respect and compassion. I haven’t completely ruled it out as it may be beneficial in cases that talastra pointed out were one group doesn’t feel welcome to speak.

      I think the concept of privilege needs to be examined to take into consideration how a situation changes or affects a hierarchy of privilege. It needs to take into account the intersectionality of privilege. Like you said being gay wipes out a lot or possibly all the privilege of being male. I think feminists (especially the women) fear confronting their own privilege in many situations so they hide behind this concept of benevolent sexism. Women aren’t really privileged in family court. That’s just a perk of having a vagina.

      I also see this disconnect when feminists take credit for the massive changes in society then turn around and say nothing has changed we don’t need to re-examine this concept of privilege. Most people see right through this. They see it’s a group (of mostly women) trying to have their cake and eat it too. Trying to gain every advantage there is to being male without giving up every privilege to being female. That’s why 80% of people surveyed who claimed to be concerned with issues of social justice and equality refused to identify as feminist.

  35. Thank you for this piece. And the (mostly) well thought and considerate comments. As someone who possesses many of the privileges commonly highlighted, it would be churlish not to accept that they have made my life easier. Which is the point… The phrase “check your privilege” (not used by the author, I note) is often used as an outward looking, accusation intended to challenge, or even silence, an interlocutor. As the article says, this is not the point. We should direct the phrase inwards; in what way do my circumstances privilege me? And this is not the ways in which I am not privileged (I didn’t go to private school, for instance which is a detriment in my chosen career) but those facets of my life where I am (as a white, well-educated man, people assume I did, mitigating the potential harm). People get defensive about the use of the term both because it *is* used in some quarters as an insult but also because we are too eager to find the ways in which we are unprivileged. The friend of one of the earlier posters got it right, possibly accidentally, when they said “it’s always going to be your fault, accept it and move on”, except it’s not fault or blame, but privilege – that attitude, accepting where we are privileged needs to be adopted by all, whatever their place within the intersection of privileges (urgh, sorry. Couldn’t think how else to say that). Let’s start with ourselves and demonstrate the kind of inclusive thinking we would like from others. Being made aware of intersectionality has certainly opened my eyes to how I benefit from who I am and encouraged me to actively try to understand and compensate those who do not share any particular privilege.

  36. John Anderson says:

    One of the things about working in IT for 25 years is that a lot of the distance barriers are broken. I remember a conversation I had with a white store manager I was providing tech support for. It was a store in Miami. It was the late 80s / early 90s. He mentioned how in the past he could go into any store and buy his preferred ethnic food. He mentioned how most stores carried “Hispanic food”.

    We used to provide two versions of an application. One version included a Spanish tract. I remember the uproar from our Puerto Rican and some of the heavily Hispanic area customers when management decided to eliminate the tract. Spanish was spoken more prevalently than English in these areas.

    Another privilege they had was being born and/or living in a part of the country at a time when their “whiteness” was an actual privilege. They also have the privilege of not having to know that other white people weren’t afforded this.

    “I am privileged that my first language is also our national language”

    Do you not see the want ads that say Spanish speaking preferred? Some people are privileged to be born into bilingual families.

    “Citizenship – Simply being born in this country affords you certain privileges non-citizens will never access.”

    “December 6, 1991 | From Associated Press

    A federal appeals court overturned a $2.5-million award in a discrimination lawsuit filed by three former American executives of Japanese-owned Quasar Co. The court said they were fired because of their citizenship, not their national origin. The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the men were discriminated against but said commercial treaties between the United States and Japan allow companies based in either country to put their own citizens in key positions at foreign subsidiaries.”


    Citizenship privilege. Not all the time.

    • The fact that we need Want Ads specifically seeking out bilingual/spanish speakers just goes to show how dominant the English languages is in our culture. You cannot deny that you can travel nearly anywhere in this country and have no problem being understood. If English is not your first language, this could be a massive, even life-threatening problem (imagine trying to communicate with EMTs in a foreign language – could you tell them what was wrong with you?) This is why we need people in professions who can speak to and translate for non-English speakers, and that’s why you see the Want ads. Just because you’re not qualified for that job doesn’t mean that being an English speaking person isn’t a privilege in this country. You can leave your house every day relatively certain that you’ll be able to explain yourself to people you’d come into contact with in an emergency. You don’t worry that your language skills will leave you high and dry. That’s privilege at work.

      • John Anderson says:

        @ Gina:

        I forgot to mention thanks for the article. It was very well written. My major hang up with the concept of privilege is that privilege changes when the situation changes. Look at what happened to the guys at Quasar. As a half Asian, I was more privileged than the white students in the dojang and less privileged than the Asian students in the dojang. Privilege being defined as greater opportunity to free style, learn techniques and weapons, and utilize the facilities after hours.

        Having a rigid hierarchy of privilege instead of a fluid one also risks privileging the privileged even more. Women are 57% of college undergrads and get 60% of the degrees. Are men really privileged or still privileged in higher education? When do they stop being privileged? When it’s 80% women, 100% women?

      • I agree with you here Gina, but I think I can clarify a bit on what he meant: I’m job hunting right now as well, and in San Diego, CA, 85%+ of jobs out here list Bilingual required/preferred (and even if it says preferred, you’ll never get an interview without it). On a day to day basis, I completely understand that being able to speak English is a good thing. But this suffers from perception: how is it an advantage to speak the language of the country from which I was born? Well, it’s not to YOU in many ways; it’s expected. All you see is the disadvantage of not being bilingual.

        The step that’s missing cognitively here is the fact that not everyone who speaks Spanish in the U.S. is bilingual; this means that they cannot apply for the same jobs that I can’t AND they suffer every day in many of the ways that you listed. Again, privilege is about visibility; it can be hard for people to understand that the “baseline” IS a privilege. It falls under the same category of “1st world problems” joke. Things like that seem ridiculous outside of the U.S., but people have that privilege ingrained upon them to the point of thinking it’s a “right”.

  37. Kae Halonen says:

    i think the concept of “privilege” makes it impossible to organize around commonalities. Privilege assumes that one grouping of people have more than they deserve and need, before we can work together , to give it up. There is no privilege to seeing people who like you making history, being credited with building our country; or to be able to assume that the only reason that you are being stopped by a cop is that you broke a driving law; or to be able to vote without restrictions The problem is —-not all US citizens are afforded that same right because of assumed “white superiority” perpetuated by culture, ideology and assumed (with no basis in reality) privilege. We are taught that “white is right” no matter how poor we might be . That false notion is what we must give up.The rich may need to give up some of their true unearned and material privilege. The majority of us, however, need to fight hard for an inclusive, ever expanding political democracy, along with economic and social justice for all working people (and that is the vast majority of us –working or unemployed). Nothing to be “given up” (much less to feel guilty about). Instead, we need to struggle for genuine respect, inclusion, assumed equality and recognition that we really are in this together and it is only together that we canmove forward.

    • John Anderson says:

      @ Kae Halonen

      “i think the concept of “privilege” makes it impossible to organize around commonalities.”

      You need to cut it with that MRA stuff, just kidding, but seriously that’s one of the truths I’ve found in the MRM. People will wonder why the MRM doesn’t focus on gay rights or minority rights. It’s because they focus on human rights. Feminists constantly look for things that divide us. We need to support this person’s right because they’re gay. We need to support this person’s rights because they’re black. MRAs say we need to support this person’s rights because they’re a person.

  38. Amanda Marcotte has said that the cure for men’s problems is more Feminism. After 40 years
    of being told we are all rapists and abusers, how is more of the same supposed to “help” us
    exactly? One of her solutions is “end all informal discrimination.” Sounds great, but she never
    explains exactly HOW this will be done. So how, exactly are we supposed to eradicate this
    unearned privilege? I’d like to hear specifics, not vague generalizations. Pointing out a problem
    is one thing, but if you have no solutions you are not helping.

    • Wes: are you really interested in searching for solutions? It becomes hard to believe believe when you characterize the last forty years of feminism as saying nothing but that men are rapists and abusers; that’s the same reactionary misrepresentation tossed about in 1975. You’ve had 40 years to research something better on your own, and you’ve apparently passed on that. So, you might understand why I question your sincerity.

      You want to know how to combat white privilege. Think a moment. Since white privilege involves benefiting from unearned advantages, then to eradicate privilege involves you (and others) not continuing to allow yourself to benefit from any unearned advantage you have.

      Pretty obvious. Let’s think another moment more about some basic examples.

      In general, to be a white male means feeling entitled to speak whenever he wants about whatever he wants. Checking one’s privilege would involve: not doing that, would involve shutting up and listening instead. Listening to people who don’t have your privileges is one of the biggest–one would think the easiest–forms of combating one’s entitlement and privilege.

      You yourself exhibit another key entitlement: the claim to demand to be given answers to questions you ask. How would you put that privilege in check? Do your own research. Educate yourself. Have you heard of Goggle? Use it. Have you read McIntosh’s piece; if not, read it (the link is above). Have you read Crosley-Corcoran’s piece; if not, the article is just above this? There’s no shortage of other pieces of writing about this.

      Another piece of white privilege is feeling owed respect no matter how you act. You came in here and opened with some seemingly smart ass remarks. There are places in prison where that, as a white guy, might get you shanked. Or places down South where that, if you were Black, might get you called uppity and lynched. Or any number of places around the US where, if you came in with that too flamboyantly, might get you gay-bashed–happens all the time. And how do you combat this privilege? If someone responds to your offerings with anger, don’t attack the person; don’t belittle them as a “diesel dyke” or a “reverse discriminator” or the like. Use your ears and listen and treat the person speaking with respect, considering the possibility that they may have a valid point, even in the face of their anger. The key point here, Wes: their anger toward your remark is valid.

      White privilege generally allows the expression of male (verbal) violence whenever the male wants to. “I feel mad, so I’m going to let you know.” How do you work against that privilege? Keep your anger in check and don’t foist it off on people you are interacting with who have less privilege.

      I haven’t even started listing the things one might concretely do in the world to check one’s privilege. All the above is just kindergarten-level conclusions.

      So one concrete example: if privilege involves going someplace in public and being generally sure of seeing people with the same color skin as you in the majority. How do you check that privilege? go to places where you are not surrounded by a majority of people who have the same color skin as you. Get your hair cut at a black barber shop. Preferentially spend your money at businesses owned by people of color in neighborhoods predominantly populated by people of color. And if you start giving yourself excuses why you can’t do that, then recognize that you are just arguing for the sake of keeping your white privilege.

      • While I don’t necessarily disagree with a lot of what you say, talastra, one thing I take exception with is his “expecting answers to his questions”. His paragraph was pretty specifically aimed at Amanda Marcotte. When someone is making assertions such as Marcotte has, it is up to them to defend or justify those assertions – it is definitely NOT the target audience’s job to go and find their own answers because they have “privilege”. You may call it privilege the fact that someone can ask for her to justify her remarks, I call it accountability.

      • I never said I expected anything from anyone. The problem with expectations is that you are
        almost always disappointed. As for referencing Amanda Marcotte, she is an example of the
        same kind of thinking I found in the article. I wasn’t aware that disagreeing with someone
        was “smart ass”. I was asking a totally serious question.

      • You yourself exhibit another key entitlement: the claim to demand to be given answers to questions you ask. How would you put that privilege in check? Do your own research. Educate yourself.

        This is nonsense. If you care about something and think other people should too, you make the case to them.

        This mentality is rubbish for actually convincing people of a position, but it is great for those who want to moralise efficiently.

        • OirishM:

          Pretty peremptory of you to declare so. You forget: Wes shows no genuine interest–a cursory Internet search would provide a wealth of answers to his question–but he hasn’t bothered to do so in the past 40 years it appears. That’s not the attitude of a sincere seeker or student.

          He asked about ways to step down from privilege. I offered five. You cherry picking one out of context and doing nothing but haranguing it similarly shows bad faith on your part.

          And calling it nonsense like you do only makes an embarrassing display of ignorance on your part. I’m sure when someone suggested in 1838 in the US South that the “slave’s” opinion ought to be heard before all of the gathered white folk that that too would have been denounced as “nonsense”. And it was just as much nonsense then as now.

          • And calling it nonsense like you do only makes an embarrassing display of ignorance on your part. I’m sure when someone suggested in 1838 in the US South that the “slave’s” opinion ought to be heard before all of the gathered white folk that that too would have been denounced as “nonsense”. And it was just as much nonsense then as now.

            You do realise I’m referring to the case being made by the people claiming oppression, right? I think they should indeed be putting their opinion forward.

            Which is why I find it puzzling that people will insist they are a member of an oppressed group, and then when asked to justify that claim the response is a stroppy “educate yourself!” Can’t be that urgent a problem to them if one can go without spreading the word further.

            I care about men’s issues, so why would I let someone’s lack of awareness of those issues go by without attempting a correction? Besides they may do their own research and yet come to a different conclusion – something I can try and preempt by getting my own argument in first.

            • OirishM:

              I myself am an inveterate educator, as no doubt my insistent and sometimes exasperated posts betray . And I share your position that, given a chance to educate, it is an opportunity for me to do so .

              All of this is so.

              And I express and have very strong reservations when I hear someone from a privileged-disadvantaged position tell someone in the privileged-advantaged position, “It’s not my job to educate you.” I usually wonder, “Well, whose job is it then? Who is better qualified, if not you.”

              I believe this summarizes the point you are making. Yes?

              So then, if I know that, then why espouse the point I have above principally to Wes but also reiterating the point to you.

              There is a difference between someone sincerely asking a question and someone who just wants thing handed to them on a silver platter (if they’re even that serious). Have you read that Internet essay Gemmell’s “What Have You tried?”, which explains a kind of netiquette for asking for help with writing computer code. You can read it here: http://mattgemmell.com/what-have-you-tried/

              He acknowledges the duty that those who know have to help those who do not. AND, he acknowledges that (1) no one is being paid to answer these questions, (2) a lot of the answers are readily available all over the Internet or elsewhere, (3) time is limited for many people, and so forth.

              So, if someone asks a question (specifically about programming code), he wants to counter with, “Well, what have you tried so far?” In part because if you have stuff that you’ve already tried, that (1) shows more good faith that you re serious about finding an answer; (2) eliminates certain lines of answering that might need attempting; (3) contextualizes the question in a more succinct way, and other factors.

              If someone waltzes in and asks, “What’s feminism?” this doesn’t show much seriousness. It asks feminists, who might be willing to give FREELY of their time (at no cost to the neophyte) to answer the question, to have to first figure out what the heck the person might mean. So the recommendation, “Have you tried Wikipedia yet?” isn’t rebuffing t all, and that’s just a more polite version that “it’s not my responsibility to educate you.”

              And I do think, even if the latter response has its problems, that it’s not unwarranted. We don’t live in 1985, when the Internet wasn’t closer than the distance it takes to type the question “what is feminism” in the first place. It starts to seem suspiciously snotty to even ask that question. It belies such a total failure of effort that it makes the question not seem serious, and this is exactly the same thing Gemmell notes of people who want fully written ready-made code handed to them on a silver platter.

              That is, by definition, a serious case of entitlement. Just as I insisted.

              And Gemmell is writing about people who are, in all seriousness, at least gung-ho to get the answer they are asking after. In a non-programming setting, like here, questions easily seem more like trolling. And if you are old enough to know slanders of feminism from 40 years ago and have nothing else to show for knowledge since that time, then in answer to the question, “What have you tried (to answer that question)”, the answer is, “Jack Squat.”

              And that’s not someone interested in learning. That’s just trolling. You’re not trolling.

              • Talastra,
                Remember Pat Tillman? after 9-11 he gave up a career in pro football to enlist and become an Army Ranger. When he was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan the Army lied about what happened, then tried to use his death for publicity purposes. His “privilege” didn’t stop a bullet or keep him from being as expendable as anyone else. Politicians like to keep harping on race, abortion, feminism or anything else that will keep people arguing and distracted from the fact that this country is $16 TRILLION in debt while our government sends billions to countries like Pakistan. Not saying race is unimportant, but there are bigger problems to deal with. Like americans losing homes, jobs and their lives.

  39. matty moo says:

    Great job! Best explanation of the term for disadvantaged white folks I have ever read.

    However I feel compelled to add that I still think the word itself is problematic; few if any people outside of academia (privileged much?) and leftist activism use it and it is at first alienating (and after a heated initial argument about it, maybe permanently alienating?) to an awful lot of disadvantaged white folks when they first hear it.

    To respond that they just need to research the concept and get used to it is a flippant answer, the problem is that the term itself is ineffective. there has to be a term that is more easily understood by working and lower class people of all races, genders, abilities, etc if we are looking to make the concept widespread. anyway, if we are going to use the word, you did a great job!!! kudos. 🙂

    • matty moo: the term is not ineffective, because no term one might use–except a bullet–will prompt someone in Power to give up their Power. So the term ultimately does the work it needs to do not on the arrogant people who look for any excuse to go on being entitled privilege-mongers and more for those who have to live in world full of entitled privilege-mongers.

      It clarifies the quality of culture we live in and directs our attention to where we might actually intervene and make a difference. Every display of scoffing privilege denial serves as another example why revolution is necessary, or grassroots community organizing that turns its back on the entitled privilege-mongers. But also yes, sometimes the term does manage not just to alienate and induce a sense of cooperation in a privilege-monger who might otherwise not have done so. That’s progress too.

    • I completely agree. I think the terminology is off-putting. I’m from a WT upbringing myself, and these concepts are just not available to so many folks. I tried talking to my brother about this – and he gave me the big “fuck you asshole” about it. He felt offended – he’s poor, can barely feed himself, missing teeth he can’t afford to replace, hasn’t been to a doctor in a decade, etc. etc. Explaining any kind of “privilege” to him is impossible. Because as far as he’s concerned, every day is a struggle to survive. He does not care about anything except rent, food and bus fare. When you are that poor, you do not have the psychic space available to process these deep academic concepts. You work until you bleed, and pass out on the couch only to wake up 8 hours later, bone-tired, to do it all over again. It’s privileged bullshit to think that the terminology is accessible in any way.

  40. Henry Vandenburgh says:

    MacIntosh was at Wellesley. I stopped listening after that.

  41. Hi Gina:

    Thanks for your piece. I’d like to amplify one point in particular.

    For me, a most important point in McIntosh’s essay comes right at the beginning, when she notes how males readily expressed their willingness to help reduce the disadvantages faced by women but adamantly refused to relinquish any of the privileges they had. In brief, they’ll help give a hand up to the disadvantaged but won’t step down from being a beneficiary of their privilege, they won’t actually work against it.

    That’s a very cogent observation by McIntosh. So, keeping in mind the idea that attaining social justice involves both goals of (1) ameliorating the disadvantages experienced by some people and (2) having the privileged step down from benefiting from their privilege(s), when you wrote:

    “Nobody’s saying that Straight White Middle Class Able-Bodied Males are all a bunch of assholes who don’t work hard for what they have. Recognizing Privilege simply means being aware that some people have to work much harder just to experience the things you take for granted (if they ever can experience them at all.)”

    I see a disparity. The so-called hard work done by the privileged is not as hard as it should be, because white privilege affords its many advantages along the way. To pick just one example, because SAT tests are biased in favor of white males, not only do white males not have to be as academically proficient as other test takers (in fact, they are on average academically inferior to girls), they still receive higher SAT scores and thus more easily get into college. Consequently, if we say that some people have to work much harder, in many cases no matter how hard they work, the SAT test still assigns them a lower score, and they don’t get into college, or at least not into the most competitive colleges that use SAT scores as major determinants for granting admittance. Unless the SAT test “steps down” from its privilege, so to speak, then all of our calls for the disadvantage to ‘work hard” to succeed amounts to little more than a cruel bait-and-switch.

    • I’m not sure there is/can be such a thing as “stepping down” from one’s privilege — I see it more a matter of pulling others up. For instance, the world happens to be built for able bodied people. People shouldn’t stop being able bodied just because it’s a privilege, but they should take care to work toward making the world more accessible to people of all ability levels. I’m not mad at men because they can generally leave a bar at night without worrying about being brutally raped, and I don’t want them to start worrying about it. I’m just mad at the ones who allow women to worry that way… and worry we do. Let’s end rape culture and maybe nobody will have to feel their safety threatened. Et cetera….

      • Hi Gina:

        Thanks for your reply. I appreciate what you say about helping people up. And I want to keep speaking to the possibility of stepping down from my privileges.

        I’m with you 1000% to end rape culture. And we can do that not only by training all women how to avoid rape 100% of the time but also to have men not rape 100% of the time. Since RC is premised on the normalization of sexual assault, when (1) men don’t assault people, (2) when men don’t enable it in others by failing to take up the task of increasing the safety of women (of all people) against sexual assault, (3) when men don’t over for other men under the banner of “bros before hos”, all of these acts, which some men will count as “betrayals”, certainly represent instances of stepping down from privilege as I see it. Any time you “betray” the “immoral pretenses” of your class, you are almost surely stepping down from your privilege.

        But to discuss this in a less dire sounding way, privilege simply involves benefiting from an unearned advantage, so stepping down from privilege involves nothing more complicated than refusing to benefit from that that unearned advantage, wherever or whenever one can.

        I don’t see this as me stopping being able bodied; rather, I could make a point only to patronize businesses and events that are wheel-chair accessible.

        I this this example really illustrates the point, because it would truly be a major inconvenience to have to find businesses I can patronize just for quick errands an the like–nearly as much of an inconvenience as for people who aren’t able-bodied.

        If I make the commitment to shop only at stores that are non-ableist, this affects how I live my life very directly and it puts me much, much closer to the level of privilege that other-enabled bodies live on a daily basis. Of course, at the drop of a hat, I can “suspend my lofty principle” and shop wherever I like but that’s precisely because I have the privilege to do so.

        By contrast, for me to get in a wheelchair and then try to live my life that way would be a form of minstrelsy, and thus inherently offensive and presumptuous. On the other hand, to live my life by the criteria that I will only spend my money or participate in activities at non-ableist places represents a stepping down from my privilege. Doubtless this would almost surely eventually inspire me to lobby stores I wish I could keep going to to put in a wheel-chair ramps, &c. It would change how I looked at the world and thus how I acted in the world.

        I hope this makes sense. And again, thanks for your reply and your article!

      • Fantastic clarification. Thanks for that.

  42. “The concept of Intersectionality recognizes that people can be privileged in some ways and definitely not privileged in others. There are many different types of privilege, not just skin color privilege, that impact the way people can move through the world or are discriminated against.”

    So other races have privilege too.

    “By being born male, you can assume that you can walk through a parking garage without worrying you’ll be raped and that a defense attorney will then blame it on what you were wearing.”

    By being born female, you can expect that you can be around children without people suspecting you are a child molester. By being born female, you can expect that your claim of being raped will be taken more seriously than a man who claims the same thing.

    I really think we should look deeper at non-white non-male privilege in society.

  43. Kip Robisch says:

    Gina, this is a better piece than Peggy McIntosh’s. I understand that in many ways it depends upon McIntosh’s essay, and that the 1988 collective culture needed such a piece. But it handles the subject matter more compassionately, deftly, and logically. McIntosh’s essay invites quibbling, nitpicking. You can grab “I see my race represented on television” and cite that only 17% of the population was African American at the time, and that the how of our depiction on television, of whatever race, is the bigger issue. Where does that confrontation with McIntosh’s essay take us?

    To quibble with your essay is simple to reveal one’s own personal hangups about the matter–that “i don’t personally see or feel this,” or some abstract disagreement with your own narrative, is to miss the best point you make here. You’re repositioning the word “privilege” closer to where it belongs. Laying white privilege on everyone white removes it from the reality of cultural complexity. It erodes context. It’s a generalization with some teeth, but still a generalization, and it stops conversation rather than starting it, prompts accusation rather than dialogue.

    Your essay just points right at a situation that isn’t covered under the doctrine of white privilege, but that is kind in its rebuttal, sensitive to what about whiteness in American might be worth a closer look. Frankly, I think you’ve got that closer look more than McIntosh had, and maybe that’s because the McIntoshes of the movement made it more possible, but your insight is where we should be leaning. Great job.

  44. Assertion: White people are privileged.
    Question: Why should white people want to give up this privilege?

  45. Clickbait says:

    “I can turn on the television and see people of my race widely represented.”

    Pretty weak privilege when you literally cannot afford a TV.

    • I completely agree with you…Yes, I am white and have 2 college degrees. BUT what has it got me?? squat. I don’t argue that many folks have it worse off than me, but I haven’t had cable TV in more than a decade (almost 2). Almost everything I have is hand me downs, including my socks and underwear (and I am NOT exaggerating). I think that classism is more alive than anything else. As a single mom, my daughter was nominated for Christmas charity (which I turned down) because there has GOT to be people that are poorer than us at her elementary school. BUT finding a job as a single mom in my line of work is little to nothing. I don’t know how the other moms do it, cause I want to see my kid more than 2 -3 hours a day. If she is in school from 8-3 and I work from 9-6 and then she is in bed at 8-9 (which doesn’t really happen)….explain that to me?!? Why have kids if someone else is raising them

      • Joanna Schroeder says:

        You simply cannot separate classism from racism in this country because part of the racism against people of color is the assumption that they are among the lower class.

        But certainly classism is a HUGE issue in the US. The author doesn’t deny it. But it’s the point where race and class meet up, and are judged together, that she’s speaking of.

  46. I am so sick of the topic of privilege – and not just white privilege – privilege period. What the hell does it accomplish? I’d much rather see a list that says “hey white people – don’t do these 15 idiotic things”. That I can get down with. But unless you’re some fancy freakin trust fund baby with too much damn time on your hands, who’s got time to re-wire the way they’ve been socialized – some of us have real jobs but thanks. It’s all too ridiculously cerebral for me – I prefer to go by the aluminum rule “don’t be a f*cking dick” (and if you happen to be and someone calls you on it – apologize and shut the hell up).

    Otherwise, all this freaking posturing kind of makes me want to puke – “oh I’VE got it so bad, no no I’VE got it so bad…” you know who’s got it so bad – freaking EVERYONE. Everyone has got their own shit to deal with. Systemic opression sucks, but so does any other kind of opression, and the parameters in which you live dictate how much your particular opression is going to effect your life. In the end, crying about any of it isn’t going to help. Work hard, love hard. I’m not ridiculous enough to say that it’s going to change your station in life – we all get dealt the hand we get. Just make the most of it, try to find some joy where you can and be a good person. Hopefully, there is an afterlife – maybe shit will be fair when we get there.

  47. My main problem with the white privilege is that the people making the argument rarely use it to try and make people think, but more often to shame and guilt. I’ve had it flung at me a few times with the same inflection that you might use with the word bigot, which basically makes me not want to have the conversation at all. “Check your privilege” is getting close to being like Godwin’s Law at this point.

    I also feels that it removes accountability. Instead of calling out specific individuals for specific racist actions, it lays blame at society in general.

    This is probably the first piece on white privilege that hasn’t relied on shaming to get the point across. Kudos!

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Stephen, SO glad it came across the way the author intended it to!

      I agree, she explained it so well.

    • Nailed it Stephen, you’re so right. And you’re right too Joanna, she did explain it well and it came across as desired…

      Unfortunately I have seen the phrase “check your privilege” and such used so often that the article rang hollow for me. It was a great article and well written, but the word privilege has been hijacked and used as an ad-hominem attack for so long that it’s kind of impossible for me to look at it in a new light. It’s like the word “mysognist” in an argument – it immediately shuts everything down because, because how does anyone respond to that without coming across as defensive and guilty of it?

      The unfortunate fact is that until I saw this article, the term “privilege” in these kinds of discourse has ALWAYS been about invoking guilt or being accusatory in some manner.

      • Pete – I think you can choose to ignore the validity of this piece because of how a few people have hurt your feelings, or you can choose to absorb and fully integrate what you agree with about this piece into your understanding of privilege.

        Just because some people use the word wrong, and are mean about it, doesn’t mean the word itself has lost its meaning, or especially that the ACTUAL definition of the word is somehow defunct because of the people who upset you.

        It’s just not logical. The marginalized people are not somehow less marginalized because people wee using the term as a way of challenging people.

        • Come on Joanna, I think you’re being a bit disingenuous when you say “how a few people have hurt your feelings”. Firstly, no one has hurt my feelings. Secondly, we’ve both been around the interwebs and sites like these long enough that we know it isn’t “a few people” that are using the word privilege in the way I described. It is widespread, and you can talk about the ACTUAL definition of the word, or you can be pragmatic and recognise that it is never used in that way. One person coming along and using it correctly doesn’t change that.

          And again, you’re being disingenuous when you say people used it as a way of “challenging people’. No, people use it as a way of shutting down an argument, because they can’t counter an argument with logic and reason. So we attack the person’s position in society instead.

  48. Great article. It touches on important issues that a lot of articles on “white privilege” miss. I’m white, and my best friend is black, and we do a vlog on social issues. One of our topics was about the organization “Black Girls Rock” and why it is necessary. We discussed that many black Americans are still struggling to break free from poverty, which is one thing that adds to the black struggle in the US. But the truth is, there are millions of white Americans who were born poorer than my friend was. It’s a topic we haven’t yet talked about directly in our vlog, but this article makes me think it needs to be done sooner than later! Thanks for sharing your story!

    Take a look if you’d like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4gdIeh3-k4
    And our vlog on coming out as LGBT: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lG8-dUXHmZQ

  49. Carolyn Egan says:

    I think this post raises the importance of engendering empathy among and between people(s). Drilling down into the soul, we all elude “types” and have a knapsack of advantages and disadvantages that are beyond – sometimes – our own understanding let along our neighbors’. There is also the mysterious alchemy that this author exemplifies of disadvantage being transformed into advantage. Being an outsider can and often does fuel perceptions and understandings that those in the middle/ the mean/ the average – to whom the world seems friendly – do not have access via their experiences: This is wisdom and depth which can empower and provoke great change and contribute to the conversation of humanity in profound ways. I’m proud of and pleased for Ms. Crosley-Corcoran’s successes. I enjoyed this piece. Good luck to you.

  50. A married friend of mine once told me, “If something goes wrong even if it isn’t your fault, it IS
    your fault. Just take the blame and move on.” I am used to being singled out for problems that I
    did not cause or even contribute to, and have accepted it. I won’t say that I know what it’s like to
    be a woman, black, gay or other minority group because the simple fact is it would be untrue.
    The only people who have real privilege are the politicians, lawyers and CEOs at the top of the
    pyramid. And that includes Obama and Hillary Clinton.

  51. Man, you came from a background like my mom’s. I think that in many ways, there are subtle aspects of “people look at you and don’t x…” that get missed. Like TEETH. People judge like crazy about tooth condition, when that’s strongly controlled by certain aspects of access that the poor of any color don’t get. Now, I am myself half-Mexican, and so dark that other Latinos picked on me, but I did see my mom go through a LOT that the general, middle-class presumption doesn’t touch on.

    I guess people presumed she could speak English on sight? But with the crowd of little brown children around her…aiiie. It still stuns me that when people see a White woman of non-middle class standing with mixed-ethnicity children, they presume the worst. I know III didn’t get pressured to tell my ob-gyn what drugs I was on, and I was believed when I said I did no such thing and didn’t drink, either, when pregnant, despite being poor and having a husband who looked vastly different (read: Very, very white, but also…not at all middle class). My mother, however? My mother, who does not drink, had a pack-a-month smoking habit at WORST, and who never touched drugs, went through the fussing over what she SURELY must be on through her first three pregnancies. Seriously, who DOES that?

    My mom’s experiences seeking aid during the off season (my dad worked in orchards) were pretty disturbing, as well. The overarching attitude seemed to be that her whiteness should have meant she didn’t NEED help, somehow.

    She did still have some power for advocacy in our rather poor, immigrant-heavy community, though–she’d translate for relatives, she’d help folks interpret forms, she’d manage English-language phone duties for those around us, and she’d help with taxes. She was listened to more than my Latino relations, so there was a subtle priviledge there, but it is very, VERY hard to see these things without a critical lens, and it is far less of a degree than the usual portrait of the middle-class White used as the Gold Standard. White poverty really needs to be represented in media and in critical discussions with more honesty and less mockery than it is. Amazing folks like her, and, goodness! Normal folks, too, need better understanding about their plight, so discussion about safety net issues and the like doesn’t break down to anti-immigrant, anti-black talk with this bizarre presumption that the only Whites who need assistance are just chronic and epic failures, which is absurd.

  52. I’m a Straight White Middle Class Able-Bodied Male, but I grew up right on the poverty line, especially after my parents divorced. Not as poor as you’ve described, but we were on food stamps for a long time and scraped by for everything. I was lucky to be a highly gifted student, so I went to a good college for free and got a good degree; now I’m solidly middle class. All that being said, I try to be conscious of white (male, straight, able) privilege every day and not take it for granted. I try not to invoke it at all, especially to the detriment of other people. But I do recognize I’ve enjoyed advantages because of it. It’s difficult to acknowledge white privilege because it’s admitting you’ve got cheat codes the rest of society doesn’t. I don’t like it, to be honest. It disturbs me that I’m afforded privileges not afforded to others. However, acknowledging it is the first step towards affording those same privileges to the rest of society. People who enjoy white privilege have to -actively assert- that others deserve those same privileges, and call out those who attempt to deny them to non-white (straight, male, able) individuals.

    People who share my demographic and location (hyper-conservative South Carolina) generally refuse to acknowledge white privilege, whether passively or actively. These people feel threatened when other groups ask for the same privileges they’ve enjoyed for centuries, institutionalized into the very fabric of society. I think that’s a natural, but negative reaction…it’s visceral, animalistic, Darwinian. It has to be consciously overcome.

    So yes, white privilege makes me uncomfortable but I think in a way opposite from what you’re asking.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      I’m like you, with most of the same privileges.

      I don’t feel guilt over being white, what I feel is responsibility to make note of my privileges and do any work I can as a white person to help end systematic oppression. Yes, I’m only one person, but I at least try to be aware.

      There’s just no reason to feel guilt over privilege. We didn’t choose it. Our job is to be aware, and to find ways to work to help end the systems that privilege us.

      You’re right that maybe it is uncomfortable. Or less comfortable than being ignorant of our privilege. But wouldn’t it be more uncomfortable to have a sinking feeling that things aren’t fair and that you’re benefitting, without acknowledging it? I don’t know. I must be missing something.

      • INDIGENOUS says:

        you have a choice to go back to Europe but you CHOOSE not to. you white people are all ILLEGAL on MY land! and white priviledge is the judicial system which disprportianetely places ethnic minorities for longer duration of sentences and can be pretty much a non white attacked and then defends him/herself and gets wrongfully convicted do to the masses of illegal unwanted European immigrants such as yourself which your race has built a ILLEGAL charter of rights and constitution to give you white invaders the upperhand.

    • John Anderson says:

      @ RyanH

      Here’s where I disagree with you. I was born into wealth, but my father died when I was just over a year old so I was raised in poverty. I’m half white and half Asian. I look white. I never saw the white privilege that people claim even though I was white, everyone in my neighborhood knew I was Asian. This has afforded me to see both sides and I can tell you. You guys are wrong.

      What program did you use to get into college that helped white or male students? Like you there was no affirmative action for me. I busted my butt earning good grades and getting scholarship help though I had to cough put about 8K. What you’re missing is that your whiteness and maleness in conjunction with your poverty put you at a disadvantage in this situation relative to an impoverished person who was a minority or a woman. It doesn’t matter how many times you might have been advantaged in other situations, you where disadvantaged here.

      When people examine privilege, they look at it from a macro perspective and they look at it in the aggregate. Under most conditions in most places white people are privileged so that means white people are privileged so that means that white people are privileged ALL the time. You can put other groups like men in that statement and it will still hold true for those making a living talking about privilege.

      I live in one neighborhood in one city. I go to one school. I work at one job. If the Hispanic manager in the other department where I would like to work will only hire Hispanics to give his people a chance (this actually happened except it wasn’t a department where I wanted to work), how am I privileged over the black guy who can’t get a job at another company because of his race?

      Don’t kid yourself. I’ve seen the same sentiments echoed by other people of color that the Hispanic manager told me. These acts of bigotry are disregarded because they “aren’t systems of oppression”, but how many of the examples given are “systems of oppression” and not individual acts of racism. Taken collectively they may become a system, but that just means that in the future these individual acts of racism against white people can (and maybe have) form “systems of oppression”. So should we spend all this time examining who has privilege over whom or is the solution a lot simpler and older. Treat your neighbor as you’d like to be treated.

  53. I’m sorry, I thought this blog was about being “Good Men”, not ‘white guilt’.

    • Someone obviously didn’t read the entire piece.

      “…recognizing Privilege doesn’t mean suffering guilt or shame for your lot in life.”

    • Being a “Good Man” means helping the rest of society enjoy all the benefits that you enjoy, does it not?

    • John Anderson says:

      @ Matthew

      Some people think being good means doing no harm. Others believe that being good requires a person to make a positive change. Personally, I feel that it’s better in most cases to explorer more topics than less and to let conversations go where they will. Roughly half the white population is male so this piece should pass even if there is a strict interpretation of whether this qualifies as related to a discussion on men and / or what makes a man good and / or how men can become good.


  1. […] sense to me to include them here. The first is on white privilege by Ashley Lee. The second is on white privilege by Gina Crosley-Corcoran. It might seem a bit of a stretch to connect white privilege and cultural appropriation in fashion, […]

  2. […] Gina Crosley-Corcoran, Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person […]

  3. […] who is white and grew up very poor in rural Illinois in a camper with no hot water or heat, titled “Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person” (language warning) which is specifically written for those of us with friends who, when hearing the […]

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