By James Haught
Years ago, I visited my state’s former black mental hospital and fell into conversation with a witty, friendly, black psychiatrist.
He taunted me: “You’re a racist, you know.”
“No, no, no,” I protested — but he continued:
“Just look at yourself: You were born white, male and smart. You could go out into the world and take whatever you could get — and you never stopped to think that I couldn’t do it.”
I was speechless. Finally, I answered: “Damn! You nailed me precisely.”
Until that moment, I never saw clearly that society stacked the deck in my favor, giving me benefits not available to minorities. It was sobering. Later, I learned that sociologists call my advantage “white privilege.”
The wealthy white community of Westport, Connecticut (median family income $150,000), got into an uproar because a human rights group and the public library invited high school students to write essays on the topic: “In 1,000 words or less, describe how you understand the term ‘white privilege.’”
To the surprise of sponsors, a backlash arose. Some white parents felt insulted and claimed that the essay contest was designed to make their teens ashamed of their benefits. National news coverage followed.
The chairman of the Westport human rights group, a retired black IBM vice president, replied:
“There’s a lot more controversy around it than many of us expected. … All of a sudden, we’re race-baiting or trying to get people to feel guilty. That’s not what it’s all about.”
Actually, the topic isn’t simple. There are many other sorts of privilege beyond race. People born with high I.Q. have advantage over those born with less. Americans with normal weight and appealing features get better acceptance than those who are heavy or homely. People with affluent parents who sent them to good universities have a leg up over youths from blue-collar families who couldn’t afford college. Foreign-looking people with odd names — especially Hispanics — don’t get the same breaks as standard white Americans. Despite years of female progress, males still hold advantage. Despite progress, gays still are less accepted than “straights.”
I was born in the 1930s in a little Wetzel County farm town with no electricity or paved streets. But even there, I was privileged. My father was the town postmaster and my mother a teacher — which put us in the white-collar elite, compared to sweaty farmhands. It gave me confidence and self-worth that never left me.
The ongoing “Black Lives Matter” crusade spotlights racial privilege. At one protest, a picket held a sign saying, “They don’t shoot white women like me.” That’s another white privilege.
Here’s the bottom line: Whites needn’t feel ashamed of their privilege — but they should work hard to ensure that everyone in every ethnic group gets the same benefits.
(Haught, the Charleston Gazette-Mail’s editor emeritus, can be reached by email at email@example.com. This is from his newspaper on Feb 5, 2017.)
*Associates and resources listing last updated May 31, 2020.*
Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, Centre for Inquiry Canada, Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.
Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du Québec, Atheist Freethinkers, Central Ontario Humanist Association, Comox Valley Humanists, Grey Bruce Humanists, Halton-Peel Humanist Community, Hamilton Humanists, Humanist Association of London, Humanist Association of Ottawa, Humanist Association of Toronto, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, Ontario Humanist Society, Secular Connextions Seculaire, Secular Humanists in Calgary, Society of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph), Thunder Bay Humanists, Toronto Oasis, Victoria Secular Humanist Association.
Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an Agnostiker, American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Associação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Alliance of America, Atheist Centre, Atheist Foundation of Australia, The Brights Movement, Center for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist Ireland, Camp Quest, Inc., Council for Secular Humanism, De Vrije Gedachte, European Humanist Federation, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, Foundation Beyond Belief, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist International, Humanist Association of Germany, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist Society of Scotland, Humanists UK, Humanisterna/Humanists Sweden, Internet Infidels, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists, James Randi Educational Foundation, League of Militant Atheists, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, National Secular Society, Rationalist International, Recovering From Religion, Religion News Service, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, The Clergy Project, The Rational Response Squad, The Satanic Temple, The Sunday Assembly, United Coalition of Reason, Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.
About Canadian Atheist
Canadian Atheist is an independent blog with multiple contributors providing articles of interest to Canadian atheists, secularists, humanists, and freethinkers.
Canadian Atheist is not an organization — there is no membership and nothing to join — and we offer no professional services or products. It is a privately-owned publishing platform shared with our contributors, with a focus on topics relevant to Canadian atheists.
Canadian Atheist is not affiliated with any other organization or group. While our contributors may be individually be members of other organizations or groups, and may even speak in an official capacity for them, CA itself is independent.
For more information about Canadian Atheist, or to contact us for any other reason, see our contact page.
About Canadian Atheist Contributors
Canadian Atheist contributors are volunteers who provide content for CA. They receive no payment for their contributions from CA, though they may be sponsored by other means.
Our contributors are people who have both a passion for issues of interest to Canadian atheists, secularists, humanists, and freethinkers, and a demonstrated ability to communicate content and ideas of interest on those topics to our readers. Some are members of Canadian secularist, humanist, atheist, or freethought organizations, either at the national, provincial, regional, or local level. They come from all walks of life, and offer a diversity of perspectives and presentation styles.
CA merely provides our contributors with a platform with almost complete editorial freedom. Their opinions are their own, expressed as they see fit; they do not speak for Canadian Atheist, and Canadian Atheist does not speak for them.
For more information about Canadian Atheist’s contributors, or to get in contact with any of them, or if you are interested in becoming a contributor, see our contact page.
Image Credit: James Haught.
It is unsettling to be confronted with the idea that people of colour find themselves unable to function in human society for no fault of their own. We need to find a way to ensure that being black, or native, or an immigrant, or a woman, does not block the way to a successful life. I think we are blinded by our love of money. Is a white CEO of a major corporation, Harvard graduate, privately a jerk, really worth that much respect? What about helping a 30 year old, mixed race, mother of 3, who ended up on skid row because of drug addiction? That Harvard graduate, and his lobbyists, right now stands between her and a properly financed detox service, and a monthly welfare cheque, to help her get out of poverty. We may call it “white priviledge” if it helps us see why she ended up there and not he, but does she care what we call it?