In a nation founded on the belief that white people are inherently superior to all other races; structurally, a system of racism that keeps white people in social, economic and political power and with a legacy of systems built on enslavement and exploitation of African Americans and American Indians, white privilege remains a holdover that affects every aspect of society, including voting rights and political power.
Setting the Stage
Today, as it has been for all of U.S. history, “whiteness” is considered the mainstream The dominant idea of what a regular person would do. Norms can be societal, racial, cultural, etc.. This means that things that are “white” are considered normal and accepted while things considered to be from other cultural, racial or linguistic backgrounds are considered “different.”
This normative “whiteness” makes issues of race — and therefore other intersecting issues — hard to see for many people in the U.S. This inability to “see” race, especially that of those who “look” or identify/are identified as white is a sign of white privilege.
White privilege is the experience of benefitting from systems in everyday life because you are seen as the racial norm, i.e., white.
Individual vs. Structural Racism
The United States exhibits many systems perpetuating structural racism in addition to individual racism.
What this means is that racism exists on an individual level (like hateful language, individual acts of violence and everyday snubs or small actions, typically by a member of a dominant community to a person of a marginalized identity, that perpetuate hostility or a discriminatory attitude), but it also exists on a structural level (like through laws, educational systems, public funding, voting policies and more).
Sometimes structural racism is harder to see, especially to those who benefit from it (i.e. white people, the “norm”). But it’s very important to understand that these systems exist.
So when we think about Instances of injustice or unfairness in our schools, neighborhoods or in government, white privilege and structural racism must be included in the conversation.
White Political Power
White supremacy, keeps white people in most positions of political power in the United States.
Currently, 90% of elected officials in the United States are white, and 65% are white men. Women and men of color make up only 4% and 7% of elected positions, respectively.
Based on these statistics, white people have three times as much political power as people of color, and white men have as much as eight times the political power of women of color.
Because these officials have the power to make laws and enact change, a disparity this large directly translates into the silencing and continued oppression of people of color.
White people are also significantly less impacted by direct and indirect barriers to voting - such as felon disenfranchisement, poverty, voter I.D. laws and the opportunity gap.
This can also be viewed as a cycle of oppression: the disparity is caused by white supremacy, but continuous lack of political power in communities of color keeps structural racism thriving.
What Does it Mean to be an Ally?
Being an ally means to position yourself with a person or a group for a shared purpose. Often, this refers to a person with privilege aligning themselves with a marginalized group against injustices inflicted on that particular group. Those with white privilege can and should be allies to those who aren’t, though it is the responsibility of the privileged person to understand their privilege.
Allies have the responsibility to educate themselves on the various ways in which marginalized groups experience oppression and how they can use their privilege in a way that fights, rather than furthers, that oppression.