Search results for "white privilege"

This is one of our favorite Christmas-themed posts from the archive.  We hope you don’t mind the re-post!

White privilege refers to the many, many benefits of being white in a society dominated, both culturally and materially, by other white people. The notion was popularized by Peggy McIntosh in a 1989 an essay titled White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.  One benefit is that most fictional characters, unless otherwise specified (and sometimes even so), are assumed to be white.  Growing up non-white in a white-dominated world, then, means that  most of the mythological figures of your childhood do not look like you in one important way.

Santa, of course, is a fictional figure whose appearance is invented.  Theoretically anyone could be Santa.  Yet, while we may see the occasional non-white Santa at the mall or in novelty holiday stories, he is unbearably and overwhelmingly white in our (google-able) imagination:  The first three pages of a google image search for “Santa”:

For more examples, see all of our posts about white privilege.  Thanks for Martha Pitts as Ms. for this post idea.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a Visiting Scholar at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming Introduction to Sociology text. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Two new submissions inspired me to revive this post from 2008.

Part of the privilege of being white is having a society that considers you the norm and is, therefore, organized around you.  A really nice example of this is “flesh” color.  What is flesh color?

Ben O. sent us this 1952 ad for bandaids (from Vintage Ads)

The next set of images come from Nathan Gibbs’ flickr photostream:

A lot of companies have gotten a clue.  Crayola doesn’t have flesh color anymore (or so I’ve heard, let me know if I’m wrong).  And now they make “multicultural crayons.”  Though, Nathan notes:

It’s interesting how “culture” here is a substitute for “race.”

“White” skin is still taken-for-granted in many products.  Here are a couple examples I’ve collected (found here and here):

Perhaps trying to walk the line, EcoPencil has a “light flesh” color, but no other flesh colors to choose from (sent in by kelebek in Australia):

Caroline observed that Breathe Right not only centers whiteness in their logo…

…but calls white skin “normal” (see second-to-bottom line):

For more examples, see our posts on (the irony of) Michelle Obama’s champagne-colored described as “flesh-colored”, the widespread use of such language to describe light tan in the fashion world,  and lotion marketed as for “normal to darker skin.” See also our Contexts essay on race and “nude” as a color.

For contrast, see this post about how the generic human in Russian cartoons is colored black instead of white.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a Visiting Scholar at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming Introduction to Sociology text. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Forbes magazine recently ranked Stockton California as the most miserable city in the US, a dubious award that comes as little surprise to the city’s struggling residents. Home prices have declined 67% since 2005, unemployment averaged a whopping 17.2% in 2010, and Stockton has the second highest crime rate in California.

In response, Gregory Basso, a retired Stockton businessman, created a video disputing Forbes’ findings. This clip went viral, at least locally, and was discussed by many Stockton residents. In his video, Basso highlights the attributes of Stockton he believes contribute to his high quality of life. These include “debating whether to wear my sun glasses or not in February,” and the many nearby opportunities for golfing, biking and hiking. He speaks of the seven professional sports teams found within a 2-hour radius, and the ability to sail from the yacht-lined downtown marina, along the Sacramento Delta, all the way to the San Francisco Bay. He ends by describing how Stockton has a great first time homebuyers market, and is a cheap central location for large businesses to come and set up shop.

But Basso’s lifestyle represents only a small minority of Stockton’s residents. The color of Mr. Basso’s skin, wealth, and class standing afford him privileges that most residents do not have access to. In a city with a median per capita income of $19,000, few residents have the opportunity to spend their days playing golf and yachting. Neither can they afford to live in the exclusive gated community where the beginning of the video was filmed. And Basso’s excitement about Stockton’s “first time home buyers market” might seem less compelling to the 58% of Stockton homeowners who owe more on their mortgages than their houses are worth.

It’s also worth noting that nearly all of the people depicted in Basso’s video (with the exception of University of the Pacific students) appear to be white. This is striking in a city where 32% of residents identify as Hispanic or Latino/a, 11% as African American and 20% as Asian (source). Because people of color tend to be less well off economically than whites, it stands to reason that many of these people are experiencing the misery that Basso claims that Forbes magazine “got all wrong” are people of color. And although Basso highlights many positive things about Stockton, he mentions neither its rich diversity nor its wide variety of ethnic cuisine.

Sociologist Ruth Frankenberg writes that “privilege is the (non) experience of not being slapped in the face.”*  What she means by this is not only that that white and middle class individuals have advantages over working class people and people of color, but that those of us with privilege often don’t see just how much these differences matter. She argues that race and class disparities are reproduced when those with more privileges do not look, and therefore do not see, just how different our circumstances can be.

Clearly, the goal of this video’s creator is not to erase the experiences of other Stockton residents. To the contrary, it seems he wants to diminish the stigma attached to being named the most miserable city in the US, and to cast it as a place that businesses might want to locate. This could even help generate opportunities for the very people experiencing hardships. However, in this video, Basso chooses not to see the real problems that affect many Stockton citizens. Without an understanding of these problems, Stockton residents are less prepared to address them.

* Frankenberg, Ruth. 1996. “When we are capable of stoppoing we begin to see” in Thompson and Tyagi (eds), Names We Call Home. NY: Routledge. p. 4


Brianna Gall is a senior sociology major at the University of the Pacific and was born and raised in Stockton, CA. Dr. Alison Hope Alko is Assistant Professor of Sociology at University of the Pacific, where she teaches a seminar in public sociology. Her research interests include inequality, environment, food and the social construction of place.

If you would like to write a post for Sociological Images, please see our Guidelines for Guest Bloggers.

In 1989 Peggy McIntosh published an essay that is assigned in nearly every Sociology of Race and Ethnicity course in America.  Titled White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, the essay included a list of things that white people, but not others in a white-dominated society, can count on.  Here are a few:

I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.

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

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

I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.

Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.

I thought of Peggy McIntosh when I saw this personal confession at PostSecret:

For more on white privilege, see our posts on Colin Powell being called a traitor, Sotomayor’s Supreme Court hearings, the privilege to shoplift, and “flesh” and “nude” colors.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a Visiting Scholar at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming Introduction to Sociology text. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Eugene Robinson:

Republicans’ outrage, both real and feigned, at Sotomayor’s musings about how her identity as a “wise Latina” might affect her judicial decisions is based on a flawed assumption: that whiteness and maleness are not themselves facets of a distinct identity. Being white and male is seen instead as a neutral condition, the natural order of things. Any “identity” — black, brown, female, gay, whatever — has to be judged against this supposedly “objective” standard.

Thus it is irrelevant if Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. talks about the impact of his background as the son of Italian immigrants on his rulings — as he did at his confirmation hearings — but unforgivable for Sotomayor to mention that her Puerto Rican family history might be relevant to her work. Thus it is possible for Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to say with a straight face that heritage and experience can have no bearing on a judge’s work, as he posited in his opening remarks yesterday, apparently believing that the white male justices he has voted to confirm were somehow devoid of heritage and bereft of experience.

Stephen Colbert:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word – Neutral Man’s Burden

If you can’t view the video, there’s a transcript after the jump, thanks to Macon D at Stuff White People Do.

Jay Livingston:

In the Sotomayor confirmation hearings, Republicans have swarmed on Ricci v. DeStefano, the New Haven firefighters case. To hear them tell it, Sotomayor flung the law aside in upholding the lower court decision. She, the majority of the Second Circuit Court, the Federal judge who wrote the original opinion, and the four dissenting Supreme Court justices all based their opinions entirely on a preference for blacks and Hispanics and an animus towards whites. They didn’t consider the law.

By contrast, the five males (four of them white) on the Supreme Court who sided with the white male plaintiffs based their decision wholly and impartially on the law. Their race had nothing to do with it.

The Republican strategy depends on the tendency for privilege to remain invisible.

The transcript after the jump:


Michaela N. alerted us to the Oreo Barbie. According to Monica Roberts at Transgriot, Mattel once marketed an Oreo-themed Barbie (image here):


The doll sold so well that Mattel decided to make a Black version (image here):


The Black version of the doll triggered protests.  Monica explains it nicely:

…Oreo has another connotation in the Black community beyond just being a slammin’ cookie.

Calling someone an ‘Oreo’ is fighting words. It means that you are calling them Black on the outside and white on the inside. Translation, you call a Black person an Oreo, you are accusing them of being a sellout or an Uncle Tom to the race.

The doll was eventually recalled. (This was all about four years ago.)

Did Mattel intentionally produce a doll that embodied a well-known insult in the Black community?  If they didn’t (and let’s just go with that theory), it means that no one at Mattel involved in the production of this doll had the cultural competence to notice the problem.  This points to both (1) white privilege and the ease with which white people can be ignorant of non-white cultures and (2) a lack of diversity on the Mattel team.  Less employee homogeneity might have saved Mattel both face and money in this instance.  Diversity, then, is often good business.

For more on Barbie and racial politics, see this post inspired by Ann DuCille.


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Recent reports indicated that FEMA was cuttingand then not cutting—hurricane relief aid to Puerto Rico. When Donald Trump recently slandered Puerto Ricans as lazy and too dependent on aid after Hurricane Maria, Fox News host Tucker Carlson stated that Trump’s criticism could not be racist because “Puerto Rico is 75 percent white, according to the U.S. Census.”

Photo Credit: Coast Guard News, Flickr CC

This statement presents racism as a false choice between nonwhite people who experience racism and white people who don’t. It ignores the fact that someone can be classed as white by one organization but treated as non-white by another, due to the way ‘race’ is socially constructed across time, regions and social contexts.

Whiteness for Puerto Ricans is a contradiction. Racial labels that developed in Puerto Rico were much more fluid than on the U.S. mainland, with at least twenty categories. But the island came under U.S. rule at the height of American nativism and biological racism, which relied on a dichotomy between a privileged white race and a stigmatized black one that was designed to protect the privileges of slavery and segregation. So the U.S. portrayed the islanders with racist caricatures in cartoons like this one:

Clara Rodriguez has shown how Puerto Ricans who migrated to the mainland had to conform to this white-black duality that bore no relation to their self-identifications. The Census only gave two options, white or non-white, so respondents who would have identified themselves as “indio, moreno, mulato, prieto, jabao, and the most common term, trigueño (literally, ‘wheat-colored’)” chose white by default, simply to avoid the disadvantage and stigma of being seen as black bodied.

Choosing the white option did not protect Puerto Ricans from discrimination. Those who came to the mainland to work in agriculture found themselves cast as ‘alien labor’ despite their US citizenship. When the federal government gave loans to white home buyers after 1945, Puerto Ricans were usually excluded on zonal grounds, being subjected to ‘redlining’ alongside African Americans. Redlining was also found to be operating on Puerto Rico itself in the insurance market as late as 1998, suggesting it may have even contributed to the destitution faced by islanders after natural disasters.

The racist treatment of Puerto Ricans shows how it is possible to “be white” without white privilege. There have been historical advantages in being “not black” and “not Mexican”, but they have not included the freedom to seek employment, housing and insurance without fear of exclusion or disadvantage. When a hurricane strikes, Puerto Rico finds itself closer to New Orleans than to Florida.

An earlier version of this post appeared at History News Network

Jonathan Harrison, PhD, is an adjunct Professor in Sociology at Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida SouthWestern State College and Hodges University whose PhD was in the field of racism and antisemitism.

Flashback Friday.

A Google image search for the phrase “evolution” returns many versions of the iconic image of human development over time. The whiteness of these images — the fact that, unless they are silhouettes or sketches, the individuals pictured have light skin associated with white people — often goes unnoticed. For our purposes, I would like us to notice:

The whiteness in these images is just one example of a long history of discourse relating whiteness and humanity, an association that has its roots in racial science and ethical justifications of colonialism, slavery, and genocide. It matters in this context, above and beyond the the general vast overrepresentation of whites in the media and as allegedly race-neutral “humans,” because the context here is one explicitly about defining what is human, what separates humans from animals, and about evolution as a civilizing process.

By presenting whites as the quintessential humans who possess the bodies and behaviors taken to be deeply meaningful human traits, whites justified, and continue to justify, white supremacy. This is what white privilege looks lik: being constantly told by experts that you and people like you represent the height of evolution and everything that it means to be that incredible piece of work that is man (irony fully intended).

Originally posted in 2010.

Benjamin Eleanor Adam is a graduate student at the CUNY Graduate Center, where he studies the American history of gender and sexuality.