Darrow Miller and Friends

White Privilege: Not What They Claim

Quillette recently published, “Why White Privilege Is Wrong.” The authors, Cambridge PhD students Vincent Harinam and Rob Henderson, report some surprising findings.

White privilege as social theory claims that benefits accrue to individuals because of their skin color: “White privilege refers to a set of built-in advantages held by whites. From ‘flesh-coloured’ band-aids that only match the skin tone of whites to lower rates of incarceration, white privilege manifests in a variety of ways.”

White privilege and its companion, “systemic racism,” are blamed for many of the woes in America’s black communities. But the data don’t agree.

Take it with police shootings.no white privilege in police shootings

  • Blacks are “23.5 percent less likely to be shot by police, relative to whites. Even when controlling for weapons possession, black suspects were still less likely to be shot.”
  • “Using two years of fatal shooting data across 16 crime rate estimates, the researchers found no evidence of anti-black disparities in fatal shootings …. In fact, the odds of being killed by police gunfire were 3.9 and 4.8 times higher for whites than … for blacks for homicide and violent crime arrests, respectively.”
  • Two studies, both using high fidelity computer training simulators that mimic real life encounters, found that officers displayed significant bias in favour of black suspects. That is, officers took longer to shoot both armed and unarmed black suspects than they did whites. However, even when black suspects are killed, they are usually armed and shot by an officer of the same race.”

The article is full of similar findings, not only in crime, but also economics, education, and health outcomes.

Backward thinking

Skewed data is not the only problem with this thinking. The underlying philosophy of white privilege is flawed as well. The model is built on a foundation of guilt for past sins rather than inspiration for future flourishing. White privilege begins by shaming one race rather than inspiring another. Whites are assumed to be guilty, blacks to be oppressed. Whites are guilty of oppression because they are white; blacks are victims because they are black.

How is that helpful? Wouldn’t it be far better to build motivation? To inspire to greater achievement? White privilege relegates black individuals to perpetual vexation, and whites to irredeemable shame, simply because they are members of a race.

DNA president Scott Allen wrote about this in Why Are Race Relations Deteriorating in America? A Tale of Two Worldviews.

coates preaches white privilegeFor [Ta-Nehisi] Coates, the line between good and evil runs between groups—in his case between whites and everyone else. In this, he channels the ideas of Karl Marx’s disciple Antonio Gramsci. The world is divided between oppressor groups and victim groups; nothing exists outside these categories. For Coates, to be white is to be defined as part of an oppressive group. To be black is to be a victim of white oppression. Society as a whole is structured to preserve white power. “White privilege” which has recently entered our collective lexicon, is just a short-hand way of describing this.

Enforced equality

Again, the facts on the ground betray the theory of white privilege. Even if they supported it, little if any positive results ensue. Today’s demands for enforced equality call to mind Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

George and Hazel were watching television. …

“That was a real pretty dance, that dance they just did,” said Hazel. …

“Yup, “ said George. He tried to think a little about the ballerinas. They weren’t really very good-no better than anybody else would have been, anyway. They were burdened with sashweights and bags of birdshot, and their faces were masked, so that no one, seeing a free and graceful gesture or a pretty face, would feel like something the cat drug in.

Vonnegut, writing in 1961, was years ahead of his time. He foresaw the “equality” fever that grips the West today, and the “snowflake” phenomenon, taking personal offense if anyone else comes out on top.

But equality has never been organic to the human race as created by God. True social justice works for equity, that is, fairness and equal justice under the law. But to insist on equality, measured by equal outcomes or even equal starting places, is to invite totalitarianism. Witness Vonnegut’s narrative above.

Guilt the false and the true

Darrow Miller wrote, in Is Social Justice About Equality or Equity?

Because people are born unique, there will always be diverse starting places and outcomes. The only alternative is tyranny, as C.S. Lewis imagines a demon’s instruction in Screwtape Proposes a Toast: “The moral is plain. Allow no preeminence among your subjects. Let no man live who is wiser or better or more famous or even handsomer than the mass. Cut them all down to a level: all slaves, all ciphers, and all nobodies. All equals.”

Equity seeks fairness for diverse people, equality seeks numerically equal outcomes for different people. Equality, in the sense of similar outcomes, contradicts the basic concept of individuality and human uniqueness. All humans equal before the law leads to freedom, while material equality of outcome promotes tyranny.

White privilege plays on guilt, real or false. To achieve one’s goals through hard work should not engender guilt. And how can reasonable guilt arise from being born into a particular race? The second guilt is silly and the first wrong. It’s on a continuum with survivor’s guilt: if your car gets T-boned, your friend dies and you don’t, the appropriate emotions include grief (toward your friend) and gratefulness (to God), but not guilt.

Just the facts

Anyone on either side of the “white privilege” argument would be interested in the whole article. Here are a few bullet points.

  • “79.2 percent of white liberals, but 59.9 percent of blacks, agreed that ‘racial discrimination is the main reason why many black people can’t get ahead these days.’”
  • 75 percent of minorities … reported rarely or never experiencing discrimination in their day-to-day lives.”
  • “Several ethnic groups outperform whites in a number of areas … 1) economics, 2) education, 3) crime, and 4) health outcomes.”
  • 2017 median household income:
National median 59,039
Indian Americans 110,716
Pakistani  “ 83,956
Filipino 81,903
Lebanese 76,805
Sri Lankan 73,865
Chinese 72,927
Iranian 72,733
Non-Hispanic whites 68,145
  • “While America’s population is about 60 percent white, Harvard’s student body is less than 50 percent white. Moreover, Asians, representing 6 percent of the U.S. population, make up 19 percent of the undergraduates at Harvard, 19 percent at Princeton, and 19 percent at Stanford. For a country steeped in white privilege, it seems odd that Asian students are over represented by a factor of 3 at Yale and 9 at MIT.”

Incarceration, black and white

  • “Behold the statistical holy grail of white privilege: incarceration rates. … blacks make up 40 percent of all state and federal prisoners despite no white privilege in incarceration rates constituting 13 percent of the U.S. population. But the correct benchmark for imprisonment is not population proportions but rates of criminal offending.” [emphasis added. Here’s an example of a perfectly obvious point that seems to be overlooked or ignored. And of course the accurate metric—non-offender privilege—would never get traction.]
  • “From 1976 to 2005, black Americans committed over 52 percent of all homicides in the U.S. They also made up roughly the same number of homicide victims …. In 2005, the black homicide rate was over seven times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined. In 2006, blacks constituted 39.3 percent of all violent-crime arrests, including 56.3 percent of all robbery and 34.5 percent of all aggravated-assault arrests, and 29.4 percent of all property-crime arrests. These statistics, which are supported by several key criminological studies, are disconcerting, but they help to clarify differences in incarceration rates.”
  • “In 1997, criminologists Robert Sampson and Janet Lauritsen reviewed the literature on sentencing and concluded that ‘large racial differences in criminal offending,’ not racism, explained why more blacks were in prison, relative to whites. … blacks were significantly underrepresented in prison for homicides compared with their presence in the arrest data. … relative to whites, [blacks] had a lower chance of prosecution following a felony and were less likely to be found guilty at trial.”

More than once, the writers affirm that “when there are clear cut cases of discrimination, racial or otherwise, we must stand against them.” Yet, the numbers speak for themselves. Promoting white privilege as a path to justice is self-defeating.

  • Gary Brumbelow

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Gary is the Disciple Nations Alliance editorial manager. He manages Darrow Miller and Friends and serves as editor and co-writer on various book projects. For eight years Gary served as a cross-cultural church planting missionary among First Nations people of Canada. His career also includes 14 years as executive director of InterAct Ministries, an Oregon-based church-planting organization in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. Gary is a graduate of Grace University, earned an MA from Wheaton College and a Graduate Studies Diploma from Western Seminary. He lives near Portland, Oregon with his wife, Valerie. They have two married sons and twelve grandchildren. In addition to his work with the DNA, Gary serves as the pastor of Troutdale Community Church.

1 Comment

  1. Jack Gutknecht

    November 25, 2019 - 9:31 am

    Another good one, Darrow!