I have been reading a lot about "White Privilege"(WP) lately. Apparently the perception has arisen that there is an inherent advantage deployed in favor of white people in Western society.
Humans have been on earth for tens of thousands of years; Black, Brown, Red, White and Yellow. All five color groups have developed their various cultures more or less continuously throughout those tens of thousands of years. For all but a fraction of that time they have developed their cultures in isolation, in parallel.
A number of those cultures are very well known. The Chinese Dynasties, Japanese Empires, The Caliphate, The Incas, The Aztecs, The Romans, and The Greeks were all very powerful at one time or another. However powerful they all were they never allowed wealth and comfort to inure to the benefit of the vast majority of the people living in those cultures. Life for a huge majority of their citizens was one of subsistence. Abject poverty on a scale we would not recognize as a life worth living.
There was another culture developing in parallel with those I have mentioned. Judeo-Christian (JC) culture. For thousands of years, as the culture developed, the lives of most people living in it were lives we would not consider worth living.
As the culture evolved it became less feudal. Human rights began to be recognized and the trajectory of the culture became one with a goal of human dignity.
From pre-history until the 18th century the economic lives of the vast majority of humanity remained much as it always had been. Humans spent almost all of their time providing for their next meal. We bred like animals, hoping to stay ahead of infant mortality and raise enough children to tend our meager farms and take care of us in our dotage at the ripe old age of 40, if we made it that far.
Two events occurred in the 18th century which proved to be entirely miraculous. The Industrial Revolution and the American Revolution completely changed the economic trajectory of ordinary people.
Both events are the result of the manifestations of JC culture. As is obvious from the chart above, the benefits of this pair of miracles are by no means limited to those who participate in the JC culture.
The JC culture is an overwhelmingly white one. It was white people who created the Industrial Revolution. It was white people who created the American Revolution. White people deeply immersed in the JC culture.
Of all the cultures ever developed during the tens of thousands of years of human existence only one has produced such prosperity for so many. Over the past 400 years or so, the nature of human existence has been fundamentally transformed to such an extent that billions of us alive now could not begin to understand what life was like for our ancestors.
All of this was created by white people functioning in a culture that has proven itself to be, by far, the most successful ever conceived. Therein lies the provenance of WP, as a conscious matter or not. Members of all the other cultures and colors still in existence have watched the miracle happen and, happily, have participated in it. Nonetheless, they are only human and are jealous of our success and defensive about their own lack of success. Thus the cultural contempt for white people manifested by the Chinese and Japanese, the murderous aggression against Christians and Jews by Muslims, and the unfortunately misplaced antipathy toward us manifested by so many black people.
WP is not White Supremacy. Thanks to the amazing success of the JC culture we have more and more interaction with humans of all creeds and colors all over the earth. It is entirely obvious to me that the difference in outcomes has nothing to do with inherent intelligence or abilities and everything to do with the culture within which human intelligence and ability operates. JC culture is, by far, the most productive incubator for humanity in its very long and varied history.
So yes, WP exists although I don't think white people ever think about it. It is simply our legacy in much the same way that the heirs of Joseph Kennedy benefit from his incredible success even though they did not create it. It remains theirs to nurture and develop.
From the perspective of this white person, the privilege is not deployed by white people for their own benefit. It is experienced in the negative by non-whites who are, quite naturally, jealous of accomplishments they cannot call their own.
UPDATE: I wrote tangentially on this subject in an October 2006 post titled
You're either with us or against us...
Labels: White Privilege