The easy answer to explain the denial of White Privilege is racism, but it's more complex than that.
Imagine you’ve come into a hockey game late. Within fifteen minutes, you’ve seen one team come on hard, and score three goals. They’re clearly the winning team, right? Sure, if you’re not looking at the scoreboard and don’t see that they’re down in the game, 27,549 – 3. This is the mindset of those who deny the existence of White Privilege. They are only looking at what’s right in front of them, right then and there, and they’re missing the bigger picture.
Certainly, the easy answers to explain denial of White Privilege are racism and bigotry. There really isn’t a way to deny the obvious fact that white folks have things better in America without mentioning that hatefulness. One could easily go further than calling it White Privilege by saying it’s White Male Privilege. This is why those who deny it are usually white men. After all, only 14% of top executives are women and 20% of Congress. In the massive field of white male 2016 Presidential candidates there was one black man and two women. Check out the nominees for the 2016 Academy Awards.
And yes, all of these numbers are far better than they were a hundred years ago, but they are decidedly not awesome. We’re better than what we were (which isn’t saying much) but there’s still a long way to go. Oh, you need more examples? Sure. Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, Jordan Davis, and Eric Garner. #BlackLivesMatter gets answered with #AllLivesMatter or #BlueLivesMatter.
Then on the flip side, right wing “militia” wanna-bes are trying to say LaVoy Finicum was “murdered” by cops when video shows him charging police with his vehicle and reaching for his firearm after saying he would rather die than be taken alive on television. Never mind the fact that if black or brown-skinned people took over any building, let alone one on taxpayer land, they would have been blown away. Just imagine Fox News’ take on that hypothetical. This is the same network that tried to paint a bag of Skittles as a lethal weapon, after all.
But is hatred alone why White Privilege is denied? We’ve spoken about the rationalization of racism before and how it’s wrong, but that’s the obvious one. It goes deeper than that and the accompanying factor is what always pairs up with hatred: ignorance. Whether it’s willing or not, the particular strain we are looking for here is an ignorance of perception.
When Random White Guy says there’s no such thing as White Privilege it’s because he’s seen “the other team” score three goals, and “his team” score none. According to what he’s seeing at the game, the “other team” is winning, therefore, he is losing, so there must be no such thing as “White Privilege.” It doesn’t matter that he arrived late in the game and “his team” is way out in the lead. He only knows “the other team” has made greater gains in relation to his own in the brief time he’s been exposed to the game. Why isn’t he just looking up to see the scoreboard?
It’s because not only this Random White Guy, but all of us instinctively act as though all of time began with our own birth. We are automatically inclined to be more in tune to our needs than anyone else’s, and many of us get stuck in this box for good. So it becomes an issue of subjective perception. It doesn’t matter what’s happening across the nation or in the past, or even in the next room, only what we see in front of us right now. That is our default life experience and it’s how we judge all others automatically. It isn’t natural for any of us to think outside of that box even if we always benefit when we do.
The usual mistake we’ve made as a species throughout all of history is choosing short-term comfort over complex long-term investments. More self-absorbed decisions get made because we see ourselves as individuals and not part of the greater community of humanity. Here we have the usual dividing line between liberal and conservative ideologies, by the way. And yes, whether you are conservative or liberal affects whether or not you accept or deny White Privilege.
It can be easier to go for a simple answer even though it’s wrong, like austerity, exclusiveness, and suspicion of others not like you. You can slap a snazzy slogan on it to sell your justification, too. Hence, Bill O’Reilly denying White Privilege. The fact he makes lots of money telling his audience what they want to hear means you can bet he’ll never back down from this position, at least unless and until it’s profitable for him to do so.
It’s more difficult to realize that the truth is a hard beast to capture. Most solutions to any issue are many-faceted and don’t easily fit on a bumper sticker. Immigration issues, gun violence, the economy, and yes, racism, all involve countless different moving parts to deal with many different issues simultaneously, and solutions are slow to manifest.
The next problem lies in how to solve or ease the issue once one recognizes it’s harmful. It’s complex and hard and takes a while to explain and the average person tunes out because they just want to go get a pizza and watch television a few minutes into it. Not to mention nobody likes to think they’re racist. It’s tough to keep people sharing this ideology on the same page with you, let alone inspire voters to come out to the polls for you.
This is also why liberals can have a tougher slog at the polls, forever trying to explain and solve issues like this, while conservatives whip up a slogan, promise to fix everything, and then poison a townspeople’s drinking water or get your kids killed in a war once they’re in office.
Pretending that a problem does not exist also does not make it go away. One cannot learn from mistakes if one will not admit mistakes were ever made, as revolting as it is to reduce the human catastrophe of slavery in America as a “mistake.” We need to face what we were in order to be better for ourselves and our children. Looking at you Texas, omitting Jim Crow and the KKK, and downplaying slavery in your school textbooks.
Ultimately, to accept that White Privilege exists is to acknowledge that humanity is not perfect, and not truly equal. If we are to improve ourselves, and really become a good and just people, we must learn from our mistakes, not hide from them. Only then can we truly be the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” ~ The Declaration of Independence