Ink Drop / Alamy Stock Photo
For every white person who's had their eyes opened recently to exactly how garbage and racist the world can be for Black people and other people of colour, there's some dickhead scrolling through Instagram, incensed and defiant not about the way things are, but at the mere suggestion they themselves benefit from white privilege.
"I'm not privileged – I washed dishes for a living when I was 18!" they scream, angrily unfollowing their suddenly-radicalised favourite meme accounts.
White privilege is often described as an invisible force – a series of unseen, unconscious advantages, such as the ability to move through life without being racially profiled or unfairly stereotyped; to be able to buy cosmetics catered to your hair and skin at high-street stores. It is both a legacy and a cause of racism. It is also a system of conscious decisions meant to keep Black and brown populations subjugated, incarcerated and oppressed. It manifests in the racial wealth gap, in the statistics for prison populations – which see Black people locked up at wildly inflated rates compared to their white counterparts – and in disparities around Covid-19, which has a higher death rate among people from BME backgrounds both in the UK and abroad.
White privilege is rooted in European colonialism, the Atlantic slave trade and the British Empire, and is a system explicitly designed to protect white racial privileges, rights and benefits at the detriment of everyone else. It is the implicit and systemic advantages that white people have relative to those who are subjected to racism.
It's incredible that this still has to be explained in 2020 – but for those unable to understand it, below is a list of 50 examples of white privilege, both structural and everyday.
1. On the 23rd of March, 2015, a newspaper in Iowa ran two stories about two separate burglaries. The images used for the three white men from one burglary were yearbook photos. The other story, about the arrest of four Black men, used their mug shots.
2. Brock Turner, a white college student who violently raped an unconscious girl, was given a six-month sentence due to his "previous good character". He served three months. Compare this to the Central Park Five, a group of innocent Black boys scapegoated for the rape of a white woman, who served between six to 13 years for a crime none of them had committed.
3. Minneapolis Police killed George Floyd during an arrest based on allegations he had used counterfeit money. Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old white supremacist who murdered nine members of a Black church group in a targeted hate crime, was not only arrested alive and unharmed, but was later taken to Burger King because he said he was tired and hungry.
4. The fact that the US opioid crisis, which affects mostly poor white communities, is seen as a health crisis, while the crack epidemic – which ransacked the Black community – was seen as a crime issue.
5. The Google results for "face beauty".
6. When a white person commits an act of terrorism, they are portrayed in the media as a "lone wolf" or a victim of mental ill health. When a person of colour is involved in an act of violence, it is portrayed as representative of that person's race or community.
7. Since September the 11th, white supremacists have perpetuated more acts of terrorism in the United States than any foreign threat. None of these people were labelled "terrorists", nor were white people asked to apologise on their behalf or to publicly denounce them, the way communities of colour are asked to.
8. In 1982, Willie Simmons was sentenced to 38 years in prison for stealing $9. Alabama's Habitual Offender Law – used against Simmons in this case – makes no distinction between violent and non-violent crimes, meaning you can be sentenced to life for a charge as minor as drug possession. Under this law, three out of four people sentenced to life without parole are Black, despite the fact Alabama's population is only 26.6 percent Black.
9. Studies show that white people are more likely to have their pain taken seriously. Ingrained racial prejudices against Black people mean doctors are less likely to believe their claims of pain, leading to BME groups experiencing more illness, worse outcomes and more premature deaths compared to whites, while Black patients are half as likely to be prescribed pain medication. In the UK, Black women are five times more likely to die during childbirth than white women.
10. You may suffer from mental health problems in your life, but as a white person you will not suffer from the trauma that comes specifically from the mental and emotional toll of facing racism as a part of your daily lived experience.
11. As a white person you grow up in a culture where you see yourself represented every day, for obvious reasons: 91 percent of people who created new TV shows in the 2017-18 season were white; 79 percent of US publishing staff are white; and just 16 of 2018's 100 top grossing films were directed by Black people – a record high, but still a fraction compared to the number of white directors.
12. Related: you regularly see people who look like you onscreen, portrayed as fully-fledged characters with rich lives rather than tokenistic additions or people reduced to stereotypes.
13. Boris Johnson's entire career is white privilege in action. No one but a privately-educated white man would ever be allowed to pull off a lifetime of constant fuck-ups and still be elected to lead a country.
14. When Gary Neville called out racism in the UK media, he was applauded. When Stormzy did the same, he was hounded and vilified by the press.
15. Your name alone is likely to get you twice as many job interviews as a candidate with a non-white sounding name, even if you both have otherwise identical resumes in terms of experience and education.
16. As a white person, you are able to wear your hair naturally without it being seen as dirty, messy or unprofessional.
17. Have you spent your whole life able to waltz into a Boots to pick up some foundation that suited your skin tone? Until Fenty came along, this wasn't an option for darker-skinned women. A huge number of make-up brands still don't make shades any darker than "honey".
18. You have the privilege of being taught about your history in school instead of having to seek it out elsewhere. You and your history are centred, and often presented in a falsely positive light that glosses over the real atrocities of colonialism, imperialism and slavery.
19. You are able to go into any hairdresser with the knowledge that somebody there will be able to wash, cut and/or style your hair.
20. "Flesh-coloured" plasters and bandages are actually the colour of your flesh.
21. If you were raised to see the police as people you turn to for help rather than a dangerous threat to your life, you benefit from white privilege.
22. You may not be personally wealthy, but the white population benefits from a historic, systemic racial wealth gap. The UK only stopped paying back the money borrowed to pay former slave owners compensation for the loss of slavery – with taxpayer funds – in 2015.
23. Being able to accept a job without even having to consider whether there will be people of your own race there, or that you'll be alienated or left out because of your skin colour, is white privilege.
24. The number of hate crimes reported to UK police has more than doubled since 2013, the vast majority of them racial. If you're white, this massive increase is unlikely to have affected you in any real way, be it psychologically or tangibly.
25. You're able to go shopping without being followed around by suspicious employees or security guards.
26. Black people are often perceived as potentially violent simply because of the colour of their skin, meaning some Black people live their lives calculating how to make the white people around them feel more comfortable and themselves less susceptible to potentially harmful consequences of racism. White people do not experience this.
27. Black students are suspended and expelled from school at much higher rates than their white counterparts due to ingrained racial biases.
28. Black men in the US serve longer prison sentences than white men who have been found guilty of exactly the same crime, even when accounting for criminal history and other relevant factors.
29. You are never told you're "surprisingly" pretty, smart or well-spoken "for a white person".
30. You are able to travel to most places without having to worry about safety issues that might arise because of the colour of your skin, and do not have to google what the racism is like in a prospective holiday destination as part of your pre-vacay moodboard.
31. You are not only more likely to have access to mental health resources through better financial means, but the professionals and therapists you interact with are also more likely to be white, and therefore more likely to understand you and your experiences.
32. A 2018 study found that the overwhelming majority of children's books are written both about and by white people.
33. Shanesha Taylor, a homeless Black woman who left her children in a car for 45 minutes so she could attend a job interview, was arrested and faced losing her kids. Brenda Nesselroad-Slaby, a white woman whose daughter died after she left her locked in her car for eight hours, was not indicted, as her behaviour did not meet the definition of "reckless conduct".
34. You are able to go to any major club safe in the knowledge that you won't be turned away for the colour of your skin. Compare this to the racism regularly faced by people of colour, particularly Black people, at UK nightclubs. This can manifest as anything from discriminatory door policies to tragedies like that which befell 19-year-old Julian Cole, who was left in a vegetative state after being tackled by police outside a club.
35. The vast majority of technology was developed with you in mind: from the humble camera, whose colour film was made to ensure white skin looked as good as possible in photographs, to newer inventions such as automatic soap-dispensers, which are unable to register darker skin.
36. People are able to easily tell you apart from other members of your race. The consequences of this range from micro-aggressions such as being mistaken for the only other person of your race in the office, to the life-destroying results of racial bias in eyewitness testimonies.
37. Non-white people are regularly described in language similar to that used to describe animals. Think about World Cup commentary, where African teams and players are "raw, powerful, physical beasts", while European sides and players are described as "technical" and "tactical".
38. Structural inequalities and racialised policies mean BME people are more likely than white people to be living in poverty and to be in the lowest paid work.
39. The 20 richest Americans are all white, as is 78 percent of US Congress. The people in positions of power making decisions about your life and your community are white, and thus more likely to understand and advocate for your interests.
40. Because whiteness is regarded as the default experience, you can easily go days without interacting or thinking about other people's lives and experiences if you don't want to. You probably don't even realise this is the case.
41. As a result of systemic racism that means Black people have historically had less access to property ownership and the systems of wealth creation, the net worth of the average white family in the US is ten times that of the average Black family. In the UK, employees in the Black African, Caribbean or Black British, Other and White Other ethnic groups earned, on average, 5 percent to 10 percent less than their White British counterparts between 2012 and 2018.
42. Do you take the right to vote for granted? Because of systemic racism in the US justice system, an estimated one in 13 Black Americans have lost their right to vote due to disenfranchisement laws – four times the rate of other Americans. Racially discriminatory practices via voter ID laws, registration restrictions and voter purges mean the Black vote is further suppressed.
43. Crystal Mason, a Black woman, was sentenced to five years in prison for voter fraud when she cast a provisional ballot that was never counted, not realising that under Texas law anyone who had been convicted of a felony – as she had – was prohibited from voting. Glen Tank, a white man, pleaded guilty to the same charge, of accidental "ineligible voting", and received a fine of $1,253.
44. The Huffington Post ran two pieces within an hour of each other regarding Seth Rogen and John Boyega's responses to racism. The headline for the Seth Rogen piece praised him for his "no nonsense response to 'All Lives Matter comments'", while the John Boyega headline centred on him dismissing a "claim he's using his platform to spout hate against white people".
45. As a white person, you are more likely to be taught by someone who looks like you: 80 percent of teachers and 84 percent of full-time college professors in the US are white. In the UK, those numbers are 85.9 percent and 85 percent, respectively.
46. In the US, Black and white people smoke the same amount of weed, but Black people are four times more likely to be arrested for possession. In the UK, Black people use less drugs than white people, but are six times more likely to be stop and searched for drugs, and in London specifically Black people are charged for cannabis possession at five times the rate of white people. Even now, as America sees cannabis legalisation spread, Black and brown men are being incarcerated for minor drug offences while white entrepreneurs make their millions in the new legal marijuana industry.
47. If you decide to go for a walk, you don't have to worry about the possibility of a white woman being so incensed by you asking her to please put a leash on her dog, in an area where dogs are meant to wear leashes, that she calls the police and tells them she is "being threatened by an African-American man", knowing full well she is putting your life in danger.
49. Over £11 million has been spent trying to find Madeleine McCann, who went missing 13 years ago. Shukri Abdi, a 12-year-old Black Muslim refugee, drowned in a river near Manchester while one of a group of children she was with laughed. Her case was closed immediately and her death was written off as an accident.
50. Has this been a difficult and eye-opening read for you? Then you have the privilege of having to learn about racism instead of experiencing it your entire life.