Szuhaj: Mistaking Pride for Privilege

by Ben Szuhaj | 4/6/16 6:01pm

Black privilege is a term that has been in the news lately, circulating implicitly and explicitly, both on CNN and at Donald Trump rallies as one cause for so-called “reverse racism.” As the name implies, black privilege is the idea that a person of color is afforded certain privileges based on the color of their skin. This is, to an extent, true — racial identity does come with certain privileges. Being able to define oneself as part of a group, for instance, can be an emboldening and enriching experience. The concept of black privilege, however, is most often mistakenly used in response to and with the same connotation as white privilege — that is, as pushback against the idea that whiteness comes with certain, unmerited advantages.Although a relatively new phrase, black privilege is not a new concept. It is the sting behind ignorant assertions such as, “That person only got into that school because they’re black,” or, “They get to say things that I don’t because I’m white.” It is the belief held by the ignorant that political correctness somehow oppresses those who do not wish to be politically correct. Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump is one of those people.Trump derives much of his popularity from rebelling against the system, by providing a space for hate to be exposed and for oft-unspoken points of contention to be vocalized. Many of his more fervent supporters use the concept of black privilege to protest political correctness, complaining that certain words, for instance, have become taboo for them or that they cannot voice their true feelings out of fear that they will be accused of being racist. Having thus acknowledged this, they then proceed to preach ignorance, spouting statements that are often either intentionally racist or so backwards in logic that they seem to convey a similar point. For instance, one Wisconsin man, when asked if he believed in white privilege, replied negatively. Those who embrace whiteness, he explained, are portrayed as racist, and said “If we had a White History Month, that would be viewed as a racist holiday.” He proceeded to cite Black History Month as an example of glaring inequality.All too often, the idea that blackness or minority status leads to privilege is the result of a superficial understanding of reality. According to the demographic information regarding Dartmouth’s newest group of admitted students, the Class of 2020 will be the first one comprised of a majority of people of color, who represent 51.6 percent of the admitted applicant pool. At first, this may seem peculiar considering that white people still make up the bulk of the United States’ population, with whites representing a whopping 77.4 percent. Upon closer review, however, it’s easy to understand why this is: Dartmouth accepts a disproportionate amount of students from cosmopolitan areas, in which white people are not always the majority. Furthermore, nearly a tenth of Dartmouth students come from overseas. Lastly, the admissions office seems to value diversity, boasting on its homepage, “At Dartmouth, you will be surrounded by the brightest and most diverse group of friends you’re likely to encounter anywhere.”For some white Americans, such a bold statement may be frightening. After all, white people are so accustomed to being the majority — so accustomed to their privilege — that any value placed on non-whiteness may be perceived as an affront to their sense of security, perhaps even their sense of self. White culture, to a large extent, is defined very stringently in contrast to the more richly developed identities of other races and, indeed, is based on a history of oppressing non-white peoples. In this sense, white culture is fragile. However, holidays such as Black History Month or greater numbers of people of color admitted to the College are not examples of inequality. Rather, they are examples of progress away from the historic inequity that continues to plague American society. Black History Month is a chance to learn about the history we are not taught in school, about the individuals who do not fit into the traditionally Eurocentric curriculum. And the changing demographics of admitted students, rather than indicating black privilege, represent the rise in college matriculation for non-white Americans, who naturally increase the diversity of the student body.Highlighting the diversity of a student body or celebrating Black History Month are not forms of discriminations against white people. Both are examples of pride — justifiable pride — being displayed for noteworthy accomplishments, and should not be called black privilege but, rather, what they actually represent: black pride.

Once we as a society come to the startling realization that minority groups can take pride in their identities, we can go back to addressing the real issues of systemic inequality.