Opinion

Examining White Privilege Series: “White People”

If you are white, then you are privileged.

You have an advantage over people with other colors of skin because when they are oppressed, you gain an advantage.

This is the first of a four part series that will examine white privilege from a variety of angles. The goal of this series is to open up the discussion at Clark College, because we live in a democratic society, and we need to discuss these issues if we are going to solve them.

White privilege is a real social phenomenon, despite what other people may tell you. Unfortunately, facts showing this reality are not often discussed. Quite literally, you do not know what you do not know. White privilege is also an uncomfortable topic for white people to talk about.

(Courtesy/MTV)

Both of these topics are discussed in “White People,” a 2015 MTV documentary narrated by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas. The documentary approaches the topic from the perspective of young adults in the U.S. For those interested in learning about white privilege and its many forms, this is a good place to start.

“White People” is a man-on-the-street style documentary featuring many uncomfortable conversations about being white. By the end of the documentary, not everyone Vargas speaks to agrees about white privilege, but they have gained awareness of other perspectives.

The documentary starts in Bellingham, Washington, where Vargas held a panel with a group of young people. Vargas asked the primarily white audience what being white meant to them. Almost immediately, common attributes of white privilege were on display.

One audience member called being white the “default race.”

“It’s just the norm, to be white is the good thing,” another said.

When Vargas asked how their lives would be different if they were not white, most audience members were unable to come up with a response.

“I believe it could be different because…” one audience member said before trailing off.

“I don’t normally go outside my group, so I don’t know,” another said.

Vargas went on to explain that most white people live in a “white bubble,” referencing a statistic from the 2010 U.S. census. According to one statistic, most white Americans lived in towns where 77 percent of the inhabitants were also white.

The documentary also showed a statistic that one-third of white people in the U.S. never discuss race with their families. Some people claimed that they do not see race and that they were “colorblind.”

This is a common practice among white people, Vargas said.

He later added a statistic from David Binder, a San Francisco based research institute, stating “that about three out of four young white americans say society would be better off if we never acknowledged race.”

“It feels like [white people] are trying to avoid what the real issue is,” one audience member of color said in response to the statistic.

Vargas later added that four out five white people felt uncomfortable discussing racial issues.

The documentary went on to address the forms of racism experienced by Asians and Native Americans.

At one point, Vargas travels to the Pine Point Indian Reservation in Wanblee, South Dakota. Once there, he visits the Crazy Horse school, where he finds that while every student is Native American, the staff is predominantly white.

Next, Vargas visited the home of on the few white families in the town, asking them about their experience living on the reservation.

“We’ve never had to internalize what white people have done to America [and its native peoples], but here, you can’t escape that,” they said.

Wanblee is located close to Wounded Knee, the site of a devastating Native American massacre. In 1890, over 200 Lakota men, women and children were killed by U.S. soldiers.

Later on, the documentary addressed affirmative action and the common argument of “reverse racism” made by white people in response.  

When discussing availability of scholarships for white students, Vargas met with a white student named Katy who felt there were no scholarships for her because of her race. Her mother claimed it was “reverse discrimination.”

Vargas then interviewed Nolan L. Cabrera, who has a PhD in education policy studies and practice. According to Cabrera, white students are applicable for around 96 percent of scholarships and are 40 percent more likely to receive those scholarships than non-white students.  

“You are not at a disadvantage,” Cabrera said. “You’re simply not, everybody in the situation, especially as it pertains to paying for college, everyone is struggling right now.”

“Around 21 million people apply for financial aid [every year],” Vargas later explained to Katy. “About 76 percent of all institutional, merit-based scholarships go to white students.”

The bottom line is, if you are white, you are privileged. While this documentary does not answer all the questions about race and white privilege, it’s a great primer to introduce this important topic.

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