What is white privilege? Meaning of term used in Black Lives Matter debate

WHITE privilege is a term which aims to shed light on racial inequalities that people face simply because of the colour of their skin.  

The concept is controversial, but here we try to explain what it means and where it came from?

What is white privilege?

White privilege is a term which refers to what is perceived as the unearned social advantage that white people have over other racial groups because they were born with white skin. 

The idea is white privilege is visible for those to whom privilege was not granted by birth. 

Where does the phrase originate from?

The term was believed to have been coined by the famous black civil rights activist William Du Bois in the 1930s.

Back then Du Bois is thought to have used the term to try to explain how white workers in America benefited from the colour of their skin and racial segregation.

Yet the term "white privilege" became better known in 1988 when anti-racism activist and writer Peggy McIntosh, herself a white woman, published her groundbreaking essay titled "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack".

She wrote: "I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was 'meant' to remain oblivious.

"White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks."

Why is the term controversial?

Some criticise the word as being divisive and a barrier to equality because it encourages victimhood.

Another criticism is of the word "privilege".

Some point out that many white people are not born with advantages which the term makes out — and in fact they struggle with poverty and inequality as well.

In a series of Facebook posts, the mayor of Middlesbrough, Andy Preston, said: "Don’t listen to careless talk in the media about white privilege – look at the awful situations so many white and non-white families face in Middlesbrough and other places. Deprivation here appears to be colour blind."

But prominent Black Lives Matter activist Emmanuel Acho, a former NFL player, and current analyst for Fox Sports 1, recently claimed to clarify the meaning.

He said: "This [definition] resonated with the most people. White privilege is not saying that as a white person your life hasn't been hard. White privilege is simply saying your skin colour hasn't been a contributing factor."

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