Matthew Meador: White privilege embedded deeply into our social fabric


When I first saw the term “white privilege” being used commonly in discussions on race, I assumed it meant I had it easier than people of color simply because I am white. I assumed it was a broad condemnation of whiteness, or even an accusation of white people taking something that doesn’t belong to them.

I was wrong.

If you get mad every time someone mentions white privilege, read on. You just might see white privilege through new eyes.

White privilege has an actual definition, and it’s not what many people think. If you know me, or you read my regular columns or essays, you might be familiar with how I came to understand one of the most divisive terms in the current vernacular.

I am going to repeat a number of incidents I have personally witnessed. I am going to contrast them with what people of color experience — people of color close to me.

The final example is a deeply personal one. At the end of this column, I will give the actual definition of white privilege.

White privilege starts very small.

As I cross a crosswalk in front of an older white woman in a Lexus, I get six-or-so paces beyond her car when I hear her hit her loud electric door locks. Turning, I see a Black man crossing a dozen paces behind me. That is white privilege.

I can shop at Nordstrom, free to wander without scrutiny. But the store security staff closely watches the Black man who came in right after me. That is white privilege.

White privilege is another department store offering a wide variety of makeup colors for white women, but few for women of color. White privilege is a white woman entering a boutique with a large shoulder bag and being allowed to browse at her leisure, while the Black woman behind her is asked to surrender her bag at the counter.

I can enjoy excellent service at my favorite bistro while the Black couple two tables over experience mediocre service because the waiter incorrectly assumes they’re lousy tippers. That is white privilege.

White privilege is when a fellow resident of my secure apartment building holds the lobby door open for me, even though he doesn’t know me, but then quickly pulls it shut because a Black man is heading in next.

White privilege is me relaxing poolside at a resort, unmolested by hotel staff, while the Black family two rooms down is repeatedly asked for a pool pass, parking permit or room key to prove legitimacy.

White privilege is me ordering breakfast at a diner, then settling the bill when I’m finished, while the Black party seated across the dining room is asked to pay in advance because the white manager thinks they look “suspicious.”

White privilege is me applying for a loan to buy a house and getting approved, even without stellar credit, when a Black family of similar means is denied repeatedly. White privilege is a Black home appraised well below its market value, but increased by a full third when the bank orders a second appraisal, and the owners “whitewash” the place in advance, removing all objects indicative of race.

White privilege is me able to win a seat in the state Legislature, and freely canvass neighborhoods in my constituency, while the Black woman elected in the next district has the police called on her as she hands out re-election campaign leaflets in her district.

White privilege is me carelessly fumbling with my documents when a police officer stops me for a minor traffic violation, while the Black man the cop stopped earlier had to very carefully maintain awareness of where he slowly moved his hands, asking permission each time he did so, trying not to appear to be reaching for a weapon. White privilege is the same cop allowing me to remain in my car while he writes me up, when the Black motorist would have a much higher chance of being handcuffed and humiliatingly detained on the curb before being sent on his way with a ticket.

Remember when I said I had a deeply personal example?

It’s me getting busted on federal cocaine charges in the early 1990s, and enjoying a complicated adjudication that included six months in a relatively cushy halfway house instead of prison time, when a Black man would likely still be serving his prison sentence for the same crime, even as I type these words. That, my friends, is white privilege.

White privilege is generally defined as societal privilege benefiting white people over non-white people in some societies, particularly when they are otherwise subject to the same social, political or economic circumstances.

White privilege has nothing to do with how difficult a white kid’s childhood was, or the difficulties any particular white adult might be experiencing in life. White privilege is not related to abuse, poverty, sickness or persecution.

White privilege manifests itself in those little details you never thought about because you didn’t have to — details Black people have to confront on a routine basis. The term itself is unfortunate because, to many white ears, it sounds pejorative when there’s actually no reason it should.

We shouldn’t be arguing over white privilege.

White privilege isn’t anything to be ashamed of, as we didn’t ask for it and couldn’t give it up if we wanted to. But the fact is, it makes our lives easier in ways we don’t very often consider. And to understand our friends of color, we must be aware of that.

The next time someone brings up white privilege, don’t react defensively. Try to see everyday, ordinary life through the eyes of people of color, who are reminded of their skin color routinely, every day.

We are not. That is white privilege.

Please note:

I am a white guy who occasionally addresses topics directly or indirectly related to race. I did not set out to write about race but, through a series of circumstances, I found myself placed in such a position.

I am uncomfortable writing on race. Indeed, I have come to believe the moment I start feeling comfortable, I need to quit.

Please know I did not make this decision lightly, or without first consulting people of color who are close to me.

It is crucial to note my words are not intended to speak FOR any person of color. Maybe even more importantly, they are not intended to speak TO any person of color.

Guest writer Matthew Meador is a food and wine writer, newspaper and magazine editor and rare moderate Republican who now writes political commentary. Previously, he served as an award-winning graphic artist who often put his skills to particular use during election seasons. He has served in various capacities on political campaigns, both for pollsters and elected officials. He can be reached at 

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