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The Very Idea of White Privilege

[1]3,887 words

Author’s Note:

I was arrested to prevent me from delivering this talk at The Scandza Forum in Oslo on November 2, 2019. The Norwegian Security Police somehow divined — without knowing the topic or even the title — that this lecture would lead to political violence if delivered. Judge for yourself. For a fuller account of my arrest, see “Anarcho-Tyranny in Oslo [2].” 

I want to thank Frodi and the rest of the Scandza team for making this event possible, as well as all of you for coming out to hear me. I am honored today to be speaking alongside these distinguished doctors of the human sciences. My Ph.D., however, is in philosophy. Philosophers don’t do scientific research. Instead, we stand back and try to talk about the big picture, including the meaning of scientific discoveries for politics and morals. My topic today is “The Very Idea of White Privilege.”

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A privilege is an advantage that you enjoy and others don’t. Privilege is inherently unequal. Special privileges are the opposite of equal rights. White privilege means advantages enjoyed by whites just in virtue of their race—rights not enjoyed by non-whites. White privilege is a form of hereditary privilege. Whites do nothing to earn or merit white privilege over and above simply being born. White privilege thus refers to a whole range of unequal and unearned—and thus unjust—advantages enjoyed by whites and denied to non-whites in the societies that whites created. White privilege is just another word for white “racism.”

The concept of white privilege has exploded in American public discourse in the last five years, coinciding with the so-called “great awokening,” namely the wave of Left-wing hysteria and gaslighting set off by the Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown hoaxes, namely the claims that two blacks who were killed while committing crimes were actually the real victims, innocent victims of white racism.

The concept of white privilege has provoked a great deal of eye-rolling and healthy anger from whites. This manifestation of white toughness has, absurdly, been termed “white fragility,” which is a clear sign that the Left is not just out of touch with reality but simply thinks that it can be conjured up or banished with word magic.

Whites reject the idea of white privilege for various reasons.

But as much as I applaud this pushback against white privilege, the concept is not entirely meaningless. For instance, within the lifetimes of some people reading this, whites enjoyed legal privileges denied to non-whites in Apartheid South Africa and the American South.

But there is not a white society in the world today in which whites enjoy such legal privileges over non-whites. Even the idea of nationality through descent is being chipped away as a form of privilege. Indeed, in South Africa and the United States, non-whites now enjoy privileges over whites, both legally and through massive private discrimination.

Yet, even with decades of official and unofficial non-white privilege behind us, certain non-white groups are more likely than whites to be uneducated, poor, and in trouble with the law—to name just three important factors in overall social well-being.

The official explanation for these lingering inequalities is “racism,” that is to say: white malevolence, as well as “systemic” forms of inequality. According to this theory, since all peoples want to thrive in white societies and have equal inherent potential to do so, the fact that some groups conspicuously do not thrive needs to be explained.

Since white people are the architects of these societies, they are obviously the ones to blame. Thus white people must be hectored and browbeaten and reeducated. We must be punished by affirmative action and reparations. And we must endure having our societies torn apart and rebuilt over and over again, until racial equality is attained. Because nothing stands in the way of racial equality except white institutions and ways of life, white ignorance and ill-will, white guilt and white privilege—or so they say.

But it is increasingly difficult to believe this viewpoint because legal white privileges have been overturned and replaced. White privilege has not, moreover, been replaced by a classical liberal meritocracy, in which all people are subject to the same rules and judged on individual merit, but by a system of non-white privilege. But even with the system rigged in their favor, some non-white groups conspicuously lag behind whites in a vast number of indexes of social well-being. (An excellent summation of these differences is Richard Lynn’s The Global Bell Curve: Race, IQ, and Inequality Worldwide [Augusta, Ga.: Washington Summit Publishers, 2008].)

Even though anti-racist activists and non-whites find it increasingly difficult to point to any specific cause of persistent inequality, they just know that it is somehow white people’s fault. This is why the Left has resorted to increasingly “occult”—i.e. hidden and mysterious—explanations for persistent racial inequality.

Since fewer and fewer whites are consciously racist, the problem must be unconscious racism somehow keeping certain groups down. Unconscious racism is a real phenomenon, but how far does it explain persistent inequality? (On unconscious racism, see Kevin MacDonald’s “Psychology and White Ethnocentrism [3],” The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 6, no. 4 [2006].)

Since fewer and fewer whites hold negative racial stereotypes about other groups, and non-whites are still displaying stereotypical behavior, non-whites must be sabotaging themselves because of the “threat,” the mere specter of negative stereotypes existing in their own minds—and this is still white people’s fault, somehow.

Since explicit, legal racism has been dismantled and even reversed, the legacy of past racism must still exert a subtle influence that is powerful enough to cancel out the effects of much more recent systems of non-white privilege, somehow.

The classic statement on white privilege is Peggy McIntosh’s 1989 essay, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack [4],” where she writes:

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.

McIntosh offers fifty examples of white privilege. McIntosh’s backpack is more of a grab bag, ranging from discrimination in housing and law enforcement to the color of band-aids. McIntosh’s examples make it very clear that when she speaks of non-white Americans she is thinking specifically of black Americans.

Most of McIntosh’s white privileges fall into two broad categories: (1) aspects of having a homeland, and (2) not being black. Aspects of having a homeland include the following (the numbers are McIntosh’s):

  1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
  1. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.
  1. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
  1. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
  1. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
  1. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.
  1. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
  1. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.
  1. I can be pretty sure that my children’s teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others’ attitudes toward their race.
  1. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.
  1. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the “person in charge,” I will be facing a person of my race.
  1. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.
  1. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared.
  1. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.
  1. I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.

All of these “privileges” are simply aspects of having a homogeneous homeland, of belonging to a community of people with whom you share a common biological and cultural heritage. In white societies, one can call this “white privilege.” But in Asian societies, one would call it Asian privilege and in African societies, African privilege. Furthermore, it is too crude to speak about this simply in terms of broad racial categories. Instead, we should speak about Norwegian privilege in Norway, Japanese privilege in Japan, Swazi privilege in Swaziland, and the like. It would also be nice to live in a world in which stateless peoples, like Palestinians and Kurds, have similar privileges.

McIntosh describes privilege as “invisible” and “weightless.” We are “oblivious” of privilege. The unconscious aspect of privilege is also an aspect of having a homeland. A homeland is not just a realm in space. It is also a realm of meaning. To be truly at home, one must fully internalize and master these codes of meaning—language and manners being the most important—so one does not have to consciously reflect on them. Then one can simply relax and live rather than be self-conscious.

A foreign land is not just a place with unfamiliar people and things. The conventions are unfamiliar as well, thus one is constantly forced to reflect upon things that are taken for granted by the natives. Is this the right word? Is this the right greeting? How do I call 911?

It is fun to visit foreign lands, but it can be alienating, stressful, and psychologically exhausting to actually live in one, and this is the everyday experience of minorities and stateless peoples in other people’s homelands. The cure to this problem is to give every people a land of their own where they can feel at home rather than constantly alienated.

Many of McIntosh’s alleged privileges of being white are more accurately described as the absence of the disadvantages of being black. These include:

  1. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
  1. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
  1. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
  1. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
  1. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.
  1. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.
  1. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.
  1. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.
  1. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones.
  1. I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.
  1. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.
  1. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.
  1. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.
  1. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem.

McIntosh describes black disadvantages as white privileges because she wishes to absolve blacks for these problems and blame whites. Unfortunately, many anti-black stereotypes—for instance, black criminality and financial irresponsibility—are not just dreamed up by evil-minded white people. They are based in experience.

Of course most blacks are not criminals and spendthrifts, but enough of them are that it is rational for whites to be vigilant around blacks they do not know, a burden of suspicion that falls equally upon the problem minority and the blameless majority.

It really is an injustice. But it is also rational, and whites should not feel guilty about it. Such rational distrust is an inevitable product of diversity, and it will only increase as our societies become more multicultural. The Left’s only response to the rational distrust generated by diversity is to morally shame whites into dropping their guard, making them more vulnerable to predators and parasites. (On how diversity erodes social trust, see Robert D. Putnam’s “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-First Century [5],” Scandinavian Political Studies, 30 [2007].)

One of the central contentions of the Black Lives Matter movement is that blacks are arrested for crimes at a greater rate than whites simply because of white racism. But objective data show that blacks are arrested for crimes at pretty much the same rate that they commit them. (See, for instance, Edwin S. Rubenstein’s The Color of Crime: Race, Crime, and Justice in America [6] [Oakton, Vir.: New Century Foundation, 2016].) Thus, if Black Lives Matter wish to lower the black arrest rate, they should work to lower the black crime rate.

But there is not a single politician in America who has the courage to simply tell blacks to commit fewer crimes. Instead, police departments are being intimidated into giving blacks license to break the law with impunity. Police are also more likely to use violence with white suspects than blacks in comparable situations. This is objectively a system of black privilege. (On Black Lives Matter and the collapse of policing blacks, see Heather MacDonald’s studies [7] on “the Ferguson effect [8].” On the over-policing of whites in America, including increased chances of death by cop, see Richard Houck’s “Law Enforcement and the Hostile Elite [9],” Counter-Currents, June 20, 2018.)

Blacks feel oppressed in white societies by negative white stereotypes. But the most momentous of these stereotypes are based on experience. Thus it is rational to use them as guides in dealing with black strangers. Because of this, no amount of reeducation is going to banish them. (For a more detailed discussion of the rationality of experience-based prejudices, see the title essay [10] of my book In Defense of Prejudice [11].)

As long as multiracial societies persist, whites will continue to resent blacks for not living up to white standards, and blacks will continue to resent whites for imposing alien standards. The ethnonationalist solution to such irreconcilable differences is racial divorce: the creation of homogeneous sovereign homelands, to the extent that this is possible, for all distinct peoples who wish to exercise this right. (I discuss the concepts of ethnonationalism and homogeneity, and how they can be achieved humanely in The White Nationalist Manifesto [12]. Also see my essay, “Irreconcilable Differences: The Case for Racial Divorce [13].”)

The main reason to reject the claim that America is a white supremacist society is the fact that some non-white groups—chiefly East Asians and certain communities of South Asians—do better than whites in key indicators of success, such as educational attainment, income, and law abidingness, and they did so before anti-white discrimination and non-white tokenism became rampant. If American whites were intent on creating systematic white privilege and supremacy, we failed miserably. White racism is not a sufficient explanation for differing racial outcomes in America.

We have an alternative hypothesis based on the science of Human Biological Diversity. The differing levels of education, income, and law-abidingness—to name just three factors—among racial groups in America are precisely what we would predict given measurable differences of IQ and sociopathic personality traits between the races. For a survey of the effect of IQ on a wide range of social outcomes, see Richard Lynn’s The Global Bell Curve. On racial differences in personality traits beyond just IQ, including psychopathy, see Michael Levin’s Why Race Matters (Oakton, Vir.: New Century Books, 2016).

This does not mean that the American system is “fair” in the sense of being a color-blind meritocracy. We are perfectly willing to admit that some forms of discrimination favor whites—if it is also acknowledged that significant non-white privileges exist. But I believe that Human Biological Diversity is so powerful a determinant of social outcomes that it can basically overpower both white and anti-white privileges, allowing us to act as if these forces do not exist, even though we know that they do. In a similar way, although we know that other measurable psychological traits matter to social outcomes, IQ differences alone are so powerful at predicting social outcomes that we can act as if other factors do not matter. (This was brought home to me by Lynn’s The Global Bell Curve.)

Different races really are different. That means that when different races live in the same social system, subject to the same laws, institutions, and incentives, some will inevitably flourish better than others. There will never be a social system that is equally conducive to the flourishing of all races and cultures. Such inequalities will persist even if we institute remedial forms of discrimination in favor of groups who lag behind.

The science of Human Biological Diversity also explains why some non-white groups excel in white societies, even though they too have trouble finding flesh-colored band-aids.

Many of us would prefer not to mention biological racial differences at all, for fear of hurting the feelings of disadvantaged groups. But we have to talk about such differences, because the present system blames whites for the failure of some non-whites to flourish in white societies. As long as whites are charged with evil intentions to keep some races down, and as long as white institutions and ways of life are targeted for demolition and reconstruction by egalitarian social engineers, we must press the alternative hypothesis of biologically-based inequality.

So if the different races are biologically unequal, what does this imply for social policy? Today’s conservatives and libertarians think they can retain multiculturalism by establishing a true “color-blind” meritocracy. While I am all for meritocracy, it is simply naïve to believe that groups that will naturally gravitate toward the bottom of such a system—the “losers”—will be satisfied with their lot, even if they arrived there by entirely “fair” procedures, and even if they enjoy higher material standards of living than they could in non-white homelands.

Classical liberalism is simply blind to non-material motivations like honor and pride. Many non-whites would rather rule in hell (their own homelands) than serve in heaven (classical liberal meritocracies). Ethnonationalists, however, understand such attitudes completely.

Every human being deserves a home, where he can be himself free of the interference of others. But we should feel at home outside our front doors as well. We should be able to live among people who share our language and values, our history and destiny, the whole litany of “white privileges.” We don’t just need homes. We need homelands—not alienating, bewildering, multicultural bazaars filled with people whose words and minds are alien to us. A country’s Gross Domestic Product does not matter if nobody feels at home.

If races really are different, that means they will create different social systems. These systems will express their natures. They will feel as comfortable to them as well-fitting shoes. But this means that other races will not feel comfortable, even if they are treated with utmost courtesy and fairness—even if they are given advantages over the natives. The solution is not to further change our societies, to further abandon our norms and ways of life to accommodate outsiders. That simply doesn’t work. Multiculturalism does not create societies in which everyone feels at home. It creates societies where no one feels at home.

There is no moral imperative to destroy our homelands to accommodate strangers. There would be no such imperative even if it were possible. And there is certainly no imperative to destroy real homelands in pursuit of the impossible dream of a society in which all peoples feel equally at home.

But there is one place where all the peoples of the world can feel at home. It is called the planet Earth. This planet is big enough for all races and nations to have places they can call their own. This is the ethnonationalist version of utopia. Privilege is inherently unequal, but everyone can be privileged in his own homeland. Norwegians can be privileged in Norway. Somalis can be privileged in Somalia. Kurds can be privileged in Kurdistan. As long as every people has a place to call home, there is nothing unfair about this situation.

Peggy McIntosh describes white privilege as a package of “unearned assets.” That is meant as a criticism. But we must be careful here. Only a bourgeois individualist equates the unearned with the unjust. There are some cases where we have a right to unearned assets. For instance, if a gift truly is a gift, and not simply a disguised form of exchange, then it is an unearned asset to which we have a right. A gift created by past generations and handed on to future generations cannot be a disguised exchange, for there is no way to pay our ancestors back for our genetic and cultural heritage. We can only pay it forward, to future generations. A homeland is an unearned asset, a privilege, and you have every right to defend it zealously.

Norway is not something that all people can enjoy. It is something for yourselves and your posterity. It was created by your ancestors, carved out of a remarkably beautiful but harsh environment through will and ingenuity. It was passed on to you, for safekeeping and improvement. And I hope you can securely pass it along to future generations of Norwegians, once strangers like me have departed your shores.