One of the goals we had for the blog was to make it accessible to people who aren’t necessarily familiar with or comfortable with terms that activists use when describing the state of race in America. We didn’t want these terms to take away from our message; at the same time, it’s hard to discuss race without them. We’ll have a few guideposts along the way to describe why we use a particular term and how we think of it as a concept. This is one of those posts.
“White privilege” is a term that gets used heavily in discourse these days. The “privilege” part of the term can be a sticking point for some people because it conjures up images of either the super-rich or of being allowed extra television time as a child — it is either laughably inaccurate, or childish, or something that can be given away (e.g., “Well, I won’t watch that extra show, so everything’s fair now.”) It may be more helpful to think of “privilege” in this context to mean something more like “home court advantage.”
In the sports world, “home court/team/field/ice/course/track/etc. advantage” is a phenomenon where teams that are playing in their “home” environment get certain intangible benefits from that which can, in turn, impact the outcome of the game, however slightly. “Home court advantage” is an accepted fact of athletic competition, and is why, particularly in playoffs or game series, teams will either play in a place that is “away” for both of them, or trade playing games at “home.”
“Home court advantage” isn’t something that can be wished away and it also isn’t assigned a negative moral value (while “privilege” can bring to mind spoiled children and spoiled adults). It is a fact of the sports world that the governing bodies of various athletic organizations work around to try to ensure that, although they can’t eliminate the impact of “home court advantage” on individual games, they can try to give everyone an equal shot at having the advantage over the course of the season.
In our metaphor, white people always have “home court advantage”: they always have intangible benefits that can impact the outcome of their game. It doesn’t mean that they are going to win big every time, or even win every time (think about the last time your favorite team lost a home game!), but it does mean that the odds are more in their favor than if they were “away” — and people of color, particularly in America, are always playing “away.”
Translating this to real life: white people have intangible benefits that impact their daily lives. It doesn’t mean that white people have it easy or that they don’t work hard for what they have; it just means that, in general, it is easier for them to go about their daily lives than it is for people of color who would otherwise be similarly situated (e.g., same age, same education, same health, etc.). It is a morally neutral fact that cannot be given up or traded away, but we are working on finding ways to level the playing field (to mix our sports metaphors) — this is the problem that social justice groups are working to answer.
To wrap up: we’re probably going to use the term “white privilege” a lot in our writing, and you will see it regularly in discussions of race. If the term is a turn-off for you, consider reading “privilege” as “home court advantage” instead.
[Note: This goes for all discussions of “privilege” — “male privilege,” “cis privilege,” etc.]