I recently attended a one day seminar by Christena Cleveland, the newly appointed inaugural Associate Professor of the Practice of Reconciliation at Duke University’s Divinity School where she is also the faculty director of Duke’s Center for Reconciliation. She is also the author of Disunity In Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart.
One of the statements she made that stuck with me ran something like this…
Many people are willing to acknowledge that minority populations are discriminated against. However most of these same people fail to recognise that when a person is discriminated against someone else gains an “unfair” advantage, or privilege.
For example, numerous studies (HERE’s one) have been conducted which demonstrate that resumes with a white sounding name are 50% more likely to receive callbacks than applicants with black sounding names. When Kate or James get a job that launches them on to a successful career, they naturally think it’s due to their grades and previous life/work experience. They don’t realise (and probably their employer doesn’t either) that their odds of obtaining that job increased because black candidates with identical, or even better, qualifications were subconsciously discriminated against in the hiring process.
A 2008 research project in New York City summarised,
“We find that whites and Latinos are systemically favored over black job seekers. Indeed, the effect of discrimination is so large that white job seekers just released from prison do no worse than blacks without criminal records.”
Yes, white job applicants do need to study hard, work hard and perform well to get their jobs. They do compete against everyone else: black, white and Latino. Because of their hard work they feel that they’ve earned their accomplishments, and they have. But because they have the “right” name they compete against less candidates than do the minority applicants. That’s privilege.