Understanding the Differences Between White Priviledge and Benefits

by: EJ on 09/26/2017

Today's blog is an excerpt from Part 1, "What is White" from Paul Kivel's best-selling Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice, 4th Edition.

 It is not necessarily a privilege to be white, but it certainly has its benefits. That’s why so many of our families gave up their unique histories, primary languages, accents,  distinctive dress, family names, and cultural expressions. It seemed like a small price to pay for acceptance in the circle of whiteness.

Privileges are the economic extras those of us who are middle-class and wealthy gain at the expense of poor and working-class people of all races. Benefits, on the other hand, are the advantages all white people gain at the expense of people of color regardless of economic position. Talk about racial benefits can ring false to many of us who don’t have the economic privileges we see others in this society enjoying. But though we may not have substantial economic privileges, we do enjoy benefits from being white.

It is not that white people have not worked hard and built much. We have. But we did not start out from scratch. ...Much of the rhetoric against more active policies for racial justice stems from the misconception that all people have been given equal opportunities and started from a level playing field. We often don’t even see the benefits we have received from racism. We claim they are not there.

The following checklist can help you realize the often unseen benefits that come simply from being born white, regardless of your economic situation.

Look at the following list. Put a check beside any benefit you enjoy that a person of color of your age, gender, and class probably does not. Think about what effect not having that benefit would have had on your life. (If you don’t know the answer to any of these questions, do research. Ask family members. Do what you can to discover the answers.) The purpose of this checklist is not to discount what we, our families, and foreparents have achieved. But we do need to question any assumptions we retain that everyone  started out with equal opportunity.


  • My ancestors were legal immigrants to this country during a period when immigrants from Asia, South and Central America, or Africa were restricted.
  • My ancestors came to this country of their own free will and have never had to relocate unwillingly while here.
  • I live on land that formerly belonged to Native Americans.
  • My family received homesteading or land staking claims from the federal government.
  • I or my family or relatives receive or received federal farm subsidies, farm price supports, agricultural extension assistance, or other farm-related federal benefits.
  • I lived or live in a neighborhood that people of color were discouraged or prevented from living in.
  • I lived or live in a city where redlining prevents people of color getting housing or other loans.
  • My parents or I went to racially segregated schools.
  • I live in a school district or metropolitan area where more money is spent on the schools that white children go to than on those that children of color attend.
  • I live in or went to a school district where children of color are more likely to be disciplined than white children, or are more likely to be tracked into non-academic programs.
  • I live in or went to a school district where the textbooks and other classroom materials reflected my race as normal, heroes and builders of the United States, and there
    was little mention of the contributions of people of color.
  • I was encouraged to go on to college by teachers, parents, or other advisors.
  • I attended a publicly funded university or a heavily endowed private university or college, and/or I received student loans.
  • I served in the military when it was still racially segregated, achieved a rank where there were few people of color, or served in a combat situation where there were large numbers of people of color in dangerous combat positions.
  • My ancestors were immigrants who took jobs in railroads, streetcars, construction, shipbuilding, wagon and coach driving, house painting, tailoring, longshore work, bricklaying, table waiting, working in the mills, dressmaking, or any other trade or occupation where people of color were driven out or excluded.
  • I received job training in a program where there were few or no people of color.
  • I have received a job, job interview, job training, or internship through personal connections of family or friends.
  • I worked or work in a job where people of color made less for doing comparable work or did more menial jobs.
  • I have worked in a job where people of color were hired last or fired first.
  • I work in a job, career, or profession or in an agency or organization in which there are few people of color.
  • I received small business loans or credits, government contracts, or government assistance in my business.
  • My parents were able to vote in any election they wanted without worrying about poll taxes, literacy requirements, or other forms of discrimination.
  • I can always vote for candidates who reflect my race.▫ I live in a neighborhood that has better police protection
    and municipal services and is safer than one where people of color live.
  • The hospital and medical services close to me or which I use are better than those of most people of color in the region in which I live.
  • I have never had to worry that clearly labeled public facilities, such as swimming pools, restrooms, restaurants, and nightspots, were in fact not open to me because of my skin color.
  • I see people who look like me in a wide variety of roles on television and in movies.
  • My skin color needn’t be a factor in where I choose to live.
  • A substantial percentage of the clothes I wear are made by poorly paid women and young people of color in the US and abroad.
  • Most of the food I eat is grown, harvested, processed, and/or cooked by poorly paid people of color in this country and abroad.
  • The house, office building, school, hotels and motels, or other buildings and grounds I use are often cleaned or maintained by people of color.
  • Many of the electronic goods I use, such as TVs, cell phones and computers, are made by people of color in the US and abroad.
  • People of color have cared for me, other family members, friends, or colleagues of mine either at home or at a medical or convalescent facility.
  • I don’t need to think about race and racism every day. I can choose when and where I want to respond to racism.
  • What feelings come up for you when you think about the benefits white people gain from racism? Do you feel angry or resentful? Guilty or uncomfortable? Do you want to say “Yes, but...?”

Find out more in Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice, 4th Edition.




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