White Privilege and Racial Injustice

Sunday, June 7, 2020
First Aired: 
Sunday, February 14, 2016

What Is It

“White privilege” has become a buzzword in discussions about racial inequality and racial justice. The call to “check your privilege” appeals to those privileged to acknowledge the various ways they receive special treatment that others don’t. But when white people explicitly acknowledge their privilege, does this do anything to further racial equality? Is talking about “white privilege” just a way to assuage white liberal guilt? Instead of unequal privilege, should we be more focused on equal rights? What kind of theory of justice is required to improve black lives? John and Ken check their privilege with Naomi Zack from the University of Oregon, author of White Privilege and Black Rights: The Injustice of U.S. Police Racial Profiling and Homicide.

Listening Notes

Isn’t white privilege just another term for racial injustice? Isn’t racial injustice just another term for white privilege? John and Ken open the show with these questions. Do the problems behind racial injustices in the United States, particularly behind blacks and whites, stem from white privilege or the violation of black rights? What is the real distinction between these two options, and what would it mean for a solution?

John and Ken are joined by Naomi Zack, professor of philosophy at the University of Oregon and author of White Privilege, Black Rights: The Injustice of US Police Racial Profiling and Homicide. Zack explains the some of the motivation behind her book, claiming that the police homicides of blacks are an example of the violation of black rights and not white privilege. She distinguishes privilege as a perk or advantage, which is different than not respecting the basic rights of people of color. Ken questions whether this distinction makes a practical difference in regard to solving these issues, and Zack insists that it does.

Callers join in the discussion with their questions. One caller brings up the privilege of certain populations being unaffected by drug prosecution in comparison to less-privileged groups. In reaction, Zack and our hosts discuss the practical needs of a society in which issues take time to resolve and more severe issues demand priority. The episode ends with a conversation about the status of modern society and whether we still live in a white supremacist country.

  • Roving Philosophical Reporter (seek to 6:38): Shuka Kalantari speaks with two residents of Oakland, one white and one person of color, about racial injustices in their community.
  • 60-Second Philosopher (Seek to 45:57): Ian Shoales speaks about his experience with his own white privilege and how it has come up in the current election. 


Comments (16)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, October 12, 2018 -- 12:57 PM

History is what it is. But,

History is what it is. But, let's suppose that the history of the United States had never included slavery. Would this still mean that white privilege is a concern, or, would it mean that those who ended up here, through immigration or other migrations of choice, were subject to the same rights, obligations and privileges as every other resident, race, color and/or national origin, notwithstanding? Would it mean that a book about white privilege would have no traction, or that questions about equality would have to be framed differently? Your point about buzzwords is obvious: there are dozens of them. I am white (you knew that from reading this comment). And, I suppose, in the general view, that genetic fact renders me privileged. Sobeit. That fact, and, 99 cents gets me a cup of coffee at the corner Get Go convenience store. I'm going to have to move, though. Increases in property taxes; school tax levies and other living costs are rendering my retirement income null and void. So much for, uh, privilege. Yeah...

sminsuk's picture


Friday, June 12, 2020 -- 11:41 AM

That's a misuse of the "that

That's a misuse of the "that and 99 cents gets me a cup of coffee" cliche. It's normally used to mean that the other factor is irrelevant or worthless; only the 99 cents matters. But in the case of white privilege, a person often needs *both* in order to get that cup of coffee. The person with only the 99 cents, and not the privilege, sometimes cannot get the coffee at any price. And this is true even if you take it literally: not long ago there was an incident in the news where a Black man minding his own business in a Starbucks was treated like a criminal for no reason and arrested. In fact, when I went to google for it, I found it as well as a second, similar incident. Twice makes a trend, I think.

britch's picture


Wednesday, October 31, 2018 -- 5:12 PM

America is a violent nation,

America is a violent nation, from Day One. That violence, so persistent, has melded with strident capitalism. These two define the State in deeds. The words are considerably less authentic, as they always are when measured against action.

In remains to be seen whether or not a nation conceived in violence and dedicated to the proposition that all men and women can achieve class exclusiveness through wealth will perish from the Earth sooner or later.

sminsuk's picture


Friday, June 12, 2020 -- 11:14 AM

This discussion really missed

This discussion really missed the mark. Take the example of a Black person experiencing unwarranted violence or even murder at the hands of a police officer. You argued whether the differential treatment represents white people having a "privilege", or are just being treated like anybody deserves to be treated. Or from the other side, is the Black person lacking a privilege, or being denied their rights? I probably can agree with your answer, but the answer is irrelevant because it entirely misses the point. What you need to look at is all the other people - the ones not involved in that incident. All Black people are burdened with the knowledge that they are subject to such treatment. They can't live a single day without the threat of mistreatment affecting everything about their lives. Only Black parents have to have "the talk" with their kids, to explain how to best reduce the chances of being killed by a cop. White people have the privilege of never having to think about this. We can go through our days carelessly, in that regard. That changes everything. Of course the Black person who is targeted, has their rights violated. But the *expectations* that white people get to have, and that others, especially Black people, distinctly don't get to have, certainly seems like privilege to me. You made an analogy about country clubs granting privileges. And yes, it's very much like that. White people are very much in the club, and people of color, especially Black people, are very much not.

Guessedworker's picture


Monday, June 15, 2020 -- 1:02 AM

Where did the notion come

Where did the notion come from that white people may not organise their existence in their own interests? Every group in human history has done exactly that for sound evolutionary reasons. Even if universalism can be argued as objectively moral, which is questionable on the grounds of its unnaturalness, is there such a thing? The present demand of immigrant populations in Europe of "universalism for you but nationalism for me" is not a universalist position, nor anything other than a demand that native Europeans give up all nationalism and get out of the way. So the demand for universalism is really only that of an expansionist coloniser. Whence the morality?

sminsuk's picture


Sunday, June 13, 2021 -- 11:57 AM

Sorry that I'm seeing

Sorry that I'm seeing Guessedworker's reply only a year later. I'll answer that question with another question: where did the notion come from that organizing white people's existence at the expense of non-white people, is somehow "in their own interest"? My interest as a white person is most definitely not served by oppressing others. That should be obvious. Furthermore, where did the notion come from that members of different ethnic groups / races / national origins are natural groups and have inherently antagonistic interests? It's at least as rational to believe that we are all diverse members of one species, and, in this ever shrinking world, of one community; and that we are only enriched by vanquishing that oppression and elevating all individuals.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, March 19, 2021 -- 6:34 AM

I have noticed a new

I have noticed a new phenomenon in the race war, and am wondering if anyone else has seen this.
Since Black Lives Matter, maybe even sometime before, there has been a shift. Where before there seemed to be solidarity among non-white groups, there is now an apparent widening rift. It was barely perceptible at first, but is now obvious. To me, anyway. I am wondering how/why this has transpired. Looking at the recent election, I stumbled upon a clue---I think. Vice President Harris is from a multi-ethnic background , if I recall correctly. So, besides being the first female VP, she had another barrier to overcome. Or several? More than once during the campaign, her racial origins were brought to the fore; affirmed and emphasized...as if to honor them equally; as if that were a mandatory act and less would have been disrespectful. This is interesting and perhaps demonstrative. Here we have a well-qualified and respected professional, who happens to be female and from a diverse family lineage. Her racial profile became almost as important as any of that. Hoping again that I am just flat wrong, I can visualize greater dissent among people of color. Unless
we get hold of this trend before it clamps on to us...

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, April 26, 2021 -- 5:40 AM

The latest things happening

The latest things happening vis-a-vis race in America are deeply disturbing. Unarmed black men being shot, many killed, for raising their hands when confronted by law enforcement. Several have been holding smart phones, which, last I looked, do not resemble guns. Most all people who count themselves as conscious beings, are getting fed up with excuses, as the shootings continue. But, having noted all this, I'm seeing other worrisome things which seem to show disregard, or worse, push-back. Some are placing signs in their yards that either refute or parody the Black Lives Matter movement. One of those, near my present neighborhood, reads: Legends Never Rest. Now, that could mean something or, it could mean nothing. I at one point considered my own contribution: Rust Never Sleeps. Nor Does Gravity. But, the more I thought about community decay and unrest, the more I realized it would be unwise. You cannot make a harmless joke about tragedy. People just won't understand. Those who think you are in their camp will misunderstand. Some who think you are being coldly racist might decide to shoot up your house or neighborhood.

So, there will be no publicly displayed comments on my property. We are moving soon anyway..

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Tuesday, June 8, 2021 -- 5:42 AM

I have another view on the

I have another view on the problem of racism. Perhaps someone else has noted this---I have not seen it expressed before. It comes back to social and cultural roots. And generational attitudes. People get too accustomed to 'always doing what they have always done'. Even when, in some recess in their mind, they know it is wrong. One generation passes along its' prejudices to the next. The snowball effect, so to speak. When attitudes become pervasive, behaviors follow suit. Such is the case with the racial divide in these United States. The recent political divisiveness here has only aggravated and amplified the problem. My assertion is that the battlelines , as now drawn, leave little room for constructive change. Some sensible people, race notwithstanding, either recognize or intuit the intractability of this massive snowball. But there are not enough of them actively working to solve the problem.

Always (and in all ways) doing what you've always done, good and bad, gets you what you've always gotten. And, there will forever be those who would not have it any other way. I hate to be a pessimist.
But see no way around it. Attitudes and behaviors are stoked by generational flames.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Wednesday, June 9, 2021 -- 1:09 PM

Another view, Part Two:

Another view, Part Two:
Around about the time the new world was already infected with white on black racism,(slavery),circa the 1700s, there were rumblings of something called manifest destiny. This had to do with the 'Indian Problem'. There was no perceivable Indian Problem in the 1600s. There were few white people here then and the Thanksgiving myth was born. Later, into the nineteenth century, the 'Indian Problem' emerged. No-one was concerned with the subjugation of blacks. Not much. Not yet. Roughly, manifest destiny proposed that the country would expand; prosper; and anything or anyone standing in the way of that would be exterminated. And so, there arose a systematic effort to displace and/or erase indigenous peoples. The only good (Native American) was a dead one. This was more ruthless than enslaving Blacks, but no less unjust. My family, I think, goes on here. The genes are still out there. Native American genes. I hope ,and trust my point is clear. For, if it is not, I do not know where we go now.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, June 10, 2021 -- 12:56 PM


For milennials and any others who may not know;were not taught much about World War II, this final installment concerns another dark chapter of US history, vis-a-vis treatment of minority people, lawfully residing in the USA. These were Asians,Japanese and possibly others who were shipped to internment camps during that war. There was fear that they would somehow undermine the American war effort, perhaps through espionage or some other nefarious fashion. It was not known, nor ever proven, as far as I know, that this fear had any sort of reality. The recipients of this dose of injustice were guilty by association only. 'We just couldn't trust 'em'. It was, after all, wartime. In this case, and under the circumstances, the presumption of equal treatment under the law, was dismissed, out-of-hand.

I was not born until after that war. But these cold facts were never, in my school years, any part of American history curriculum. I seriously doubt, as previously implied, that they are given so much as a footnote since. It is easy to employ Occam's Broom when wishing to dispose of embarrassing history. And to always do what you have always done, when you want to get what you have always got. Exceptionalism, you see.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Wednesday, July 21, 2021 -- 12:41 PM

Here is a novel approach.

Here is a novel approach. Maybe. If there has always been 'white prvilege', how does that square with subjugation. Slavery. And so on. I have asserted that the founding fathers learned from Enlightenment views. But, wait a minute. Did the enlightenment rubber stamp slavery? Not in anything I have read. Was slavery an unspoken privilege for white people in Europe? Indentured servitude appears to have been a practice. I suppose .that equates with slavery, in some sense. But, is it not true that when a debt was repaid, the indentured servant was, uh, free? That did not apply for enslaved blacks who were abducted from their homelands and treated like oxen.
So, all this considered, it would appear the founding fathers manipulated things: to suit themselves and their personal agendas. Desire, expectation, belief, etc., are propositional attitudes, as Davidson asserted. They do not equal truth, unless someone thinks so. We have always done what is advantageous. And cheap. Slavery was cheap. Way back then...

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, July 23, 2021 -- 11:29 AM

A final note:

A final note:
The phrase, systemic discrimination, has been around for years. Most of what I have written here was leading to this. Systemic discrimination has origins preceding white privilege. Subjugation of groups/classes of people began with power struggles, aristocracy, theocracy and host of subdivisions of these dramas. The black/white schism is only one example, and, perhaps the one most currently visible. People are accustomed to doing what they have previously done...always getting what they have gotten, and, being pretty content with all of that. We are not discussing a two hundred or three hundred year-old problem. The disease is far older that that. Anyone who cannot connect the dots is wrapped up in the current moment. We do not seem to learn much from our mistakes.

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