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 (7)

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?

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

Friday, March 26, 2021 -- 1:13 PM

This last week reached a new

This last week reached a new low for the brotherhood of man. A sophomore at a state university has received death threats, because he missed a free throw in a basketball game. March madness, indeed. To the morons who authored these threats, i say: go find yourselves a hole in the ground, and crawl into it. I did not send anything about this to the local newspaper. They are unresponsive to such concerns. Well. Well. Well...