19 Oct

White Privilege

Posted By polity_admin_user

By Shannon Sullivan

Once you start looking, you can hardly go a day without seeing white privilege. It often is there even when you don’t see it, but sometimes it jumps out at you. Just last week, for example, in the metro area of Charlotte, North Carolina, an acquaintance of mine who is Black encountered what seemed to be a routine road check when she and her white husband, “Bob” (a pseudonym), were driving home. In the car in front of her, she saw the white police officer ask for the usual documents from the Black woman in the car: driver’s license, auto registration, and car insurance. After the woman provided the documents, the officer looked at them and then motioned that the woman needed to pull over to the side of the road for further investigation. She was not cleared; something was wrong. The purpose of the checkpoint wasn’t obvious, but something was amiss—did the Black woman have an expired driver’s license or outdated car insurance, for example? Something like that would make sense. Her being pulled to the side didn’t mean that she was being singled out for further investigation because she was Black. A person would be paranoid for thinking that, right?

Except that when Bob, who was driving, pulled up to the front of the checkpoint and rolled down his window, the police officer glanced at him and waved him through. It took all of two seconds. There was no looking in the rest of the car or checking the inspection date on the auto’s license place, much less asking for Bob’s driver’s license or other documents. The police officer just waved Bob through, leaving Bob and his wife to wonder and worry what was going to happen to the Black woman alone at the side of the checkpoint, awaiting further interrogation.

Do we really know that this was an instance of white privilege? What role did class privilege possibly play in who received further investigation and who didn’t? And if it was white privilege, what should be done about it? Can white people get rid of it? Should white people feel guilty for being given the benefit of the doubt because of their race? Is it possible that not just people of color’s lives, but also white people’s lives would be better off if white privilege were eliminated?

White Privilege tackles these kinds of questions in a frank, down-to-earth manner. The book hopefully will challenge you—whatever your race—in unexpected ways to think further about what white privilege is, who has it, and what can be done about it. The book will prod you—and white people in particular—to figure out whether and why you have skin in the game of challenging white privilege.


Shannon Sullivan is Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. Her new book White Privilege is out now.

Also available on Amazon and Wordery. Order online or check your local bookshop for availability.