New York Post:
Last month, I retweeted a comment by a contrarian writer who questioned whether racism was to blame for the spread of the coronavirus, and a close (white) friend responded to me with a well-meaning text:
“I feel it is my calling to help end the oppression people of color like you face in our society,” he wrote. “I understand I have white privilege. And that has consequences.”
His message left me feeling bewildered. What “oppression” had I actually faced? And what “privilege” had society conferred upon my friend because of his white skin?
Growing up as a Sikh, turbaned boy in the majority-white environment of British Columbia, Canada, I was a constant target of bullying throughout my elementary school years. On bus rides home, I remember having to sit in the back where the older, “cool” kids hung out, and they used to jump up and slap the top part of my turban. I was consistently harassed with comments like “Go back to where you came from” and “You don’t belong here.”
Upon immigrating from India when I was 4, my family suffered tremendous economic hardships and cultural challenges. My father drove a taxi at night and my mom worked many menial jobs as a cook, housecleaner, barista and motel cleaner. It’s fair to say my family never had success handed to them on a silver platter.
But more than a decade post-immigration, we have found our footing in Western society, with my dad making nearly six figures operating his own software company.
Rising from poverty to economic prosperity is a common narrative for immigrants from all backgrounds in the West. For example, after the communist takeover of Cuba in 1959, many refugees fled to America, leaving most of their wealth behind and having to start from the bottom. But by 1990, second-generation Cuban Americans were twice as likely to earn an annual salary of $50,000 than non-Hispanic whites in the United States.
The notion of white privilege stems from the idea that white people have benefited in American history relative to “people of color.” And it’s true that the institution of slavery and the following decades of anti-black dehumanization has a continuing impact today. A major 2013 study from Brandeis University found that 32 percent of the wealth gap between whites and blacks can be attributed to inherited wealth and length of homeownership, two factors linked to institutionalized racism. Meanwhile, Harvard economist Roland Fryer’s much-publicized study on racial bias in policing found that cops are 53 percent more likely to use physical force on black civilians compared to whites (his study, however, found no anti-black bias in fatal police shootings).
…An emerging definition of white privilege is now being widely circulated on social media: “White privilege doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been hard. It just means your race isn’t one of the things that make it harder.”
And yet, this definition suffers from several shortcomings.
For one, it ignores anti-Semitism — the second leading cause of hate crimes in America, according to the FBI. In addition, the growing demonization of whiteness now means that white people are no longer immune to racism. I can think of several instances where friends and colleagues have been racially targeted for being white and holding contrarian but intellectually defensible positions such as “we need to have generous, but reasonable limits on our immigration system” or even “I don’t think racial minorities are systematically oppressed in Western society today.”