We live in the era of social media, mass sharing, and instant networking.
We also live in a time experiencing a worrying uptick in racial strife. At the confluence of these two worlds has emerged an ever-growing awareness of the peculiar social phenomenon known as "White Privilege."
The term refers to the supposed preferential treatment extended to all White people more broadly, and straight white males more narrowly. Many people (mostly straight white males) will insist that no such thing actually exists.
However, I can say with all certainty that it does. I should know, I benefit from it every day.
The preferential treatment of one group of people over another for reasons based solely on how they happened to have been born naturally comes off as terribly outdated and distinctly un-modern.
Indeed, it is these things and more, but that does not mean that the concept is rotten to the core.
Throughout American history, there have been many things that were once reserved exclusively for straight white males that every one of us can now freely enjoy. Things such as owning property, running for office, and voting in elections are now the right of every American citizen.
The struggle for Women's Suffrage provides an especially close parallel to the struggle with White Privilege. Both of these cultural roadblocks were and very much still are discriminatory against women and minority groups. However, while the soul of either issue is nearly the same, the way we as a society have tackled it could not be more dissimilar. Out of those who recognize the existence of White Privilege, the great majority of them wish to do away with it entirely. They seek to end the preferential treatment of straight white males and treat everyone as equals.
As agreeable of an idea as this sounds on the surface, its logic is inherently flawed.
To illustrate why, let us juxtapose it against the way in which suffragists and suffragettes achieved equality of the sexes at the ballot box. Instead of working to eliminate the institution of voting altogether because they were not allowed to be a part of it, those in the suffrage movement fought to expand the franchise to include a broader group of people. The crucial difference between the two is the trajectory of the change affected by their respective movements.
The current trend towards completely dismantling white privilege intrinsically involves regressing the social privilege enjoyed by some, or in other words a downward slope of change. The trajectory of change experienced by the struggle for women's suffrage, however, is upward sloping, as the suffragists sought to raise the disenfranchised to the desired privileged status, not to lower the privileged down to a lesser social position.
The same line of thinking should be applied to the discussion of White Privilege.
We must not seek to eradicate privilege; we must seek to extend it. If the world was perfect, we would already treat everyone the way we treat straight white males. The unfortunate reality is that our world is far from it. In spite of this, we have the ability and the duty to move our society closer to that ideal, one step at a time.
The next step we take must be in the direction of respect and dignity for all people, be they straight white males or otherwise.