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Why white privilege cannot be ignored – from school exclusions to ‘CV whitening’

In the wake of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, you’ll have heard a lot about the issue of ‘white privilege’.

But what is it and what does it really mean?

Despite the term’s recent rise in usage, it was actually coined back in the 1980s by the white anti-racism activist Peggy McIntosh, who outlined the many privileges white people take for granted.

The concept, she argued, is an “invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious”.

“White privilege is like an invisible knapsack of special provisions; assurances, tools, maps guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear and blank checks,” she added.

Here, Professor Kalwant Bhopal, author of White Privilege: The Myth of a Post-Racial Society, examines how white privilege can infiltrate every corner of British society and why it must be “interrogated” as well as acknowledged.

What is white privilege?

To recognise white privilege, it is first crucial to understand that millions are brought up to take it for granted.

Quite simply, white people see the world through a specific lens which they take as the norm.



Activists hold placards as they attend a Black Lives Matter protest in Trafalgar Square in London on June 12, 2020
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Image:

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The privileges associated with whiteness are a given – unquestioned entitlements which enable people to have specific benefits because of their identity.

For ethnic minority groups, examples of white privilege can be found in any aspect of everyday life.

It might be that white people are able to walk through customs without being stopped – or that they can ask to use a restroom without being arrested.

Other examples include white people pushing in front of minorities when in a queue – or being served before them.

It is an uncomfortable truth that structural, institutional and individual racism exists in our schools, the jobs market, the criminal justice system and in healthcare – so let’s take an in-depth look.

Black pupils placed in lower sets and face more exclusions

From our early years at school through to the highest academic jobs in the country, white privilege is prevalent throughout the education system.

In schools, Black students and Bangladeshi/Pakistani students are more likely to be placed in lower sets compared to their white peers.

They are also more likely to be permanently excluded.

A research study that charted the changes in educational policy in the 20 years following the murder of Stephen Lawrence found that “the rate has fluctuated, including a peak of more than 4 times the likelihood of White exclusion in 2010”.

The Timpson Review of School Exclusions added: “At no time have Black Caribbean students been less than three times more likely to be permanently excluded than their White British peers.”









Higher up the chain at university, Black students are less likely to leave university with a 2:1 or first class degree.

One reason why these inequalities persist is because white privilege works to reinforce and perpetuate white western, Eurocentric perspectives which fail to account for the histories and experiences of minority groups.

Another is the representation of senior academics such as professors and vice chancellors.

White privilege works to ensure that these powerful positions are much more likely to be filled by white people.

Did you know there are only 100 Black professors in the UK and only four vice chancellors who are from a minority background?

Minorities ‘whitening’ resumes to land jobs

The same disadvantages are also commonplace in the jobs market, where minority groups are more likely to be unemployed.

One reason for this is the role white privilege plays during shortlisting processes that consistently favour white, Western names – and later during interviews and making appointments.

When minority groups have identical qualifications and experience, they are less likely to be shortlisted for interviews compared to white groups.

A shocking 2017 study by Harvard Business School revealed how minority applicants were ‘whitening’ their resumes by deleting references to their race.





Sadly, it said the strategy was paying off – companies were found to be more than twice as likely to call those who ‘whitened’ their CVs, even in firms that claimed to value diversity.

Minority groups are also more likely to be in insecure, low-paid employment compared to their white counterparts even when they have been born and educated in the UK.

And it doesn’t stop there – once in employment they experience covert and overt racism on a daily basis.

Last year, a bullied Black benefits officer won a race discrimination payout of almost £400,000 from the Department for Work and Pensions.

Anne Giwa-Amu suffered a “hostile environment” where staff set out to humiliate her by using racist language like ‘P***-lover’ in her presence, the tribunal heard.

Speaking after the verdict, Ms Giwa-Amu said: “These people assess benefits claims for ethnic minority claimants, which is a very worrying situation.

“They have all had diversity training but it has had no impact on them because their racism is ingrained.”

Black people nine times more likely to be stopped and searched

White privilege is seen to work through racial profiling and stereotypes in the criminal justice system.

Black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police compared to white people.

They are also six times more likely to be stopped whilst driving.

Just last year, British athlete Bianca Williams and her partner were both handcuffed by Met Police officers when their baby was in the back seat of their Mercedes – sparking a high-profile row about racial profiling.



George Floyd was murdered by white police officer Derek Chauvin
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Internet Unknown)




Following the murder of African-American George Floyd by white police officer Derek Chauvin last year, Black Lives Matter protests swept across the West.

The despicable killing also turned focus towards policing in the UK.

A recent Mirror investigation laid bare shocking discrepancies in the way police forces deal with allegations of racism by their staff – with 97 per cent of cops accused of racism facing no action.

Data showed that thousands of police officers and staff have been investigated in England and Wales over the past five years, but only a fraction faced disciplinary action.

Campaigners have called for allegations to be re-investigated after the figures were branded “disgusting” and forces were accused of “gaslighting” victims of discrimination.

The families of Sean Rigg and Olaseni Lewis, young Black men who died after being detained by police, said the data reveals officers can “act with impunity” with no meaningful oversight.

Minority groups also face discrimination in the courts system where they are more likely to receive an immediate custodial sentence compared to white defendants, and tougher punishments.

Groundbreaking research by the Sentencing Council last year revealed how Black and minority ethnic offenders are far more likely to be sent to prison for drug offences than other defendants.

The study found that the odds of a Black offender receiving an immediate custodial sentence were 1.4 times the odds for a comparable white offender.

For Asian offenders and those in the designated “other” ethnic group, the odds were even higher at 1.5 times.

Covid lays bare health inequalities

The consequences of white privilege are felt throughout all aspects of our social lives.

In terms of healthcare, white people experience better access compared to minority groups.

During the Covid-19 pandemic one of the most shocking outcomes has been the disproportionate rates of Covid-19 and worse health outcomes, including death rates, amongst ethnic minorities.

In a story that went viral across America, a Black medical doctor being treated for Covid detailed how her white doctor constantly downplayed her complaints of pain and said he felt uncomfortable giving her more narcotics.





Dr Susan Moore was discharged from hospital and died from coronavirus complications soon afterwards.

“I was crushed,” she said in a video posted to Facebook. “He made me feel like I was a drug addict.”

“I put forth and I maintain if I was white, I wouldn’t have to go through that.”







Similarly, studies have shown that minority groups are over twice as likely to live in poverty compared to those in white households.

They are also more likely to live in overcrowded and poor housing. Furthermore, Black and minority people are more likely to be in receipt of working age benefits and Universal Credit.

What can be done?

None of this is accidental or unusual. White privilege is specifically used to disadvantage minority groups for the benefit of whites .

We cannot simply dismiss the term white privilege – instead it must be used to understand and dismantle structural, institutional and individual racism.

Its acknowledgement is not enough. It must be interrogated to result in real change, particularly if we are serious about living in a socially just and equal society.

Kalwant Bhopal is professor of education and social justice and director of the Centre for Research in Race and Education at the University of Birmingham. Her recent book, White Privilege: The Myth of a Post-Racial Society, was published by Policy Press and can be purchased here.


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