White privilege has become a very divisive issue in America.

Essentially, it’s the notion that white people are in a privileged position in this country, based on nothing else than the skin color they were born with. This concept is commonplace on college campuses, and unfortunately, it is not challenged as much as an idea of such importance should be.

White privilege can mean many different things. It can refer to educational advantages, housing advantages, and advantages in the legal system, all the way down to simpler offenses, routinely referred to as “micro-aggressions.” Rather than examine the data for every single socioeconomic disparity in American life, in order to prevent this article from becoming a multi-volume anthology, I will instead focus on what many consider to be the most important indicator: income. Income, after all, can potentially change where your children go to school, if they can go to college, where you live, the quality of lawyer you can hire to defend yourself in court, and so forth.

When it comes to ‘income privilege,’ whites are not on top in America. In 2010, the median household income in America was $49,800, according to Pew Research Center, and at $49,445 according to Census reporting. That may sound low, and it is, mostly because underemployment was higher back then. However, even in the midst of a recovering economy, Pew found that Indian-Americans had a median household income of $88,000. Filipino-Americans were at $75,000, Japanese $65,390, and Chinese $65,050. Non-Hispanic whites had a median household income of $54,620 according to the 2010 Census reporting linked above. The Census also found similar high levels of income among Asian-American households, backing up the finding of the Pew Research Center.

Moreover, according to a study done on the 2000 Census by the Iranian Studies Group at MIT, Iranian, or Persian-Americans had a per-capita average income that was 50% higher than the national average. Add to this, the fact that Arab-Americans had a 2008 median household income of $56,331, higher than the national average for that year. This according to the Arab American Institute Foundation. Finally, if you wish to consider Jewish-Americans their own minority, as many do, 46% of Jewish-American households have incomes over $100,000! In fact, in 2013, 69% of Jewish-American households had incomes exceeding $50,000, compared to 44% of the US population at large.

So what does this all mean? Well, for starters, whites, or European-Americans specifically speaking, are not the only ones with privilege. In fact, on average, they don’t even have the most income privilege. Similar data is available for things like test scores and arrest rates for the groups mentioned above. I encourage you to look it up. If American society really did treat non-whites poorly, based on nothing else than their race, how could these groups have found their success? I’ve presented this question to proponents of white privilege before. One response was ‘Asians are lighter skinned minorities generally speaking, so the institutional racism does not affect them.’ Although, as noted above, Indian Americans, who are dark skinned themselves, do better than any sub-category of Asian-Americans. Clearly something more than skin-tone profiling is at play here. But then again, facing reality isn’t something that race-hustlers like doing.

If people want to argue that contemporary institutional racism, or the residual effects of past wrongs committed against ethnic groups with lower incomes (namely blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans) is still a real and pressing issue preventing their advancement, they are cleared to make that point. But simplifying the issue down to skin color, and singling out white students on college campuses as being uniquely privileged, is not something they should do. It makes things out to be simpler than they are, and ultimately, will probably lead to higher levels of racial resentment between groups.

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  • Jens A.

    I have a couple of problems with your analysis:

    1) National median income is a TERRIBLE indicator of privilege, because so many variables are included in that single indicator – for example, using national median income fails to account for the fact that while white people are relatively homogenously spread across the United States, all the other ethnicities mentioned in your post tend to gravitate to urban centers(1), where average income is much, much higher (for many reasons, among them university concentration). Hence, the median income for white families skew to the poorer end, because more white people live in poor, rural areas. Comparing income levels for urban whites to the national median, the statistics change dramatically – national median household income for whites is, as you said, around fifty thousand, whereas in NYC, in 2009, it was $111 121/yr (2).

    So while Iranians, Jewish people, Indian Americans etc. may have higher median incomes on a national basis, it’s mostly because the vast majority of them live in relatively wealthy areas of the ocuntry (cities). Exceptions to the urbanisation tendency of non-white Americans include blacks and hispanics, strangely absent in your analysis here (3) –
    National median black household income: $33,122
    National median hispanic household income: $38,667

    2) As indicated above, even with the poor metric, you pick and choose data that supports your argument. Why on earth would you exclude black people and hispanics entirely from an article that attempts to investigate whether or not white privilege is real or not? I seriously doubt anyone with half a head would argue that white people are the only ones with privilege. (Stupid people argue about things too, but you you shouldn’t settle for clearly idiotic arguments like “asians looking white” as representative of a differing opinion – at least if you want to be honest.) Although they suffer under stereotyping and racism as well, people of asian ancestry are more privileged than black or hispanics hardly anyone would dispute that. Same with Jewish Americans.

    (1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_American#Demographics etc. (these are easy to find)
    (2) http://www.city-data.com/income/income-New-City-New-York.html
    (3) https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/income_wealth/cb11-157.html#tablea

    • Jonathan

      Ok, for starters, the above article didn’t include blacks and Hispanics because it WAS NOT trying to disprove the fact that they lack “privilege.” The purpose of the article, clearly stated in the title, and the last couple paragraphs, was that white privilege is a ridiculous over-simplification, and you don’t have to be white to have privilege. Meaning the phrase does no good for discussing socioeconomic issues in America on a macro-level.

      If what you say about concentration in urban areas is true, then why do Asians in those areas still radically outperform blacks in those areas? Clearly, geography can only account for so much.

      In addition, far more arrests are made in urban areas. Yet, Asians, who you say are mostly concentrated there, are arrested at lower rates than whites:

      As you can see, Asians?native Americans TOGETHER only accounted for 2.2% of homicides, under-representing their population.

      They also have higher life expectancy, and better access to healthcare:

      Look up test scores, family togetherness and more. Asians outperform whites across the board.

      If what you say about urban areas is true, that being located in an urban area skews the numbers, then why are disparities greatest there? If anything that makes the article’s point even stronger. Wealthy areas of cities have far more “privilege” than poorer areas, and if Asians are in the better areas, while blacks and Hispanics are in the poorer areas, then they still life better lives than most. Point stands.

      You debunked nothing. If anything, you contributed to the fact that Asians, on average, live the best lives in America.

      • Jens A.

        Right, yes, I got the point of the article. My problem with it is that takes an incredibly myopic view by looking at one single indicator that isn’t even especially useful, for reasons explained above. Of course there are more extremes in urban environments, but the point is that the OVERALL median family income numbers are higher in cities – by including statistics that add virtually exclusively to the low end family incomes of only one group (which is why I object to the exclusion of black and hispanic statistics, as they provide perspective that goes a long way towards explaining WHY median family income for whites are lower than for people of asian descent on a national level), you make any comparison between groups in the statistic useless. My “debunking” of this article consists of pointing out that if you want to find out if white privilege is real or not, then you should at least use a good indicator – I was simply pointing out that the statistical basis of this article is really, really bad. If you can’t see why it’s bad, even now that I’ve explained it to you, I suggest you take some classes on statistical analysis of demographics.

        You’re completely right when you say geography can only account for so much – but the same also goes for privilege. Nobody is saying that privilege is literally the only factor that affects socioeconomic circumstance, pretending that’s what the argument is about is nothing more than a cleverly concealed strawman. Again, this is another reason why family income is a dreadful indicator of privilege, because it excludes so much of what privilege actually affects, and includes many things that privilege doesn’t affect that much – cultural attitudes towards doing well in school, for instance.

  • P Martin

    A few observation from someone 25 years out of college.

    Indians, Iranian, Japanese etc. suffer discrimination, even with higher median income.
    Outsider status poses challenges to success.

    Key elements of success are confidence, high expectations and the encouragement of your family. (see the article about mistakes to avoid in your 20’s – choosing friends over family). These are not distributed in equal amounts across ethnic groups. For groups lacking these qualities, social institutions are trying to lend a hand.

    For whites who feel persecuted or baited to feel guilty, guilt is the wrong response. Just recognize your advantages, make the most of them, and do your best to support people who weren’t offered the same head start.

    Also, when feeling threatened or singled out for privileges, shed your defensiveness, accept some redistribution and keep moving forward. The ideal future is not a gated community, but something more inclusive.

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