White Privilege and the 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary

Hello, Privilege. It’s Me, Brad.

“There are a lot of white people living in poverty in this country, Brad.”

Yes, there are. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, about 8-percent of white Americans live at or below the poverty rate. The above response was during a dinner party this summer. Everyone at the table, including myself, was white. The conversation started out discussing the first democratic debate — the one where Senator Kamala Harris confronts Vice President Joe Biden on his past stance on busing. “There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day, and that little girl was me,” Harris said.

Over dinner, we discussed at length our school system, whether or not segregation and redlining still exist, and if being a kid of color is or is not a disadvantage in 2019. The point I made, maybe not so eloquently, was black and brown kids in this country disproportionately live below the poverty line, are going to schools that have less funding, receive less attention, and therefore fall through the cracks of a system the prefers to support and lift white kids. 

“There are a lot of white people living in poverty in this country, Brad.”

Yes, there are. Again 8-percent of white people live at or below the poverty rate. However, 20% of black, 16% of Latinx, 22% of indigenous people, and 13% of multi-race individuals live at or below the poverty rate in 2017. The United States poverty rate, according to KFF in 2017, was 11%. It is important to note other studies put that rate closer to 13%. To reframe this, the white poverty rate in the United States is below the national average. Black and brown poverty rate is well above the federal poverty rate. 

To take a line of Chelsea Handler’s new Netflix documentary our this week, Hello, privilege. It’s me, Chelsea:

Hello, privilege. It’s me, Brad. 

White Privilege 

According to Dr. Laura Smith, professor of psychology and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, “White privilege is one of those invisible things that white people are acculturated not to notice because if we notice them, we might be responsible for addressing them.” Vice goes on to report Dr. Smith stating, “It’s the whole portfolio of advantages, opportunities, civic protections, and open doors[…] that accrue to you because of your skin color privilege. It’s also a portfolio of absences—the absence of violence and discrimination in your life—that you can look the other way and avoid commenting on directly. That’s how the whole thing rolls along to another generation. You don’t mention it if you see it.” 

Yes, there are lots of white people in America that are at or below the poverty rate, but that statement does not tell the full story. White people have the privilege (even those white people who live at or below the poverty rate). It’s a societal privilege that benefits white people over non-white people, mainly if they are otherwise under the same social, political, or economic circumstances. White privilege refers to the inherent or systemic advantages that white people have relative to people who are the objects of racism. It denotes both distinct and less obvious passive advantages that white people may not recognize they have, which distinguishes it from overt bias or prejudice. 

“There are a lot of white people living in poverty in this country, Brad.”

The comment, although it disregards the social privilege that everyone at the table has it also ignores the systemic advantages that everyone at the table has relative to people of color. And it denotes the passive benefits that everyone at that table does not recognize they have. 

It’s not just Poverty Rates

There is an element where starting with poverty does the conversation around white privilege a disadvantage. In many ways, it’s wrong for me to start there. There is a preexisting prejudice amongst all people, especially those who are white to think black equals poor. Last month former Vice President Joe Biden admittedly misspoke when he said: “We have this notion that somehow if you’re poor, you cannot do it. Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.” Biden meant to say, rich kids. However, due to a Freudian slip, he said “white kids,” implying that black and brown kids are poor. Biden quickly tried to correct himself and said, “Wealthy kids, black kids, Asian kids — no, I really mean it, but think how we think about it.” 

A couple of years ago, The Root published an article, “Yes, You Can Measure White Privilege.” Here are some of their findings:

On Education – According to a 2012 U.S. Department of Education report, 33 percent of all white students attend a low-poverty school, while only 6 percent attend high-poverty schools. In comparison, only 10 percent of black students attend a low-poverty school, while more than 40 percent of black students attend high-poverty schools. The Root notes that black students are more than six times more likely than white students to attend a high-poverty school. The Root goes on to cite a research study that notes that the more black students, the less money that school receives. You can predict a school’s level of funding by the percentage of minority students the school has. The research and data are indisputable; white students get better educations. 

On Employment – According to the Economic Policy Institute, black unemployment is at least twice as high as white unemployment at the national level. They write, “in the fourth quarter of 2018, African American workers and the highest unemployment rate nationally, at 6.5 percent, followed by Hispanic (4.5 percent), Asian (3.2 percent), and white workers (3.1 percent). The Root notes, according to a “2015 study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, shows that whites with the same resumes as their black counterparts are hired at double the rate. A white man with a criminal history is more likely to be hired than an African American with no criminal past.” 

On Income – The Root cites an EPI student that find that black men with eleven to twenty years of work experiences earned 23.5 percent less than their white counterparts, and black women were paid 12.6 percent less than white women with the same experience. According to The Root, the wage gap between black and white workers was 18.1 percent in 1979, but by 2015 it was 26.7 percent. 

On Spending – According to The Root, “It is a little-known fact that the average black person pays more for almost every item he or she purchases.” The Root cites A John Hopkins study that showed “supermarkets were less prevalent in poor black neighbors than in white neighborhoods with the same average income, leading to increased food costs.” They also note a ProPublica study that found “car-insurance companies charge people who live in black neighborhoods higher rates than people in predominantly white areas with the same risk.” 

The Root also cites a National Bureau of Economic Research study that shows “Hispanic Americas are 78% more likely to be given a high-cost mortgage, and black Americans are 105 percent more likely.” The Wall Street Journal notes that “auto lenders have paid more than $200 million between 2013-2015 to settle lawsuits for charging minorities higher rates.”

More White Privilege Stats 

According to ProPublica, Young black boys aged 15-19 are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by police than young white boys. The FBI notes, that black people are less than 13 percent of the U.S. population, yet are 31% of all fatal police shooting victims, and 39 percent of those killed by police. 

In New York City, white people comprise 44 percent of the population, yet between 2005 and 2008, 80% of NYPD stops were blacks and Latinos. Only 10 percent of stops were of whites even though whites consistently have higher rates of contraband possession than people of color. Only 2.6 percent of all stop-and-frisk stops in New York City over a three-and-a-half year period resulted in the discovery of contraband or a weapon. Whites were more likely to be found with contraband or a weapon. Similar numbers have been found in studies of the LAPD, and police departments across the country, according to the U.S. Department of Justice

Speaking of drugs, Black people are less than 13 percent of the U.S. population and makeup only 14 percent of regular drug users, yet they 37 percent of those arrested for drug offenses, and 56 percent of those in state prisons for drug offenses. Black kids are ten times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes than white kids, even though white kids are more likely to abuse drugs

According to Michelle Alexander, there are currently more black people locked up in U.S. prisons than were enslaved in 1850. The United States has 5 percent of the world population, yet it houses 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1 in every 15 black men and 1 in every 36 Latino men are currently incarcerated while 1 in every 106 white men are incarcerated. 1 in 3 black men can expect to go to jail at some point in their lifetimes. A reminder: minorities are less than 30% of the U.S. population, but are nearly 60% of the prison population. 

Kamala Harris “vs.” Joe Biden on Education

During the third Democrat debate, Sen. Kamala Harris said: 

“My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Francis Wilson, God rest her soul, attended my law school graduation. I think most of us would say that we are not where we are without the teachers who believed in us. I have offered in this campaign a proposal to deal with this, which will be the first in the nation, federal investment, in closing the teacher pay gap, which is $13,500 a year. Because right now, in our public schools, our teachers, 94% of them are coming out of their own pocket to help pay for school supplies. And that is wrong.

I also want to talk about where we are here at TSU and what it means in terms of HBCUs. I have—as part of my proposal that we will put $2 trillion into investing in our HBCUs for teachers, because—because—because, one, as a proud graduate of a historically black college and university, I will say—I will say that it is our HBCUs that disproportionately produce teachers and those who serve in these many professions…If a black child has a black teacher before the end of third grade, they’re 13% more likely to go to college. If that child has had two black teachers before the end of third grade, they’re 32% more likely to go to college. So, when we talk about investing in our public education system, it is at the source of so much. When we fix it, it will fix so many other things. We must invest”

According to The New York Times, the United States is one of only 3 of the 34 The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (O.E.C.D) nations to give fewer resources and have lower teacher/student ratios in poor communities than in more privileged communities. For example, during the 2010-11 school year, New York’s wealthiest school districts spent $25,505 per student. The most deficient 10 percent of school districts spent $12,861 per student. In Illinois, Nevada, New Hampshire, and North Carolina, school districts with a poverty rate of 30 percent revive at least 20 percent less funding per student than distributing with a 10 percent poverty rate. The Times notes that only 17 states provide more funding to high-property districts than to low-poverty areas. 

According to EdWeek, Black and Latinx students are far more likely than White students to repeat a grade. They represent more than 70 percent of those involved in school-related arrests. Black students are 3.5 times more likely to be expelled than their white peers. Black and Latinx students make up 60 percent of confined youth today. 

White people are 78 percent more likely to be accepted to the same university as equally qualified people of color. Once admitted, 71 percent of white students receive degrees, compared to only 29 percent of people of color. When they do graduate, black college graduates have significantly more debt than white graduates. 

During 2 of the 3 Democratic Presidential Debates, Senator Kamala Harris addressed the core systemic racial issues affecting black and brown students across the country. An issue that doesn’t just affect students but all black and brown individuals. What she was addressing is the undeniable truth that white people get advantages that black and brown people do not, and the only way to address those issues is to invest in black and brown communities especially in their public schools. However, the issues post debates were lost on many white people who decided only to discuss bussing or worse pretend that our schools aren’t segregated, that white kids aren’t at an advantage, and there really is no problem at all. 

New York magazine writer, Rebecca Traister said it best when she tweeted following the first 2020 Democratic Presidential debate, “Harris directly confronting Biden on busing/segregationists was historic, powerful, and unimaginable on a presidential stage until very recently, which is itself symptomatic of a world Biden is struggling to defend.”

The 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary

You do not have to look too far to see white privilege permeate the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. According to Pew Black voters remain overwhelmingly Democratic with 84 percent identifying with or leaning toward the Democratic party. Just 8 percent of black voters identify in somewhat with the Republican party. Sixty-three percent of Hispanics affiliate with or lean toward the Democratic Party. Sixty-five percent of Asian Americans identify with the Democratic Party or lean Democratic.

Meanwhile, 43 percent of white Americans affiliate themselves or lean toward the Democratic Party. It was black and brown individuals, mainly women, who were applauded in 2018 for helping the Democrats win back the House of Representatives. However, 6 out of the 27 Democratic presidential candidates are of color. They include Senator Cory BookerFormer Secretary Julian CastroRep. Tulsi GabbardSen. Karma HarrisMayor Wayne Messam and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. Twenty-two percent of those who were or are running for the Democratic Presidential nomination were of color. Meanwhile, 39 percent of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters are black, Hispanic, Asian American, or of another race. 

Of the top 5 candidates currently polling highest, only one candidate is a person of color, Kamala Harris. There may be a reason for this that stems directly from white privilege. 

According to a Pew Research Center, more than three-quarters (77 percent) of newsroom employees are non-Hispanic whites. Non-Hispanic whites account for about three-fourths (74 percent) of newsroom employees ages 18 to 49. This may explain why there has been a lot of articles and news reports on how white-working class people feel and less on how minorities feel. According to Columbia Journalism Review, “minority individuals account for one person on the 11-person masthead of the Washington Post, three people on the 18-person masthead of The New York Times, one person on the five-person masthead of NPR, three people on the 14-person masthead of the Chicago Tribune, and one person on the 14-person masthead of the Los Angeles Times.” CJR’s report stated that 78% of the New York Times newsroom is white, while 53% of the New York Tri-state metro area is minorities.

Jelani Cobb wrote for the Guardian, “When newsrooms are dominated by white people, they miss crucial facts.” Jelani’s point is that until the very people who are part of the community are the ones who are reporting on that community, then you’re missing a crucial part of the story. For example, if you tune into MSNBC or CNN or Fox News and watch a white anchor  reading text written by a white journalist telling you about how black people feel, you are not really getting the full picture. A white person might cover a crime involving two black people in a black neighborhood as a “black on black crime,” while a black reporter from that community might cover the systemic racism that exists in that community that led to that crime. When everything we read and everything we watch is mostly dominated by and framed for us by white voices, we will never understand or come close to understanding what is happening. 

So yes, it is within reason to say Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Bernie Sanders, Mayor Buttigieg and former Congressman Beto O’Rourke are at an advantage, because of their White Privilege. Meanwhile, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Julian Castro, and Andrew Yang are forced to deal with the fact that a bunch of white journalists and media executives are the ones framing their stories, their history for the masses. For example, both Pete Buttigieg and Cory Booker are Rhodes Scholars, yet Pete Buttigieg has received more attention around it despite knowing all the statistics that show that it is harder for someone who looks like Cory Booker to become a Rhodes Scholar. 

Following the first and third debates, many black and brown commentaries and journalists applauded Sen. Harris’s focus on systemic racism, yet most in the media called it an “attack” on Joe Biden. Sen. Harris was challenging Mr. Biden on his record. During the second debate, those same journalists said Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s ‘attack’ on Senator Harris’s record as California Attorney General was fair. Shouldn’t both incidences be “fair?” 

Furthermore, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Julian Castro have all come under tremendous scrutiny for addressing Joe Biden’s past record on race and immigration. Each time, the media framed is as them attacking him. While when Sanders and Warren have often addressed Biden’s past record on issues around health care and income inequality and they get praised.  Media tended to use images of Harris, Booker, and Castro looking angry, while their white counterparts were often seen smiling.

Additionally, the media’s fascination with white-working class voters portrays a feeling that the only way a Democrat can win the presidency is to win over white voters. This makes people feel that only white males can appeal to white working-class males or white voters at large. The truth is, a Democrat hasn’t won white voters since 1964 (following the Civil Rights Act). They have, however, won over minorities and each Democratic President has black and brown individuals to thank.

So howcome the media in 2020 still plays to this false narrative? Perhaps it’s because they are disproportionally white. They are disproportionally white because white people get hired at higher rates than non-whites. They get hired at higher rates because predominately white schools get more funding and because less white people get arrested and if they do they don’t end up in prison at the same rates of people of color. 

Yes, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, and Beto O’Rourke are beneficiaries of White Privilege. They benefit from a system that disproportionally helps white people. And yes, people like Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Julian Castro, and Andrew Yang have to work that much harder to fight a system that does not see them as equal. 

Hello Privilege

I have benefited from White Privilege. Despite growing up in New York City, hopping over turnstiles as a kid and smoking joints on a stoop, I have never worried about getting arrested. I certainly never worry about a cop shooting me, or stopping me from frisking me. I go about my life never thinking about being unequal to anyone because I’m male and white. Like Chelsea Handler, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, I and many of you reading this are beneficiaries of a system that values being white over being non-white. It’s just a fact. 

Even me writing this article highlights my white privilege. Every word that I type is probably more cringeworthy than the last. But here I am, privileged and writing about my white privilege. 

Vice’s Kristen Corry ends her review/recap of Hello Privilege. It’s Me, Chelsea, with:

“After all, as Dr. Smith reminds us, “You can process your feelings about what’s hard about it with white people, not the people of color in your life. They’re exhausted. They’re trying to survive.” It’s a truth that Handler seems to be beginning to come to terms with, perhaps without realizing that on more levels than one, she needs a doc like Hello, Privilege much more than any of the people of color she interviews. “One of the parts about being a white ally,” Dr. Smith says, “is realizing that every single thing that you have to say about racism, all the people of color you know already thought of it a long time ago, and they’ve lived it out.”



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