On the other hand, there may be no more consequential white privilege than life itself. The privilege of being on the living end of racism. The privilege of a political response when death from drug overdoses comes in bunches.
White privileges are the relative advantages racism affords to people identified as white, whether white people recognize them or deny them. To be white is to be afforded one’s individuality. Afforded the presumption of innocence. Afforded the assumption of intelligence. Afforded empathy when crying or raging. Afforded disproportionate amounts of policy-making power. Afforded opportunity from a white network. Afforded wealth-building homes and resource-rich schools. Afforded the ability to vote quickly and easily.
Those who are impoverished and white do not, on average, have to live in areas as densely poor as the impoverished black people down the way. To be armed and white is to be unthreatening.
As I mourned my way to the train station, I was not thinking about white privileges, though. Black death subsumed me, from the Cummings family, to Atatiana Jefferson’s family, to my own. Perhaps we should think less about what racism affords people and more about what it deprives them of?
The inverse of white privilege is black deprivation. Scholars from the sociologist Robert Staples to the historian Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor have used the term to highlight the relative effects of racist policies and ideas on black people. Racism degrades, dispossesses, deprives. Black individuals are deprived of their individuality. Deprived of the presumption of innocence. Deprived of the assumption of intelligence. Deprived of empathy when crying or raging. Deprived of proportionate amounts of policy-making power. Deprived of the white networks where opportunities are exchanged. Deprived of wealth-building homes and resource-rich schools. Deprived of shorter voting lines during major elections.
Those who are impoverished and black do not live, on average, in areas as income-diverse as the impoverished white people down the way. To be unarmed and black is to be threatening.
But there may be no more consequential black deprivation than life itself.
Ibram X. Kendi: The hopefulness and hopelessness of 1619
The night before I learned of Cummings’s death, I hung out with Dad, just the two of us, for the first time in a long time. Dad and a family friend had come to my speaking event at Princeton University. When I talked with Ma about his visit days prior, she happily expressed how consistently he had been walking, how he was planning to return to his personal trainer at the month’s end. “You know,” she said for probably the fifth time, “that personal trainer saved his life.” Like many other black families, we were not expecting Dad to live.
In Cummings’s home of Baltimore, a white baby born in Cheswolde can expect to live until age 87. Nine miles away, in Clifton-Berea, near where The Wire was filmed, a black baby can expect to live until age 67. In Philadelphia, black men live 69 years, five years less than the average of other men, and 10 years less than the average of other women. In Kansas City, a black man can expect his life to end 20 years earlier than a white woman living 10 minutes away. In Chicago, a white resident in Streeterville can expect to live until 90, while a black resident nine miles south in Englewood can expect to live until 60. The 30-year gap in Chicago is the largest in the nation, followed by 27.5 years in Washington, D.C.; 27.4 in New York City; and 25.8 years in New Orleans and Buffalo, New York. In all, 56 of America’s 500 largest cities have sizable life-expectancy gaps between segregated neighborhoods, a recent study found.