Despite there being entire University departments seemingly devoted, in one way or another, to “white privilege”, the arguments for it are actually fairly simple. Once you move away from the purported experience, the claims of psychological hardship and the artistic and trance-like inductions to walk in the shoes of the oppressed, it’s actually a fairly small set and (mostly) easily verifiable / falsifiable claims.
Here I’ll be talking about Inheritance, Education and Employment.
Race and Wealth Inheritance
The Federal Reserve had a paper talking about race differences in wealth and inheritance. Some interesting data relevant to “white privilege” arguments are here.
Rate of and Median Value of Inheritance by Race
|Race / Ethnicity||% w/ inheritance||Median Value of Inheritance||Average of Median Inheritance Per Person|
One way to think about this is in terms of 8-hour days needed to work at $20/hour. For anyone receiving no inheritance, which includes 77.1% of whites, to earn the median white inheritance, you would have to work 79 days. And another thing to keep in mind is that if you get ANY inheritance, you just got more inheritance than 77.1% of white people get.
But even when they get no inheritance, whites end up amassing much more wealth:
Mean and Median Wealth by Race among those with NO INHERITANCE
|Race / Ethnicity||Median||Mean|
So even among those who receive zero inheritance, whites on average amass far more wealth than blacks and hispanics.
But keep in mind Affirmative Action. There is a great bonus in credential acquisition for being black or hispanic. And so here’s a question – would you rather have $10,000, or 250 extra SAT points? The smart ones of you will take the 250 SAT points, which is roughly what blacks get in affirmative action for being black.
The white privilege people will retort a few things on that, however. They will claim that hiring discrimination nullifies any benefit of affirmative action, that the white advantage in job “connections” will trump affirmative action, and that whites have an easier time financially getting the degree in the first place.
Student Debt and Working Through School
One argument that could be speculated is that whites get to just go to school, while blacks and hispanics must face the hardship of working through school. Well, in actuality, whites are more likely to work through both high school and college:
I presented this data in a facebook group where someone posted that black children didn’t get the benefit of a good childhood because they have to work to “help the family”, when in reality whites work more. Humorously, there were several responses saying that this proves employer discrimination.
I.e. if black minors are working more than white minors, that’s because they have to because of some system of oppression, while white minors are free to have their work-free childhoods. But, if white minors work more than black minors, well that’s because employers are discriminating against black minors. So whatever the case may be, the brown people are put upon and deserve some sort of restitution from whites.
Yet despite all of this, white college grads have basically the same amount of debt as black and hispanic college grads UPON GRADUATION:
Now this may seem to contradict some other data you see saying that blacks and hispanics have higher student loans on average. This is true. But they are roughly the same upon graduation.
But the point is that even though whites are more likely to work through college, they end up with roughly the same amount of student debt as blacks and hispanics upon graduation. Or at least the males do.
In addition, there were not any significant differences between whites, blacks and hispanics in terms of how many of them got their parents to pay for their college:
But what about grants and institutional money? Maybe whites get a bunch more money for college. Well, the answer to that is a decisive “no”.
Distribution of Grants and Scholarships by Race
By simply multiplying the average grant amount by the percentage receiving grants from the above chart, we can see how much each racial group gets on average for college:
Average Grant Received by Race/Ethnicity – all types, all sources
|Race / Ethnicity||Average Grant Received|
Once again, very minor race differences. So one can’t honestly say that whites are at some tremendous financial advantage in college itself.
Now as argued elsewhere, due to affirmative action, it is perfectly rational for employers to discriminate against blacks and hispanics given the same credential. This is because it is easier for blacks and hispanics to get an elite institution degree, and with that elite institution degree, to then develop the work experience that an entry-level Harvard Grad gets.
That said, one thing that the white privilege pushers will argue is that non-whites are discriminated against in job applications and don’t get as many callbacks. And they will run stories about a woman who changed her name to sound more white and got TEN TIMES as many callbacks, or other anecdotes showing similarly extreme effects.
The actual experimental data is a bit more mundane, with the white callback rates being from 0.946 to 1.506 times the black callback rate given identical applications:
Black-White Callback Disparities
|Study||White Callback Rate as Multiple of Black Callback Rate for Otherwise Identical Resumes|
Not as exciting.
So regarding the stories of a name change to a whiter-sounding name resulting in a 10-fold increase in callbacks as you may have heard in those stories… well… that may have happened. Outliers do exist. Or it may have just been completely made up.
Lets take 1.5, and say that whites are 1.5 times as likely as blacks to get a callback for a job application. Well, what does that mean in practical terms? I means that a black person has to send out 15 applications to get the same result as a white person who sends out 10 applications. A “50% higher callback rate” seems like a big deal at first blush, until you break it down and think about what it means in practical terms. It means a few more applications.
But let me ask you this: would you rather have a degree in sociology from Yale, but have to send out 15 applications to get the same result as a white person with a sociology degree from Yale sending out 10 applications – OR – would you rather have a degree in sociology from Georgia Tech?
Or to put it more bluntly: the price you pay, as a black person, for getting to go to Yale when you’re really only good enough to go to Georgia Tech, is having to send out 5 more job applications than a white person with the same university-degree combo would have to. A white person with a 1400 SAT doesn’t get to go to Yale.
Which is to say, it is utterly trivial. Maybe 2 extra hours of work. Some may argue that I am trivializing the callback disparity. Of course I am, because it is indeed trivial.
But even this isn’t the end of the story. The study done by Agan-Starr found that, if employers knew about an applicants’ criminal record, then race differences were reduced to practically zero:
Callback Rates by Race and Criminality given Identical Resumes
|Race||No Crime||Any Crime||Property Crime||Drug Crime|
As an aside, the paper argues that “the box”, or the right of employers to demand criminal record, should be banned, because it results in former criminals having a more difficult time getting jobs. But as it happens, asking for criminal record appears to entirely eliminate the racial gap for non-criminals. The obvious “white privilege” retort is that the cops and courts are biased against blacks and hispanics.
But when I heard this, I thought about this famous/infamous cartoon that was spread around the internet on “white privilege”. And one of the panels was this:
I was able to track down the study this is based on. It’s from 2003, and whites with a criminal record were 5% more likely to get hired than a black without one. HOWEVER, they did not control for resume quality or credentials. I.e. the white applicants almost certainly had better resumes across the board.
As seen above, when blacks and whites have the same resume credentials, and the same criminal or lack of criminal record, they get hired at the same rates.
Job Networks and “Connections”
The last real argument regarding employment would be networks. I.e. filling jobs via word-of-mouth networks, who you know. When told that they benefit from this, I think most white people, probably around 77%, would say “what the hell are you talking about?”.
But the biggest problem with the “job networks” argument is that there’s no way to really measure it’s practical effects, to say how much white people benefit from this. And I think it’s unfalsifiability is the reason it is invoked.
HOWEVER, we can look at the incomes of first generation immigrants to the United States, who presumably have fewer “connections” than non-immigrant populations on average.
First, we can look at the Median Household Income of the ethnic and racial groups in the United States in 2013:
And we can compare this to the median household income for first-generation immigrants to the United States:
Just eyeballing the numbers, it doesn’t look like US-born citizens earn more money than first-generation immigrants of similar origin. I compiled a list of these two groups for Median Household Income in 2013:
Median Household Immigrant by Race/Ethnicity and Immigration Status
|Group in the United States||Medan Household Income|
|Central American Immigrants||$37,400|
So we can see that immigration status doesn’t seem to matter much. I put “Asian” in quotes because that could mean anything from Burmese to Indonesian to Japanese to Xinjiang. This is not a slam-dunk against the “work connections” hypothesis, but it is certainly NOT what you would predict if “work connections” were really important.
And besides, the people who push “work connections” never give any quantifiable argument as to it’s effect on racial disparities anyway, they’ll just say something like “85% of jobs are filled without an advert but by word of mouth”.
I have a personal experience of two chemical engineers I knew back in college. One went to go work for a company his dad worked in, getting the job based on his connection, and the other applied to 3 companies and got two offers. Fair enough, chemical engineers are in incredibly high demand, but the one who had to apply for jobs ended up liking his job more and currently makes more money than the one who got his job via family connection.
Of course a personal experience doesn’t mean that this is generally true – but I can point to anecdotes of connections not mattering, while I’m sure the white privilege people can point to examples of connections mattering, and from there make the leap that white people are beneficiaries of these connections at a higher rate than blacks and hispanics.
But what about the gaps?
When you knock down circumstantial explanations for race differences in anything, the believer in biological equality between the races begins to get frustrated, and will say, “Well then why are there these GAPS!? Gaps in health, gaps in wealth, gaps in income, gaps in proportion of doctors and scientists and engineers!?”.
Well, when you knock out non-genetic explanations, what are you left with? If this is the first article on this site you’re reading, there’s obviously a long way to go.
“Let me be clear”
Let me be clear – I’m not saying that if these things were happening, that it would be somehow evil or wrong or in need of “remedying”. For example, employers discriminating in favor of whites is perfectly fine, there’s nothing wrong with that. Whites having more money and passing that money onto their offspring – there’s nothing wrong with that, and blacks are not entitled to any of that were it happening in a significant way.
Or that blacks having more student debt upon graduation would necessarily be something unfair or nefarious. Or that there’s something evil about whites looking out for each other and keeping blacks out of their business. It’s a family business, and race is, in a sense, a broader yet shallower family. No group of people has any right of access to whites.
By arguing that these things are not happening, don’t infer from that that I have accepted the premise that some sort of major inequality is evil and must be “fixed” if it were happening.