Why does talking about white privilege make people so angry?

I find it very interesting that if you post something to do with white privilege in the public domain, it reliably gets a big (negative) reaction. Some people get really angry without giving anything away; others make it clear that they are offended or upset. Some try to belittle it – that they find it so ridiculous that they are amused. Or some simply seek to discuss, debate or rationalise.

Out of everyone reading the post/article, these people are still a minority, but they are particularly active and vocal. Such a quick defensive response kind of makes you think the lady doth protest too much. So why do people react this way?

People think you’re calling them racist

When people are offended by arguments for the existence of white privilege, all they hear is criticism, and they take it very personally. They assume that they are being told they did something wrong. But in fact the only thing that is being asked of them is to admit that white people just have it a tiny bit easier. It is not an admission of guilt.

Admitting to privilege really doesn’t have to be such a big step – and the same should apply to all forms of privilege, like being rich or well-educated. But then I guess that’s the ego at work, clinging like a limpet and resisting humility.

They assume the exclusion of other forms of injustice

There is no monopoly here; you don’t have to choose. Admitting the existence of one form of injustice does not have to be at the expense of others; we can talk about all sorts of injustices. In fact, we must in order to form a complete and honest picture of why humans are like they are.

In particular, talking about white privilege does not mean that nobody cares about other people’s suffering, like poor or homeless people, or people out of work. It’s probably a fairly common pattern that people with other problems in their lives don’t want to hear anything about white privilege because they already feel like they’re bottom of the pile.

They think admitting to white privilege is not constructive

Unfortunately, talking about white privilege is clearly somewhat divisive but that doesn’t mean we should ignore and live a lie to keep the peace. Learning to be honest about inequality will help us all come to terms with it, without guilt, and without rage. It can help us be sensitive to others and smarter as we work towards a more cohesive and equal society.

Needless to say, the other reason people get angry is because they’re actually racist. It’s not always easy when cultures collide and there are various degrees of prejudiced-ness, and degrees to which a person’s stance is understandable (for them in their life and circumstances), but we won’t go into it now…

Right now, all that matters is that those of us who do acknowledge white privilege keep banging on about it until others begin to understand that they are not being criticised per se. They are not being asked to do something earth-shatteringly fundamental or devastating. They are just being asked to be honest about what it means to be white today. And they are being asked to give a small nod of recognition behind them, to all the suffering that went before – not committed by them – but an undeniably important part of everyone’s story.