THE TRANSPARENCY OF PRIVILEGE | Understanding the Nature of White Skin Privilege: The Perks

October 5, 2014

I’d like to start this post about the privileges that white people enjoy by quoting an excerpt from a book by Jennifer R. Holladay, M.S., called, "White Anti-Racist Activism:  A Personal Roadmap”:


“White skin privilege is not something that white people necessarily do, create or enjoy on purpose. Unlike the more overt individual and institutional manifestations of racism described above, white skin privilege is a transparent preference for whiteness that saturates our society.  White skin privilege serves several functions.  First, it provides white people with ‘perks’ that we do not earn and that people of color do not enjoy. Second, it creates real advantages for us. White people are immune to a lot of challenges. Finally, white privilege shapes the world in which we live – the way that we navigate and interact with one another and with the world.

“White Privilege:  The Perks

White people receive all kinds of perks as a function of their skin privilege.


Consider the following:

  • When I cut my finger and go to my school or office’s first aid kit, the flesh-

    colored band-aid generally matches my skin tone.

  • When I stay in a hotel, the complimentary shampoo generally works for the texture of my hair.

  • When I run to the store to buy pantyhose at the last minute, the ‘nude’ color generally appears nude on my legs.


My father, who has worked in economic development for 30 years, would explain away these examples of white privilege as simple functions of supply

and demand economics. White people still constitute the numerical majority in this country, so it makes sense, for example, that band-aid companies would manufacture ‘flesh-tone’ bandages for white people.


“Even if I concede to his argument (and ignore the ‘buying power’ of communities of color), it still does not change the impact of these privileges.  As a white person, I get certain perks that people of color do not get…  ...that is how I experience my world.


“These seemingly benign perks also demonstrate a danger on closer examination. Let’s say that I forgot to pack my shampoo for a business trip. When I get to the hotel, I see that the complimentary shampoo is not the standard Suave product to which I am accustomed, but rather, Pink Oil Lotion

for African American hair. I would be surprised and might even think to myself:  ‘Those black folks and all their lobbying…this is so unfair.’ I expect these perks.  As a white person, I think I am ‘entitled’ to them.”


While Ms. Holladay uses basic, everyday examples of white privilege, and these examples might easily be poo-hooed as “ridiculous” or unrealistic examples, the truth is that the “privilege” extends and permeates EVERY aspect of our society, and the reason why it can’t be seen by white people generally, is because it is “transparent.”


I am going to use an analogy here to describe how white-skinned privilege affects me as a Black person:


Air is transparent. We can’t see it, but we feel it. Even when the air is thick with humidity, we can’t see it. But it is there. We know it is there because we are inside of it every day. We have no choice but to be inside of it every day. 


Now imagine that AIR is white skin privilege.

The same analogy can be used for Racism in America. Imagine that air is Racism. 



Sources:  Jennifer R. Holladay, M.S.,  “White Anti-Racist Activism:  A Personal Roadmap,” 

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