In response to recent racist events at CU, I have spoken to my classes about the concept of white privilege, by which I mean the automatic advantages a white person gets by being white. Some of my students are highly skeptical about this concept. They think “white privilege” is a verbal trick to instill undeserved guilt in well meaning white students.
Consider an example of white privilege: the privilege of staying alive. According to the most recently available statistics, a white baby born in the United States can expect to live 5.5 years longer than a black baby.
A black male is about two-thirds more likely to die between the ages of 18 and 22 than a white male.
And during the years of middle age, a black female with a college education is 1.6 times more likely to become hypertense, 2.3 times more likely to have a stroke and 2.4 times more likely to contract diabetes than a college-educated white female.
Careful studies indicate that less than half of these differences in health and mortality can be explained by differences in social class or health related behavior (e.g. smoking or exercise). Most of the health and mortality gaps between white and black people apparently result from the stress imposed upon African Americans by living in a society saturated with racism.
Among the effects of such chronic psycho-social stress are increased risk of depression, deteriorated immune response, elevated blood pressure, diminished adrenal gland function, and higher chance of miscarriage.
Moreover, evidence suggests that the amount of stress inflicted upon African Americans by the strain of living in a racist society is directly related to the magnitude and blatancy of the racial inequality.
Research also suggests that this stress can be partially mitigated by providing consistent trust and social support to those who must face prejudice and discrimination.
Thus, the blissful ignorance of my students about the very existence of white privilege probably increases the health related (and other) burdens endured by black students on the CU campus. Conservatively estimated, white privilege in the realm of health that is the longevity bonus merely for being white amounts to about three years of extra living.
Anyone wanting to learn more about white privilege and it links with racism can attend the symposium on “Racial Incidents and White Privilege” sponsored by the CU Department of Sociology. This symposium happens on Monday, Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. in Benson Earth Sciences, room 180.
Tom Mayer is a professor in CU-Boulder’s Department of Sociology. The views expressed here are his own, and not necessarily those of the Colorado Daily management or staff.