What White Privilege Looks Like When You’re Poor

Mychal Denzel Smith, The Nation, May 22, 2014

Inevitably, when you talk about white privilege someone will ask the question, “What about poor white people? What privilege do they have?”


This week, the House Appropriations Committe released a draft of the 2015 Agriculture Appropriations bill. In it, $27 million is budgeted for a pilot program aimed at reducing child hunger in rural areas. “Sounds innocuous enough,” writes MSNBC’s Ned Resnikoff, “except the $27 million program was actually the committee’s substitute for a White House proposal which would have allocated $30 million to child hunger across urban and rural areas.”

Resnikoff goes on to point out that this doesn’t mean children in urban areas will be completely left out of hunger reducing programs, as the “federal government spends hundreds of millions of dollars on the Summer Food Service Program, which provides meals to low-income children when school is not in session and they don’t have access to free or reduced school lunch,” and that there are specific challenges that face rural areas with regards to food insecurity. However, “the House committee’s proposal is likely to help fewer people of color than the White House proposal. And while rural areas may be unique in terms of the challenges they face, they’re not where most of America’s hungry are concentrated.”

They’re also among the whitest. “The Appalachian region,” which is where this money would go, writes Talking Points Memo’s Sahil Kapur, “is also more white (83.5 percent) than the United States overall (63.7 percent), according to the Appalachian Regional Commission–and much more so than urban areas, which have a disproportionately high share of minorities.”

{snip} The seeming indifference toward black poverty, played out in their actions as elected officials, reflects the privileging of whiteness. It is indecent that any person go hungry, particularly in a country of such abundance. It is indecent to determine that some of those people are more worthy of our investment in their being fed than others. It is indecent to then pretend as if that’s not the case. All these indecencies add up to an injustice. We are a country that practices injustice as a way of life.

Yes, you can be poor and white and still benefit from white supremacy. That’s what privilege is.


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