Posted on March 1, 2022

Why Some White Men Are Better Positioned in Life to Recognize Their Own White Privilege

Meera Jagannathan, Market Watch, February 24, 2022

White men who face certain obstacles in life are better able to see white privilege — and that recognition could translate to support for policies to tackle racial inequities, new research says.

White men who say they’ve experienced social disadvantages in the workplace based on their socioeconomic status, disability, age, sexual orientation or religion are more likely than their white male counterparts who had not experienced such disadvantages to recognize white privilege, according to a new paper published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

Researchers from Cornell, Duke and Tulane Universities conducted 10 studies with more than 5,100 people in the U.S. and U.K., examining white men’s perceptions of white privilege in the workplace and their experiences of disadvantages based on a social category.

Ultimately, they found that “the experience of disadvantage can provide enlightenment on white privilege,” study co-author Ashleigh Shelby Rosette, a professor of management and organizations at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, told MarketWatch.

In other words, she said, white men’s experience of disadvantage on one social hierarchy can help them see their advantage on another.

“Although white men sit atop of two of the most predominant hierarchies — race and gender — they are not a monolithic group,” Rosette said. “We wanted to explore how other subordinate identities, and the corresponding experience of disadvantage because of those identities, would influence how they viewed their status atop the racial hierarchy.”

The study defined white privilege as economic and social advantages that white people experience and racial minorities do not — advantages that come about “through no merit of your own, purely because of race,” as Rosette put it. These can crop up in myriad places, she added, including housing, schools, healthcare and corporate America.

As MarketWatch has previously reported, many people in the U.S. tend to deny or rationalize facts about systemic inequality and privilege. Though inequality has increased in recent decades, concerns about it have declined, and many people continue to believe that the country is a meritocracy where success comes to individuals who work for it.