There's an Op-Ed in yesterday's New York Times which focuses on an Australian study which attempts to identify and quantify white privilege. I don't know anything about the Op-Ed author, Ian Ayres, but I love that he referenced so appropriately Eddie Murphy's famous "White Like Me" skit.
Two Australian economists set up an experiment in which trained testers boarded Brisbane buses with an empty fare card:
After the scanner made a loud sound informing the driver that the card did not have enough value, the testers said, "I do not have any money, but I need to get to" a station about 1.2 miles away. (The station varied according to where the testers boarded.)
And found, unsurprisingly, different treatment:
With more than 1,500 observations, the study uncovered substantial, statistically significant race discrimination. Bus drivers were twice as willing to let white testers ride free as black testers (72 percent versus 36 percent of the time). Bus drivers showed some relative favoritism toward testers who shared their own race, but even black drivers still favored white testers over black testers (allowing free rides 83 percent versus 68 percent of the time).
Disparities persisted no matter the dress of the tester and the race of the bus driver. [ETA: not the same disparity, but significant disparity]
What does white privilege mean today? In part, it means to live in the world while being given the benefit of the doubt. Have you ever been able to return a sweater without a receipt? Has an employee ever let you into a store after closing time? Did a car dealership take a little extra off the sticker price when you asked? When's the last time you received service with a smile?
White privilege doesn't (usually) operate as brazenly and audaciously as in the Eddie Murphy joke, but it continues in the form of discretionary benefits, many of them unconscious ones. These privileges are hard to eradicate, but essential to understand.
I didn't read the NYT comments because I have had a shit two days and can't even with the inevitable bullshit.