Black American Privilege: Myth vs. Fact

Black American Privilege: Myth vs. Fact

By Allie Nichole

So-called “Woke-book” has done it again: sparked an intense debate amongst members of the online black “conscious” community. A young black woman based in the United Kingdom took to Facebook to air her opinion that African Americans have more societal proximity to white people than other black people across the diaspora, which is a privilege. At first glance, I thought she was trolling to attract people to her page. You know how it goes: someone writes a post so outlandish in nature that you just have to check it out. So, I bit the bait–sue me. And to my surprise, sis was dead ass serious. She was convinced that black folks living in America are more privileged overall than other black people because of some perceived social proximity we have to white people.

Whew, child. Her comments section was quite a conundrum. Folks who agreed with her compared statistics about things like the health care, class mobility and overall resources accessible to Americans with the lack of resources available to people living in underdeveloped areas of the world.  If we are comparing the infrastructure of the U.S.–which has a gross domestic product per capita of nearly $58,000 –with the infrastructures of nations like Haiti or Liberia–both of which have GDPs under $1,000– then she is spot on. That there are overall economic and structural advantages to living in the developed world is a no brainer. With this, yes–a reasonable conclusion is that black Americans are privileged as an extension of the benefits of living in one of the wealthiest nations on the planet.

Being middle class in America, I have a certain privileges afforded to me that people in the underdeveloped world do not. I have access to food, clean drinking water, electricity, seemingly unrestricted internet, stable infrastructure, and a plethora of other luxuries that people living in beneath these standards do not. But then I paused and pondered:

Am I privileged because I happen to live in a highly developed nation or am I privileged on the basis that I am black in America, which somehow automatically grants me social closeness to white people? The racial gaps existing in wealth, education, health, and other life areas in America would indicate that the latter is false. And if black Americans are privileged simply because we share geographical space with white folks, couldn’t the same be said for every black person living a country with a majority white population? Like say, the ones that make up the U.K.?

Everyday, there is a story about yet another black person in America who has been convicted, afflicted, pained or killed as a result of systemic racism. While there are certain comforts that come with living in Western society, the collective privileges that our neighbors abroad perceive us to have are mere scraps that come with a side of colonization and deep-seated disparities. After white folks have feasted on their stolen wealth and picked their teeth with the bones of those they’ve mutilated to achieve such wealth, black Americans are given their leftovers. Thousands of black people are residing in impoverished areas of the country that bear resemblance to underdeveloped nations. Additionally, black Americans continue to exhibit some of the worst health outcomes in comparison to every other racial demographic in the U.S. These realities go to show that privilege in America is not cut and dry–it is influenced by many complicated intersections.

The “privilege” of being an American isn’t felt to the same degree by every U.S. citizen. Perhaps the media has led folks abroad to believe that things here are just peachy for black folks. But they aren’t getting the whole picture. The argument that black Americans being in proximity to a collective that built its wealth and global dominance by stealing, assaulting, and killing our ancestors and people who look like us is a privilege is laughable. 

Historically, black Americans being in proximity to white Americans has been more perilous than privilege-ensuring. The absolute least white people ought to do to help us recover from centuries of institutionalized oppression in is make fair housing, quality education, and gainful, non-discriminatory employment accessible to everyone. Yet, a lot of black people in America are still surviving on minimal resources in comparison to the white people we supposedly have social adjacency to. And if and when our demands for better are begrudgingly taken into consideration, we are expected to be grateful that we at least got something.

So yes, black Americans do benefit from certain privileges that come from being citizens of a Western superpower. But make no mistake about it; we are still far from collectively living the American dream.

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2 Comments

  1. Do you feel that “White America” has an obligatory duty to assist “Black America” up off it’s bootstraps? Are we anywhere close as two presumably diverging cultures to just sharing in some kind of a common struggle within America? Yes, the disparity in police action against blacks vs. whites is there, but outside of that, or is their an outside of that?

    How does Black America talk to their children about entering into crime? I’ve just read Wes Moore’s book The Other Wes Moore, and I wonder why the option of selling drugs is such an attraction when faced with the risk. Who cares about tennis shoes? Obviously, I don’t share the same values as teen age young men, but I never shared materialistic values with anyone, so it is hard for me to understand the attraction to money and things when faced with such risk and knowing the climate of police attitude towards black men or black people in general.

    Does Black America feel the same way about Asians and Hispanics as they do about Whites? Or is it Brown vs. White? Are we anywhere close to being a truly multi-cultural country where people of all shades can live, laugh, work, and play together without one of them feeling like they are the root of all things evil and wrong? If not, then when, when and how can we get there?

    You mentioned “fair housing, quality education, and gainful, non-discriminatory employment accessible to everyone.” Truly there are organizations working hard to get this done, Teach for America, Urban Teachers, BUILD in Baltimore, and many others whose only goal is to close all the gaps. I understand the job needs to get done on all fronts, and I understand voicing injustice is just as important as building the solution, I just wish..we were a little happier with the effort that is being made.

    1. Author

      With all due respect, the conversation surrounding this piece is one to be had between black people across the diaspora about our experiences. There are a lot of questions buried in your comment that could be answered through a bit of research/utilizing the literature that exists on some of the topics you’re inquiring about.

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