Lately the term Black privilege has become increasingly popular in the world of intellectual conservatism. Black privilege is the concept that there is a set of societal advantages that people of color benefit from, to which other people (pronounced “wīt-pee-pull”) don’t have access.
Of all the benefits of Black privilege, perhaps the most offered example is the hypothesis that Black people get to be racist. They get to say anything they want about White people. They get to have Historically Black Colleges and Universities exclusively for Black people. They get to go to meetings with the NAACP. They even get their own TV network. The entire theory of Black privilege rests on the premise that there are certain things White people can’t do, therefore it is must be privilege. Their familiar refrain always begins with, “If White people did that…”
Every time Black Entertainment Television occasionally raises its profile above the boundaries of Black awareness into the larger cultural zeitgeist, some subset of White conservatives (or Stacy Dash) always finds their feathers ruffled. Apparently the sight of dark people congregating, creating or congratulating without the permission or inclusion of others so offends the some spirits, they feel obligated to put forth the same old recycled, tired argument. Whether it is about Historically Black Colleges, Black groups or award shows, the questions are always the same:
Why do we need an exclusively Black ________?
Isn’t that Black privilege?
and, most importantly:
If white people did that, you’d…
This year’s BET Awards garnered even more attention than usual. Viacom’s decision to simulcast the show on a few of its other television stations, including MTV and Nickelodeon, raised the profile of the show, but simultaneously engendered pearl clutching and heebie jeebies at the thought of blue-eyed, flaxen-haired innocents tuning in to catch an episode of Spongebob Squarepants or Catfish and instead having their eyeballs and souls ruined by the unimaginable sight of Negroes smiling and speaking in complete sentences.
Even though that was enough to awaken the throwers of the Black privilege argument, when Jesse Williams accepted the BET Humanitarian award and delivered a powerful speech that left no stone unturned, Black people raised their fists while conservatives and White twitter immediately set themselves aflame.
Aside from the onslaught of tweets accusing Jesse Williams of racism (because, you know, if a White person had said that about Black people…) there were the perfunctory think pieces that questioned why a company as big as Viacom needed to broadcast an awards show for Black people across four different networks. According to them, it must be Black privilege. Others posit that it took no courage for a Black man to stand in a room full of Black people and blame White people for the problems of Black folks. They labeled it Black privilege, because if a White person stood in a room of a white people and blamed Black people… You know the rest.
I used to play a game with myself. You should try it sometime. There are only two steps:
1. Take your remote control and start at a random channel.
2. Keep hitting the “up channel” button until you arrive on a channel with a Black person who is not playing sports, singing or rapping.
That’s why BET exists. That’s why there is a BET awards. That’s why there are HBCUs. That’s why there is a NAACP or Black Lives Matter movement. If Black people held their collective breath waiting for America to fight for, educate or award them, we would have long perished from asphyxiation.
Maybe Black privilege is a real thing. Maybe there are minor advantages to being Black that white people can’t take advantage of. But if we put BET, Black Lives Matter, HBCUs and Jesse Williams in a pile, and offered it to the Black privilege hypothesizers in exchange for:
- All the presidents until 7 year ago.
- 99% of every Supreme court justice in the history of America
- 99% of every congressman and senator ever elected to office
- Every measurable social, economic and political advantage
- A majority presence in every educational institution
- Every statistical legal advantage in the justice system
- A wide advantage in employment statistics, pay statistics and advancement statistics even among those equally educated
- Ownership of almost every television network, movie studio and major media outlet
Do you think anyone would make the trade?
In fact, what Jesse Williams speech exposed was the opposite of Black privilege. It reveals that even on a night when 965 other channels offer everything from Game of Thrones to college baseball…
Even during a time when the nominees for President from both political parties have alternately referred to Black people as “superpredators” and “thugs…”
Even while every other week another police officer is either not charged or acquitted after pumping bullets into a Black body…
Some people still can’t bear to see us smiling.
Black privilege is a myth.
It is really just White privileged people lamenting whenever there is one thing they can’t get in on, contain or control. It’s like driving through an empty parking lot and complaining because you don’t get to park in the handicap spot. It is insidious greed. It is racism—because no one ever asks why country music, comedians or Christians get their own tv networks and awards shows. Just Black people.
And to be clear, if White people felt this way, or wrote this, or said what Jesse Williams said the other night we wouldn’t need the BET Awards.