The Facts of White privilege

Amidst the current political attacks on White Privilege in the UK it is important that we have an accurate and informed understanding of what White Privilege really is. Whether the attacks be from Kemi Badenoch stating that teaching about White privilege is unlawful, Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, stating that it is a ‘contested view’ and constitutes ‘partisan politics’, or the Commons Education Committee, saying teaching white privilege could be against the Equality Act, they all promote a mis-representation of the concept of privilege. This is a politicised misrepresentation that seeks to conflate race privilege and class privilege in a process that weaponises class against Black and Minoritized people. It also works to deny the reality that the disadvantage White, working-class people experience is down to middle-class privilege and is nothing to do with race.

Despite what the Education Committee Report claims, teaching White Privilege is NOT about telling children, or adults, that they are different because of their race. It is about educating people that our society is iniquitous and is set up to favour people who are racialised as White. This is not a contested fact. It is a proven reality. All the statistics bear this out. Teaching people about White Privilege is teaching people about social justice. So, let’s take a look at the evidence that White Privilege is a fact; the evidence that proves that our society is set up to favour White people.

Let’s start with the education system. In 2005, academic David Gillborn at the University of London published a paper titled Education policy as an act of white supremacy in which he detailed how education policy decisions by successive British governments served to benefit White pupils and disadvantage Black and Minoritized pupils. In addition to his critique of government policies, he discussed school-based research that consistently showed that, due to racialised biases about the potential, attitude, and motivation of pupils, White teachers placed disproportionate numbers of Black students in low ranked groups. The corollary of this analysis is that teachers disproportionately placed White pupils in higher ranked groups, thereby affording them advantages and benefits based simply on the colour of their skin. This is the essential definition of the White Privilege that is currently under attack.

Today, some 16 years later, while the education system and its component assessment process may have changed, the cultural domination of the teaching profession by White teachers remains problematic. In 2019, 86% of teachers were White British. This is not only over-representative in comparison to the work force – 78% of the workforce are White British – but is compounded by the fact that only 1% of teachers are Black African, 1% are Pakistani, and 2% are Indian. These figures need to be considered in relation to the data that shows that 19% of the UK population of school age are of Black and Minoritized heritage. Thus, the cultural dynamic of the British education system is firmly White British, and the combined impact of unconscious biases and White British influenced pedagogical approaches means that it is set up to benefit White pupils.

Clearly, this seems to fly in the face of the data that shows how the education system has failed White working-class pupils. However, the key point to remember in this is that this failure is born of middle-class privilege in that the education system is set up to benefit middle-class pupils over working-class pupils. It is in this that the issue and complexity of intersectionality begins to emerge, some of which I discuss here.

However, as the political right claim to champion White working-class pupils, it must not be forgotten that there are Black and Minoritized working-class pupils too, and they suffer compound disadvantage born of intersecting White and middle-class privilege. Ironically, you rarely, if ever, hear about the Black and Minoritized working-class pupils in the political narratives of today. Given this focus on the White, working-class, let’s turn to some of the mainstream understanding of the components of class – income, employment, and housing.

If social housing is considered a marker of the working-class, then, based on these political narratives, we might expect to see higher numbers of White families living in social housing than Black and Minoritized families but the data presents a different picture. In 2019, 16% of the White British population lived in social housing. However, over 40% of Black African, Black Caribbean, and Mixed Black African/White populations lived in social housing. Additionally, 33% of Bangladeshi and 32% of Arab populations lived in social housing. So, where are these Black and Minoritized working-class families in the political narratives…?

These figures are further compounded by housing conditions in which just 2% of White British families live in overcrowded housing compared to 24% of Bangladeshi, 18% of Pakistani, and 16% of Black African families. The disproportionate representation of Black and Minoritized communities in the data for social and overcrowded housing point to system and a society that is set up to benefit White people.

Let’s now look at income disparities. The income disparity figures below are developed by identifying the median salary in 5 income bandings, or quintiles. In the year ending March 2019, the average (median) annual household income in each quintile before housing costs were paid was:

  1. top quintile: £54,000
  2. second highest quintile: £35,700
  3. middle quintile: £26,800
  4. second lowest quintile: £20,500
  5. bottom quintile: £13,300

The data shows that 76% of Pakistani, 67% of Bangladeshi, and 57% of Black households had median incomes of between £13,300 and £20,500 compared to 38% of White British households. It also shows that 42% of White British households had median incomes of between £35,700 and £54,000.

To further illustrate this ethnic income disparity, only 3% Bangladeshi ethnic group had median incomes of £54,000 and there were 3 times as many Black households with a median income of £13,300 (31%) as had a median income of £54,000 (10%).

A further, stark statistic here is that twice as many Black and Minoritized households (18%) live with fuel poverty compared to White British households (9%).

Whilst these figures are from 2019, they are not ‘one-off’ issues from that year. The same research shows that 25% of people in Black households and 22% of Asian and Mixed households live with persistent low income compared with 12% of people living in White households.

Related to this, just 4% of White British people were unemployed in 2019, compared with 7% of people from all other ethnic groups combined and 8% of Black, and Bangladeshi and Pakistani people.

All this data and the nature of the disproportionate representation of Black and Minoritized communities in the statistics of disadvantage point to a society that is structurally set up to benefit White People; a society that privileges White people based on the colour of their skin.

However, White Privilege is not just structural. It is also psychological and emotional, which I have briefly discussed in another post here and this reality must not be ignored for when I experience psychological and emotional privilege, other experience psychological and emotional oppression. When this form of oppression is combined with the structural impacts of White Privilege described above the factual existence of White privilege becomes undeniable.

Crucially, though, it is the recognition of the intersectional nature of privilege and oppression that is key to creating an equitable society. The truth is that we must teach everyone about White, masculine, middle-class, heterosexual, and abled by society privilege to address inequality and disadvantage in all its forms. Intersectional privilege and oppression is the primary social issue of today that we must address.

Photo by Robin Schreiner on Unsplash

Ethnicity Facts and Figures (2019) https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/uk-population-by-ethnicity

Gillborn, D. (2005). Education policy as an act of white supremacy: whiteness, critical race theory and education reform. Journal of Education Policy, Vol. 20, No. 4, pp. 485–505

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