Why White Privilege is Wrong—Part 2

Vincent Harinam and Rob Henderson:

Many people enjoy invoking race as an explanation for all sorts of things. It is a shared pastime for both the far-left and the far-right. The media expend vast sums of money and effort to ensure we don’t escape discussions about race as something that is or should be important. This vocal minority of political extremists and news broadcasters has directed our attention away from more powerful causal explanations that underlie group outcomes. Perverse incentives for these two groups have made race a more a prominent feature of our lives.

As a consequence, white privilege has become the favoured explanation for differences in group outcomes among many educated people. But unintentional or otherwise, by attributing success to white privilege, affluent individuals who invoke this mistaken idea thwart the ambitions of those who are seeking success but who are also lacking in privilege. If we want to not only understand differences in group outcomes but also mend them, then we need a more robust and less ideological framework.

The Pitfalls of One-Thing-ism

The presumption that social groups should be proportionally represented in all activities and institutions is a fallacy that goes against key statistical laws. In nature, there is nothing resembling representatively equal outcomes. Grossly unequal distributions of outcomes are the rule, not the exception.

Here are a few examples. More than 80 percent of the doughnut shops in California are owned by people of Cambodian ancestry. During the 1960s, although the Chinese minority in Malaysia was only 36 percent of the population, they comprised between 80 and 90 percent of all university students in medicine, science, and engineering. In the early twentieth century, Scots made four-fifths of the world’s sugar-processing machinery. In 1937, 91 percent of all grocers’ licenses in Vancouver, Canada, were held by people of Japanese ancestry.