The Development of White Privilege and Racism During The Slavery Times in Colonial America

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About this sample


Words: 1749 |

Pages: 4|

9 min read

Published: Aug 23, 2018

Words: 1749|Pages: 4|9 min read

Published: Aug 23, 2018

Slavery in colonial America began in the early 1600s, with the first Africans being brought to Jamestown in 1619. However, slaves only made up a small percentage of the population until around 1680, when the Royal African Company lost its monopoly on carrying slaves to the colonies, and ambitious Americans hurried to cash in on the profitable slave trade. From here, the supply and importance of slaves in the colonies grew increasingly larger. From the 1500s-1800s, approximately 400,000 slaves were brought from Africa to colonial America, and this only includes slaves directly from Africa, not counting the slaves born in America (Cohen and Kennedy 59).

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This powerful institution of slavery in America initially began for economic purposes (primarily plantation work), however, by the end of the seventeenth century, slavery’s importance and wealth rose incredibly, it was obviously motivated and influenced by racial discrimination. (Cohen and Kennedy 62). So from the beginning, blacks (as well as other people of color) were seen as less than and inferior to whites. As slavery and the success and wealth of America grew, so did these prejudices, racism, and white privilege. Unfortunately, 51 years after the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, all of these racial aspects still exist in America today. And while this is a major crisis in society today, people tend to think of it as an independent and isolated issue, when in reality, white privilege and racism are like an umbrella that encompasses a wide variety of crises. So through understanding the meaning and definition of white privilege, one can recognize its negative impacts on minorities and oppressed groups in America, such as people of color, women, and the LGBT+ community.

The white privilege and racism that developed during slavery times are still prominent and evident in America today and negatively impact people of color. A group is privileged when they define mainstream and culture, social and cultural norms, is considered more sophisticated, and has the most institutional power, all of the above which easily apply to the white race in America (Goodman 13-15). White privilege can be seen locally, such as in a shopping mall filled with only white mannequins, or nationally, such as with the recent Confederate battle flag controversy. America’s dominant and social norms are based off the white race, which is seen nearly everywhere as the default and “normal”, such as when the beauty/cosmetic brand Dove sold a skin tanner lotion that stated it worked for “normal to dark skin” on the bottle (Dove Sells...1). The white race also has the most institutional power in America, as stated earlier, with 95% of senior management positions being held by white males in American industry (Kendall 2). Therefore, this allows the whites to establish policies/procedures in their favor, and possibly suppressing and denying rights to minorities (Goodman 15).

Going back to the Confederate flag, this is perhaps one of the largest indicators of white privilege and how it negatively impacts people of color in America, primarily blacks in this particular situation. The flag is one the biggest symbols of white supremacy and racism, however it still stands in public grounds all across the U.S. (Guelzo 1). The Confederate flag represents a system based on “the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery-subordination to the superior race-is his natural and normal condition,” according to the Confederate states vice president Alexander Stephens (2). And while the flag virtually disappeared after the passing of the 13th Amendment, it was revived by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s and segregationists in the 1950s, and both groups took up the flag as a symbol of racism, racial discrimination, and segregation (2). Today, however, even with this knowledge of the flag’s history and meaning, it is not unlikely to see a Confederate flag on a daily basis, especially in the southern (former Confederate) states. There has been recent protest against the flag after Dylann Roof shot and killed 9 black people at an African American church in South Carolina, and photos of him with Confederate flags on his clothes and him holding small Confederate flags surfaced (1). However, little progress has been made with this issue so far.

Now that explanations and evidence of white privilege and racism in past and present America have been provided, it is important to recognize intersectionality and the effects of racism on non-racial minority groups, such as women, who are oppressed and are not equal to men in society, politics, and the economy. However, within this inequality is further inequality. The feminist movement really began to gain ground in the 1800s, the same time that another social revolution was taking place: Social Darwinism, which took Darwin’s ideas of survival of the fittest and applied them to society, providing justification for racism, oppression, white power, and inequality. In other words, “[d]emands for women’s rights arose simultaneously with the spread of evolutionist ideas about racial development, sexual difference, and social progress” (Newman 22). This simultaneous development made possible the entry of white women into the public sphere at a time when “new corporate and monopolistic forms of capitalism were creating vast differences in wealth between an educated white managerial class and an impoverished (often immigrant and nonwhite) working class” (23). This matter combined with the heavy racism and inequality that was already in place at the time, meant that all gains made for women only applied to white women. Also, the features of white, European women were what became known as “feminine” and what were seen as beautiful and desirable by men (23).

Unfortunately, the racism and white privilege that developed within the feminist movement in the nineteenth-century never made it out and still exist in feminism today. This feminism that fails to recognize intersectionality and feminist issues specific to women of color, is often dubbed “white feminism”. White feminism is everywhere and seems to be more prevalent than actual, intersectional feminism. For example, it is common knowledge that women generally make $0.76-$0.78 for every dollar a man makes. However, this wage gap is only specific to white women, who earn 78% of white men’s earnings (for the same job). African American women earn 64% of white men’s earnings, Hispanic women earn 54%, and Native American women earn 65% (Hill 11). Asian American women are the only group whose wage gap is smaller than white women’s, with them earning 90% of what white men earn (11). To further prove that feminism is intersectional and race is greatly involved, at virtually all education and career levels, African American and Hispanic women are paid less than white women; and all of these pay gaps cannot be explained away by factors which affect job earnings, discrimination plays a large role here (14). Looking further into this particular issue, Frances E. Kendall explains in her book Understanding White Privilege, “white women hold about 40% of the middle management positions, while Black women hold 5%” (62).

This white privilege seen within the feminist movement exists in a similar fashion within the LGBT+ community. White privilege and racism are existent within the LGBT+ community, and while members of this group are still minorities, white members still hold privilege over members of color. This is exemplified in the casting of the recent film Stonewall, directed by Roland Emmerich. The movie is about the historical Stonewall Riots, an incredible movement in LGBT+ history and firestarter for LGBT+ rights and equality. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, the two people who are most often remembered and credited with initiating the riots, were both black transgender women. However, in the Stonewall film the leads of the movie are white, cis-gender men, whitewashing the historical event and erasing the identities and accomplishments of the actual ones who participated and started the riots (Mehta 1).

Further evidence of white privilege within the LGBT+ community is seen when observing the treatment and lives of LGBT workers of color. Approximately 33% of LGBT people are geographically dispersed people of color (A Broken Bargain...1). These LGBT people of color are at significant risk of becoming homeless, being unemployed, and facing poverty, all of which are less likely for LGBT whites (1). This dilemma begins with LGBT youth of color facing harassment and bullying based on their sexuality or gender identity and race at a school which is often underfunded, under-resourced, and unsafe (2). This can lead to a school-to-prison pipeline and/or hiring bias and on-the-job discrimination (2). This is all especially unfortunate with the information that large numbers of LGBT workers of color are raising children and are more likely to raise children than white LGBT people (1).

Despite all of this information on white privilege, racism, and their effects on different minorities, it is a common counter argument that white privilege is a myth. Adversaries argue that white privilege doesn’t exist for reasons such as colleges, employers, etc. sometimes purposely hire/are more likely to hire people of color over white people to promote diversity and/or meet diversity requirements, etc., and that black people are allowed to say things such as “cracker” but white people are not allowed to say racial slurs toward blacks (Duke 1). However, this is easily invalidated with research and information (such as those supplied earlier in this paper) that explains the white race in America defines American values, culture, and societal norms, while those of other cultures/races/ethnicities are seen as inferior and are less valued. The egregious and embarrassing actions of America’s white settlers/founders are still recognized in a positive light today, for example, with the celebration of Columbus Day and Thanksgiving.

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In summary, the white privilege and racism that was established along with the 13 colonies and America, only grew and became more powerful with the growth of slavery in size and importance, and still exists on a large scale today, creating intersections within other minority and oppressed groups, such as women and the LGBT+ community. Solutions to this issue(s) include a significant increase in representation in the media and various career fields of, and activism for not only people of color, but specifically women of color and LGBT people of color, in the media and various career fields. In conclusion, because the white race defines mainstream American culture, and is seen as superior/better, those who are members of minority groups who are white, still hold a significant amount of privilege over their counterparts who are people of color, whose culture is too often seen as inferior and abnormal.

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The Development of White Privilege and Racism During the Slavery Times in Colonial America. (2018, May 07). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 16, 2024, from
“The Development of White Privilege and Racism During the Slavery Times in Colonial America.” GradesFixer, 07 May 2018,
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