My White Privilege

Jeff vonKaenel

I came into the world with skin that had a shortage of pigment, that had a knack for producing vitamin D and that with enough sunlight would likely burn. In other words, I am white. And in America, I have white privilege.

Academics define white privilege as being granted an “invisible package of unearned assets” at birth, such as social status, freedom to move about and to speak freely. I define white privilege as “getting away with stuff that would get other people in trouble.”

Sure, I have other advantages. I am male. I am a heterosexual. My parents and I were college educated. I am not fat. I have a comfortable income. I often wear a suit. I own a business. And now, most importantly, I have 65 years experience of having white privilege, so I expect that I will be treated differently. And I am.

When I speak, my words are often given more weight than they should be. I frequently get around petty rules. My technique, when being told of an obstacle, is to remain quiet and stare at the person who could remove the obstacle. I believe my skin color and other advantages often do the trick. So, instead of Driving While Black, I Drive While A White Businessman. This means warnings instead of gunshots.

It also means that at a Kings exhibition game, I could buy an inexpensive ticket and later move to the better seats, while the black youths who did the exact same thing were kicked out by security.

While I am proud of what I have accomplished in life. I know that much of it has come because of white privilege. If I had come onto the planet with more pigment in my skin, my life would have been more difficult. As a longtime newspaper publisher, I have gotten to know hundreds of business owners. Minority and immigrant business owners often have to develop significantly better business skills to achieve the same level of success as their white competitors.

White privilege is real. Knowing that I have received benefits that others have not should make me more humble. While I can be proud of winning a 100-meter race by 5 meters, my gold medal should mean less to me because I started 10 meters ahead.

Similarly, one would hope that a businessman who started out in life with not only white privilege but in addition a million dollar nest egg from his rich parents would have some humility about his success. Obviously, that is not the case with the Republican nominee for president.

Humility and empathy were missing from the Republican convention. The convention was four nonstop days of fear, anger and hate. And white. Oh, so white. The message heard over and over was that Mexicans, Muslims and blacks represent an evil force of rapists, of invaders, of cop killers. They are so evil that we should accept illegal means to wipe out this evil. To make America safe for whites again.

I am white. And I am a proud American. But the America that I am proud of includes all citizens, not just those lacking in pigment. I am ashamed and afraid when I hear these racist beliefs coming from my fellow whites, who apparently lack both skin pigment and good judgment.

Our content is free, but not free to produce

If you value our local news, arts and entertainment coverage, become an SN&R supporter with a one-time or recurring donation. Help us keep our reporters at work, bringing you the stories that need to be told.


Stay Updated

For the latest local news, arts and entertainment, sign up for our newsletter.
We'll tell you the story behind the story.

About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.