The Southern Poverty Law Center defines white privilege, sometimes referred to as white skin privilege, as "a transparent preference for whiteness that saturates our society".
"White skin privilege serves several functions," the SLPC states. "First, it provides white people with 'perks' that we do not earn and that people of color do not enjoy. Second, it creates real advantages for us. White people are immune to a lot of challenges. Finally, white privilege shapes the world in which we live—the way that we navigate and interact with one another and with the world."
This week, the New York Times published Yale law professor Ian Ayres's observations on white privilege. He cited how University of Queensland researchers sent 29 young adults of different ethnic groups and genders onto buses with empty fare cards.
"Bus drivers were twice as willing to let white testers ride free as black testers (72 percent versus 36 percent of the time)," Ayres noted. "Bus drivers showed some relative favoritism toward testers who shared their own race, but even black drivers still favored white testers over black testers (allowing free rides 83 percent versus 68 percent of the time)."
These differences continued even when the young adults dressed in business clothing or military attire.
Whites in army uniforms rode for free 97 percent of the time, whereas blacks in the same clothing only received a free ride 77 percent of the time.
"What does white privilege mean today?" Ayres asked near the end of his article. "In part, it means to live in the world while being given the benefit of the doubt. Have you ever been able to return a sweater without a receipt? Has an employee ever let you into a store after closing time? Did a car dealership take a little extra off the sticker price when you asked? When’s the last time you received service with a smile?"
The concept of white privilege still enrages some white-skinned TV commentators, but it's hard to refute the results of the bus experiment in Australia.
It's worth thinking about as we come to the end of Black History Month.