The discussion of what it means to be white during a time when the construct of race is increasingly volatile has rightfully seeped into the presidential race. During Monday night's Democratic forum, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was asked a poignant question on white privilege by an audience member. Despite the fact that white privilege's hold over U.S. politics cannot be overstated (just look at the shamefully small spatter of non-white elected politicians), candidates have often been wary of labeling it for what it is. In this same vein, Clinton's answer on white privilege missed the mark.
During television channel Fusion's presidential forum, Hillary Clinton was asked: "Can you tell us what the term 'white privilege' means to you? And can you give an example from your life or career when you think you have benefited from it?" The question came from a young woman of color, who said she "had long understood" what white privilege meant for her life.
Clinton began her answer with a staple of white privilege: that if not actively looking for the privilege, it can often go unnoticed (especially, of course, by those who benefit from it). She said, "I think it is hard when you're swimming in the ocean to know exactly what's happening around you, so much as it is when you're standing on the shore, perhaps, watching."
The former secretary of state went on to list some of the ways in which she benefited from this privilege: good public schooling, a supportive family, and the opportunity to go to college and law school. For Clinton's part, this is true — according to a survey released by the U.S. Education Department, minority students are far less likely to have access to experienced teachers, likewise placing them on track for higher dropout rates and decreased education quality.
Clinton goes on to say, "I just knew that I was a lucky person. And that being lucky was in part related to who I am, where I'm from, and the opportunities that I had."
Though Clinton answered the question in a way that was refreshing from the usual political banter, the scope of her argument falls short in that she passingly conflates white privilege and luck. Indeed, it was lucky that Clinton was born into a middle-class white family, but there is nothing about the effect of her circumstances that has to do with luck.
It is not mere luck that being white often translates to success. It is not of luck but design that this happens — design from a system that unfairly gives accolades to people born with white skin and money in their pockets.
Perhaps Clinton recognizes this in a way that a two and a half minute sound bite cannot answer. But even if she does, many others do not. And more importantly, politics as a whole does not reflect an understanding of white privilege. If it did, perhaps Congress wouldn't be 80 percent white. Minorities would not be statistically more likely to be targeted by police. And Clinton's site would not have felt the need to release a list of how much she has in common with "your abuela."
This failure to understand white privilege is a systemic one, and a real problem that must not be confused with luck, lest we continue to let some reap the benefits while others suffer its consequences.