Most people want to believe that their place in the world is something they earned, either through hard work, preparation, or both. I understand this sentiment. As a native of a country that reveres Horatio Alger-inspired tales of upward mobility, the idea that our status might be attributed to something we can’t control seems unfathomable.
It’s time we get over all that. White privilege is invisible, unearned and can include both societal, material or psychological advantages solely based on skin color. Specifically, white skin. Because it privilege is generally invisible, many refuse to believe it exists. As in the case of climate change, however, science continues to solidly disprove such denials.
Redzo Mujcic and Paul Frijters, economists at the University of Queensland, have published their working paper “Still Not Allowed on the Bus,” highlighting the way unconscious bias favors light-skinned populations in everyday situations. Analyzed in The New York Times by Yale law professor Ian Ayres, the two studies found “substantial, statistically significant race discrimination” among bus drivers in Australia.
This research, Ayres believes, is some of the first to focus on “discretionary accommodations.” That’s important for two reasons. On a basic level, quantifying bias with data can go a long way toward convincing skeptical or ignorant. But, Ayres notes, it can be especially hard to find authority figures blatantly discriminating against minorities, something the Queensland researchers capture. Usually, it’s more subtle, involving the granting of extra privileges to non-minorities, not taking them away.