An Anecdotal Anatomy of White Privilege:
S. and B. ‘Get Into’ Medical School
Even though white privilege is typically conveyed as a systemic process in which white people benefit, there are instances in which individual white behavior buttresses white supremacy through action. In these instances, action by the white individual is taken to actively use white supremacy to individual advantage. As a result, this arena is one in which that (white privilege) action can be avoided in order to support ending this onerous and racially fascist system. This anecdote has been relayed to me by a friend; it indicates the way in which individual white people take action to privilege themselves and each other. It reveals that these choices actively uphold white supremacy to deleterious effect to the entire population.
S. is a half-white, half-Indian first generation female who embodies ‘whiteness:’ she looks white, promotes this image aggressively, and — apparently as a result of her Indian’s father deep need to acculturate with Western beliefs — shuns most references to ethnicity. Her father is a cardiologist. When she was in high school, her brother introduced her to a friend, B., he’d met in college, a pricey university in the South. B. is a WASP and proud of it. He was raised in the South by a traditional family; his father was a ‘famous’ orthopedic surgeon and his mother a proud homemaker. When they started dating, S. was reminded in oblique ways that she was marrying up and that this was a favor the B.’s were allowing S. and her family. For her part, S. absorbed all of this silently, having already decided that the B.’s were right in their assertion of superiority.
S. and B., the products of white suburban neighborhoods, were subpar to mediocre performers in college, with GPA’s of about 3 (B) and about 2.2 (C-) respectively. Around the time they were seniors, both sets of parents told them they must become ‘serious’ about life: ie, go to medical school. Both agreed that, yes, this was the proper course for people with their backgrounds and pedigree: certainly, doctors were from wealthy (white) families, or those with enough class to at least aspire to this whiteness. S. and her father fit the bill.
Unfortunately, the process for matriculating into medical school requires higher level academic performance than either B. or S. had shown at any point in their lives — significantly higher. At that time, my friend revealed to me, it was difficult to obtain as much as consideration of an application reviewed if the GPA was 3.3 or lower. Their MCAT scores were commensurate: mediocre at best. As expected, they applied to medical school and struggled. They weren’t accepted to a long list (?30 each) of medical schools, most of which didn’t consider their applications at all.
At this juncture, B. and S. already have massive privilege in the form of strong secondary schooling, white neighborhoods, expensive universities, and general family support. Yet, their actual individual performance is still subpar relative to that officially required by the system they want to enter. Repeat: even with a hefty amount of privilege, these two could not perform adequately.
Apparently, however, that wasn’t privilege enough. At that point, both sets of parents intervened. The children were counseled to attend medical school outside of the country, a last resort option which is extremely pricey. These medical schools have been specifically established for wealthy Americans who cannot compete in the United States; typically, they have the money but lack actual performative indicators of success. As per usual, S. and B. took their parents’ advice: the foreign schools were willing to accept them as long as they could pay the exorbitant tuition which, due to their historical privileging and willingness to acculturate (ie, willingness to embrace ‘whiteness’), they could.
During this period of time, both sets of parents started to discuss the ways in which their children could be transferred to ‘reputable,’ ie, American, medical schools. Osteopathic schools (DO), due to their perception as inferior, were out of the question. But both S.’s and B.’s fathers held higher level positions in their hospitals, which included medical schools. Ultimately, S.’s father traded in two very big favors to shift two medical school positions in the university where he worked to his daughter and her fiancé because they simply weren’t able to drum up the adequate performance. It worked.
The corollary — that two individuals who had shown through individual performance actual authentic ability had now lost their chance, was apparently never discussed. Of course, this discussion would underline the massive privileging, the lack of actual ability, and the fact that these two men — who deemed themselves ‘leaders’ — had produced children who, from a factual standpoint, were two functionally subpar to mediocre performers. Apparently, factual material was more than these two ‘leaders’ could handle. It damages their egos, already buttressed by centuries of self-deception.
More than joyful to receive two highly prized positions in medical school when they didn’t actually perform adequately, S. and B. returned to the US to complete medical school in America at a reputable allopathic facility. For context, approximately 200 out of 7,000 applicants are accepted in medical school, and it is uncommon to have an undergraduate GPA less than 3.5 and expect to be considered, never mind accepted. But despite these barriers which would have readily kept both S. and B. out of medical school, their parents decided that privilege was simply more important than performance or authentic value. Presumably, the disappointment they would feel upon perceiving their children accurately allows them this sort of immorality.
Decades later, B. and S. are doctors at a large Southern university where S.’s father now practices cardiology. After he transferred there, he obtained a university position for his son-in-law B. — again, utilizing a favor — and then for S. As the years have passed, he has used all sorts of administrative bullying and finagling to maneuver B. into leader of his department at this university, actions he is proud enough of that they are discussed around my friend. They live in a 5Ksqfoot suburban white house with four children in private school a few miles from S.’s father, where presumably the help they require in order to succeed — active participation in white privileging — will always be readily available.
My friend found it surprising at first that they are constantly spewing racist beliefs when in the privacy of ‘their’ home — language they hold back in public — even though they perceive themselves as ‘liberal.’ Most shocking, they refer to affirmative action as a ‘break for black people’ despite their active participation in the 400 year break for white people known as ‘white supremacy’ which bought them their professions and thus their homes, private schools for their children, and a whole host of (other people’s) stuff.
My first thoughts upon hearing this story is a consideration of the actual performers: the people who did NOT get these positions after rightfully earning them. By extension, a consideration of the impact on the entire population is necessary. It isn’t only these individuals who have been overtly and covertly denied opportunity as a result of the political maneuvering of S.’s father; ie, active participation in white supremacy. It is the entire population. When we as a society allow this sort of cronyism to contribute to deterioration in quality, we aren’t ONLY depriving the individual(s) who actually performed, we are depriving the entire population of the actual gifts that the performer can offer.
The behaviors of S., B., and their families indicates active participation in white privileging and, by extension, white supremacy. When we deprive authentic performers of the positions they’ve rightfully earned by handing them to people who, for whatever reason, cannot perform, we deprive the entire world of value. We deprive the entire world of value for one despicable reason: that those people whose children aren’t performing can’t admit that fact: their children aren’t cutting it. They aren’t the performers. They prefer to deprive the entire world of a stranger’s performance just to falsely elevate the egos of a handful of people: themselves. Ultimately, it results in moving economic resources from the performer who earned it to the historically advantaged person actively participating in white supremacy as a substitute for a real contribution.
An accurate depiction of this scenario would underline that it represents thievery at multiple levels, and that people like S. and B. have stolen from both other individuals and from the world.
This scenario illustrates that individual white people CAN contribute to the elimination of white supremacy by not participating in these behaviors which take from other actual performers what they’ve earned and simply hand it to ‘white privilege.’ Neither S. nor B. belonged in medical school and, regardless of how it may have affected their fathers’ massive egos, both should have pursued an arena in which they were actually able to compete. They stole these positions — and thus any social advantage they may have received — from the people illustrating true ability.
Finally, since these people seem unable to police themselves, it is obviously necessary that the larger society control them. Perhaps, as in the Lori Loughline trial, it is necessary to finally name this behavior accurately as criminal. This sort of white privileging is criminal.
In the absence of any sort of moral behavior, this designation (as criminal) may help prevent this sort of privileging from creating a subpar standard and elevating it falsely to ‘leadership.’
These are the sorts of scenarios in which white privilege can be disrupted by individual white people through refusing to participate — even if it means perceiving one’s children accurately as incapable— or, if one is an individual who is part of this cronyism, to refuse to participate in the favoritism. At each juncture of the above, individual people took formal action to buttress white supremacy; at each of these junctures, then, individuals could have refused to participate.
These scenarios are ones which illustrate that white supremacy isn’t only systemic — it relies on BOTH systemic and individual behaviors. Neither arena should be neglected. In this scenario, individual behaviors could have prevented this privileging and may have allowed for appropriate distribution of advantages based on performance.