Is White Privilege Real?

An analysis of white Americans' standing in income, crime, education, and more.

Photo by Clay Banks / Unsplash

To believe in white privilege, you have to believe that melanin is the key determinant in life.

White privilege assumes that white Americans live easier lives simply because of their race. It completely dismisses one's personal initiatives like work ethic, attitude, mindset, and good decision-making: all traits that exist independently of race. Internalizing the belief that being non-white will result in a low-quality life generates indignance and fosters an atmosphere of “us vs. them.” It makes one a villain, and the other a victim. Besides that, it's just untrue. Here's the proof.

The Context

It's primarily the comparisons between black and white Americans that gives white privilege its notoriety. These statistics are often pulled out of context, omitting base rates, and key group comparators.

“The mere omission of one crucial fact can turn accurate statistics into traps that lead to conclusions that would be demonstrably false if the full facts were known.” - Thomas Sowell

In 2000, data from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights showed that 44.6% of black applicants were turned down for mortgage loans. In comparison, 22.3% of white applicants were turned down. In spite of data indicating that black-owned banks had turned down black applicants at rates higher than white-owned banks, accusations of discrimination were spread. However, the same report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights revealed that the mortgage rejection rate for Asian Americans was 12.4%. In other words, Asian Americans were approved at a higher rate than whites. This data, unsurprisingly, is most often ignored and hidden because reporting it would devastate the concept of white privilege. How could there be "white privilege: if Asians surpass whites in almost every way?

Economics & Income

Many refugees have fled to America, leaving most of their wealth behind and forcing them to "start fresh", from the bottom.

The concept of white privilege can’t explain why several historically marginalized groups out-perform whites today, which is why you only ever hear white privilege discussed as it pertains to black Americans.

Take Japanese Americans, for example, for four decades in the 20th century (1913 – 1952), this group was legally prevented from owning land and property in over a dozen American states. Moreover, 120,000 Japanese Americans were interned during World War II. But by 1959, the income disparity between Japanese Americans and white Americans nearly vanished. Today, Japanese Americans outperform whites by large margins in income statistics, education outcomes, test scores, and incarceration rates.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income of non-Hispanic whites in 2017 was $68,145. While this is higher than the national median of $59,039, it is considerably lower than the incomes of several ethnic groups.

In general, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that Asians have had a higher median household income than whites since the mid-1980s. Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that white men earned 80% of what Asian men earned in 2017 and yet, there is no call for "Asian privilege".

According to a study by Stanford, Harvard, and Census Bureau researchers, the incomes of white and Hispanic households will soon converge, with some 45% of Hispanics who grew up in poverty making it to the middle class or higher, compared to 46% of whites. Furthermore, the median income for Hispanic households rose for the third straight year, increasing 3.7% in 2017, outpacing the 1.8% increase for all U.S. households.

Following the imposition of communism in 1959, many Cuban refugees migrated to the U.S. By 1990, the children of these exiles had yearly salaries exceeding $50,000 at twice the rate of whites. Within forty years, the total revenue of Cuban-American businesses overtook the total revenue of the island of Cuba.


Education is another area where Asian Americans surpass whites. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 23% of white students drop out of college. Meanwhile, only 16% of Asian students drop out.

Whites are 44% more likely to drop out of college than Asians.

When it comes to the distribution of academic degrees, a similar pattern emerges. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 22% of whites aged 25 and older held a bachelor’s degree while 9.5% and 2.1% held master’s and doctorates, respectively. In comparison, 31% of Asians have a bachelor’s degree, 18% a master’s, and 5% a Ph.D.

Put differently, Asian Americans are 40% more likely to hold an undergraduate degree, nearly twice as likely to hold a master’s degree, and more than twice as likely to have a doctorate, compared to whites.

According to the theory of white privilege, elite universities should be reserving most of their spots for white applicants. However, even though America’s population is about 70%+ white, Harvard’s student body is less than 50% white. Moreover, Asians, representing 6% of the U.S. population, make up 19% of the undergraduates at Harvard, 19% at Princeton, and 19% at Stanford.

Asian students are over represented by a factor of 3 at Yale and 9 at MIT.

But it’s not just Asians. Though making up only 0.7% of the black American population, Nigerians are over represented among black students at elite American colleges and universities by a factor of 10.

Furthermore, Nigerians represent 20% to 25% of black students at Harvard Business School, 10% of the nation’s black physicians, and appear to be over represented at America’s top law firms by a factor of at least 7.

Census data indicates that more than 43% of African immigrants hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, with almost two-thirds of Nigerians holding college degrees. The percentage of black high school graduates enrolled in college jumped to 70.9% in 2013, exceeding the enrollment rate of whites (67.3%), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.


If whites live in a society saturated with white privilege, wouldn't they live longer and healthier lives than non-whites? Yet, white middle-aged Americans are dying at a greater rate today than in previous decades. In 2015, economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton published a paper reporting “a marked increase in the all-cause mortality of middle-aged white non-Hispanic men and women in the United States between 1999 and 2013.”

White Americans still live longer than black Americans but while the trends for blacks have been improving, trends for whites are worsening.

While the mortality rate for US whites aged 45-54 fell by 2% per year on average between 1978 - 1998, this pattern has reversed in the years following 1998, with the mortality rate rising by half a percent each year. Midlife all-cause mortality fell by more than 200 per 100,000 and 60 per 100,000 for blacks and Hispanics, respectively, but rose by 34 per 100,000 for whites.

This is largely due to increases in drug and alcohol poisonings, suicide, and chronic liver diseases among non-Hispanic whites.

In Appalachian states, which are more than 80% white, the combined mortality rate from these “diseases of despair” was 37% higher than in the rest of America.

White males, making up 29.5% of the young adult population (age 25-34), accounted for 57% of all drug, alcohol, and suicide deaths in this age group between 2010 and 2014.

Moreover, between 1999 and 2014, the age-adjusted suicide rate for white males and females increased by 28 and 60 percent, respectively. Only America’s Indigenous population had higher increases. Asian Americans out-live whites by an average of 8 years which is larger than the lifespan gap between men and women in the U.S. (5 years).

Criminal Justice & Crime

No Racial Differences In Police Use of Lethal ForceIn a study of racial differences in police use of lethal force, Harvard economist Roland G. Fryer found no differences among racial groups in either the raw shooting data or when contextual factors were taken into account.

In fact, black Americans were 23.5% less likely to be shot by police, relative to whites.

Even when controlling for weapons possession, black suspects were still less likely to be shot.

Officers Display Significant Bias In Favor Of Black SuspectsTwo other studies, both using high fidelity computer training simulators that mimic real-life encounters, found that officers displayed significant bias in favor of black suspects.

Officers took longer to shoot both armed and unarmed black suspects than they did whites.

No evidence of anti-black disparities in fatal shootingsUsing population-level comparisons as evidence of racial bias assumes that people of all races are equally involved in situations where officers are likely to use deadly force. They are not.

The violent crime rates strongly predict the race of a person fatally shot. At a high level, reducing race-specific violent crime should reduce fatal shootings of black and Hispanic adults.

In the case of police shootings, fatal shootings are strongly tied to situations in which violent crime is being committed. According to three researchers, using two years of fatal shooting data across 16 crime rate estimates, the researchers found no evidence of anti-black disparities in fatal shootings, fatal shootings of unarmed citizens, or fatal shootings involving misidentified objects.

The odds of being killed by police gunfire were 3.9 and 4.8 times higher for whites than it was for blacks for homicide and violent crime arrests, respectively.

Large racial differences in criminal offendingIn 1997, criminologists Robert Sampson and Janet Lauritsen reviewed the literature on sentencing and concluded that “large racial differences in criminal offending,” not racism, explained why more blacks were in prison, relative to whites.

In 1993, Alfred Blumstein found that blacks were significantly underrepresented in prison for homicides compared with their presence in the arrest data.

A 1994 Justice Department survey of felony cases from the country’s 75 largest urban areas found that blacks, relative to whites, had a lower chance of prosecution following a felony and were less likely to be found guilty at trial.