The Most Common Misconceptions About White Privilege

Examining what the social context of privilege *does not* mean

Martie Sirois
9 min readMay 13, 2020


Photo by Matteo Paganelli on Unsplash

Privilege. Who knew that one harmless word might end up being received as such divisive, toxic vitriol — a creation by “the leftist liberals” — in order to shame others and engage in some haughty virtue-signalling? That’s not at all what it means to acknowledge your privilege, but it’s assumed as such by those with a fundamental misunderstanding of what the term means in its social context.

It’s a common (and understandable) misconception. It’s not easy to separate words from all the baggage that seems to come with them. Words become loaded with life experiences, assumptions, and prejudices that each and every one of us brings to them. Often, white folks like myself hear “privileged” and tend to disassociate; we infer notions of those who were “born with a silver spoon,” or had it easy, or never scrapped their way to the top. That’s not my experience at all, we might think. Especially if we’ve struggled economically or otherwise throughout life.

But it’s so much more than that. Time and again I see and hear it. Members of my own race will argue vehemently against terms like ‘privilege,’ but especially, ‘white privilege.’

Why is that?

Well, there are a few things going on. Primarily, the word ‘white’ in reference to skin color creates a level of discomfort in many white people because we are not at all accustomed to being defined, described, or characterized by our race (or perceived skin tone).

Unfortunately, racism was built into the very fabric of American society, and it’s so pervasive, we refer to it as systemic racism. In the United States, white people are currently the majority racial group. Moreover, white people in the U.S. are seen as the “default norm,” or even the “favored” — and please understand, this isn’t me as a person saying this, but rather, it’s the collective mindset of the many institutions that uphold us as a society.

What I mean by that is how us white folks can see ourselves reflected, generally, everywhere we look — speaking as authority figures, heads of medical fields, government, or large corporations; portrayed as heroes in movies, TV shows, fiction…



Martie Sirois

Covering the intersection of culture, politics & equality. Featured in Marker, HuffPost, PopSugar, Scary Mommy; heard on NPR, SiriusXM, LTYM, TIFO podcast, etc.