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When the concept white privilege first started to become a part of the national conversation, I felt myself bristling just a little bit. I didn’t like the idea, but I couldn’t put my finger on why.

Then I started hearing obnoxious white people miss the point.

“I’m not privileged! I work hard. I’ve been discriminated against!”

I didn’t want to be one of those obnoxious white people, so I have kept my mouth shut about my problem with the concept of white privilege.

And it was true, anyway — all the points being made about the subtle (and not subtle) difference between being back and being white in this country. It’s all true. And it’s a good thing that more and more people are talking about it, understanding it, recognizing it.

We needed a word, a phrase, a concept that wrapped up all of those little (and GIANT) advantages and disadvantages and made it easy to talk about as a single thing.

But I still had this nagging issue in the back of my mind every time I heard someone talk about privilege. Especially when it was framed as follows:

“White privilege means never being pulled over for being white. Or having to worry about being pulled over for being white. Or wondering, when you get pulled over, if its because you are white.”

Let me be clear: I am not arguing with the experience of black people or with the clear fact of police discrimination against black drivers. Anyone who doesn’t realize that black drivers are the targets of racial profiling is either insane or lying.

Here’s the problem: It shouldn’t be a privilege to not be harassed by police. This is a right. It should be considered a basic human right, transcending our constitutional system. Even if it weren’t considered to be so, we do have a constitutional system that explicitly confirms the right. No one should be harassed by police, pulled over without cause, or subjected to any of the abuses that regularly befall black people at the hands of the police for no reason other than that they are black.

When we call my experience (the experience of not being harassed or abused) “privilege,” we are making a grave error — we are expressing, through our language, that my experience is abnormal. We are saying that it is something special that I benefit from because of my whiteness, and not something that is being wrongfully denied to black people because of their blackness.

Does the word matter? I would say that it does. Very much.

Privilege is optional. It is added. It is granted by authority figures. It can be taken away. Prisoners are granted special privileges for compliance. Children are given privileges if they do their chores.

If we call the multitude of tiny and gigantic advantages that I as a white person benefit from “privilege,” then the obvious path to equality is to balance privileges: either grant some to black people, or take some away from white people, or maybe a bit of both.

When we call it “privilege” it subtly passes judgement on the benefits and advantages themselves — as if somehow it is suspicious that I don’t get pulled over. Equality means we all get pulled over. We all get harassed.

Black people get a crap deal in this country. This needs to get fixed. We all need to work on fixing it. But it will not get fixed by making sure white people also get a crap deal. The crap deal is the problem, not the good deal white people get. The good deal is the deal we are all supposed to get. The good deal is freedom, human rights, life, liberty, and the pursuit of whatever.

We needed the concept that we now call “privilege.” We needed a shorthand for the crap deal, a way to talk about the huge collection of problems that face black people in this country.

But we need a different word.