I came upon this exceptional video of Tim Wise talking about white privilege. His basic thesis is that the power elites of this country use racism to keep the poor from getting their rightful share of the rewards of this country. He tells the story that I know from Michelle Alexander’s excellent The New Jim Crow. There was no “white race” when the American colonies started. There were lots of indentured servants of European and African origins. The problem was that they had a tendency to bind together and revolt against powerful land owners. That wouldn’t do. So the elites got a great idea: divide and conquer. They defined the whites as slightly better than the blacks. That put an end to the rebellions because they could depend upon the poor whites for support.
The idea is immortalized in this great scene from Mississippi Burning, “If you ain’t any better than a nigger, son, who are you better than?”
As Wise points out, this is still just as useful a tactic today as it ever was. They used to tell Southern whites, “If we end slavery, the blacks will take your jobs!” That’s a powerful argument for poor whites who are just barely getting by. Today the same thing is said about Latinos, “If they become legal, they’ll take your jobs!” Divide and Conquer. That way, the poor will never know what’s killing them: the unjustified riches of the power elite.
Here’s Tim Wise’s brief talk, which is well worth the ten minutes it runs: