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Mindful : October 2019
Phillips is one of the leading researchers trying to explain the causes of “privilege blindness.” This is a form of something psychologists call motivated reasoning, in which we perceive the world in ways that mesh with our personal beliefs about what is right and what we want to be true. A series of surveys has found that Americans of all races misperceive the wealth and income gaps between Black and white people: The average white family has twenty times the wealth of the average Black family, but participants guessed it was 80% smaller than reality, according to the work of psychologist Jennifer Rich- eson of Yale University. The least accurate g uesses came from wealthy white people: They are motivated to believe society is fair, Richeson explains, since acknowledging the opposite would be to cast doubt on the fairness of their wealth. Privilege blindness seems to spring from two deeply human urges: to Unearned advantages go a long way toward explaining why white people in the US have greater life expec- tancies than Black people (79 years vs. 75.6), higher lifetime earnings, higher average wealth ($919,000 vs. $140,000), and higher median weekly earnings ($935 vs. $737). And is it really too much to wonder whether the taken-for-granted, rules-are-for- little-people sense of entitlement that white people enjoy might have been a factor in the 2019 college admissions scandal, where it came to light that wealthy, privileged, mostly white par- ents had bought their kids’ way into Yale, the University of Southern Cali- fornia, and other selective colleges? If you insist those real-world advantages have nothing to do with racial privileges starting at birth, but instead reflect your personal merit and hard work, keep reading and see what you think. Born to Privilege “Most whites are blind to the exis- tence of racial privilege,” says psy- chologist Taylor Phillips of New York University. “They deny it exists.” In fact, 55% of white people in the US claim they suffer racial discrimination and that racial minorities enjoy priv- ileges, according to a 2018 analysis by researchers at the Harvard T. H . Chan School of Public Health. Of course, racial preference and affirmative action programs, aimed at improving minority access to edu- cation and jobs, exist. But countless studies have connected accidents of birth, especially race but also sex, to life’s outcomes. Some factors are measurable—think parental education and income (both of which usually favor white people) and neighborhood quality. Others are less so—for exam- ple, the ability to tap into networks of people (mom and dad’s friends, neigh- bors, parents of schoolmates) who can offer an edge and an in. PODCAST Unpacking Privilege Editor-in- Chief Barry Boyce discusses contemplative ways to explore racism and white privilege and fragility with Rhonda Magee, Ramaswami Mahalingam, and Mirabai Bush on the Point of View podcast. mindful.org/pov m brain science 36 mindful October 2019