Nick Kristof v. Ben Shapiro – Who is Right on White Privilege?

By PATRICK WOOD

Watch Ben Shapiro‘s argument here. Read Nick Kristof‘s argument here and watch him elaborate upon the argument and respond to questions here.

White privilege. Of all the topics you could choose to discuss with others, this is one of the most likely to ruin friendships and draw frowns and snarls from those who disagree with you.

A very charged political, social, and racial issue, the question of the existence and/or extent of white privilege is a question that easily gives way to strong, impassioned opinions. Strong opinions and passion can be good things, but absolute certainty of the correctness of one side of the argument creates problems. When we are not willing to listen to those we know are unlikely to persuade us, we miss out on the opportunity to be surprised and turned around by arguments we didn’t understand or know before. If not persuaded to entirely switch sides, at least the opportunity to understand the other side and to recognize the limitations and weaknesses of our own viewpoints and arguments is important.

This problem is especially prevalent on the issue of white privilege. So, I encourage all readers of this article to consider the competing arguments of two very intelligent men before I provide my own analysis of their arguments.

Have you checked them both out? Good. Let’s begin.

Ben Shapiro Point #1

Shapiro suggests that the bias against people of color by law enforcement and the criminal justice system is imagined, and there is no evidence of white privilege to be found in these fields.

To bolster this argument, Shapiro begins by pointing out that more white people are killed by police than black people, and that police are less likely to kill black individuals in the same circumstances.

Next, Shapiro addressed alleged racial profiling while speeding. A study conducted in New Jersey found that black people sped disproportionately compared with other races. Moreover, while black individuals constituted 25% of all the people speeding, they only made up 23% of all the people getting speeding tickets.

Finally, Shapiro addressed the sentencing disparity between crack and powdered cocaine, which is often used to argue the existence of white privilege because possession of a drug more frequently used by white people (powdered cocaine) leads to more lenient sentences. Shapiro says that the reason the disparity exists is because black legislators in inner cities pushed for harsher punishment for crack cocaine because they felt pressured to keep people from selling and using crack in their communities.

My take: While these are all interesting points, I find this to be the least persuasive part of Shapiro’s talk. To begin, while black individuals may speed more frequently than white people, there is no significant difference in the rates of marijuana use by whites and blacks, yet black individuals are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for it.

Furthermore, even if black people aren’t receiving a disproportionate number of speeding tickets, this does nothing to disprove notions that police officers will occasionally pull over black drivers for little or no reason (even if these encounters don’t result in speeding tickets).

Even the conservative-leaning Wall Street Journal reports that prison sentences of black men were nearly 20% longer than those of white men for similar crimes in recent years.

Prosecutors are almost twice as likely to bring charges carrying mandatory minimums against a black defendant as a white defendant committing the same crime under the same circumstances and with an identical prior criminal history.

Shapiro Point #2

Shapiro argues there is no white privilege when it comes to university admissions, saying “If it’s white privilege to sit on the side because you can’t go to college because the black guy took your spot [even though] he had a lower SAT score – and it didn’t matter that he grew up rich and you grew up poor – if that’s white privilege, then nobody would want to be a member of the white privileged class.”

I am in agreement with Mr. Shapiro on this point. Whites are at an obvious disadvantage when it comes to university admissions. This is why white prospective law students all across the country “prefer not to disclose race” on the demographic section of their applications. Mr. Shapiro raises an incredibly important point when he mentions that the affluent black student is more likely to be accepted than the white student who has struggled in a low-income family in a rough neighborhood with poor public schooling. It is my view that the affirmative action programs used by universities should be based solely on the applicant’s socio-economic background and should be race-blind. This preserves the system as more of a meritocracy, while taking into account that students from poorer areas with less educated parents may struggle more to get the same grades and other achievements as students from more well-off families.

Nicholas Kristof Point #1

To illustrate the disparate conditions of whites and blacks in America, Kristof opens with some facts relating to the races’ respective economic standing. He reports that the net worth of the average black household in the United States is $6,314, compared with $110,500 for the average white household, and points out that the black-white income gap is roughly 40 percent greater today than it was in 1967.

These figures are shocking and difficult to believe, but the statistic that the value of a white person’s home is on average 18 times greater than that of a black person originates directly from U.S. Census data.

Although black households make less income than white households, that does not entirely explain this difference in wealth. Indeed, even when blacks and Latinos are earning the same salaries as white people, they aren’t accumulating as much wealth.

There are significant differences in saving and investing behavior among the races. Some research has suggested reluctance to invest on the part of African Americans may be related to culture and the fact that previous generations of African Americans were less experienced in investing in stock and mutual funds than whites. This does not necessarily show any prejudice or force working against dark-skinned people at present.

Kristof Point #2

In his Facebook video, Kristof is asked if conscious decisions to promote racial diversity in a company’s workforce may pose a threat to its meritocratic nature. He responds that it probably does not, depending on what measures are taken. He goes on to say that studies on decision-making have shown that the best decisions are made “not by a pool of the most qualified people, but by the more diverse pool and people with more diverse experiences.”

I would really like to see these studies. It seems counter-intuitive that the most qualified group of people is not the one to make the best decision. Without seeing these studies it is hard for me to say more. I came into Mr. Kristof’s video believing merit was far more important than diversity, but perhaps it is diversity that yields better results.

Conclusion

Even Ben Shapiro acknowledges that America has a deeply racist past. This is important to recognize as we try to make sense of the present. It is my view that a large part of the economic disparities between whites and blacks are the result of this past system of forced inequality. The side-effects of this are unquestionably lingering, but whether whites still unconsciously hold up this system to rise above blacks as the racial hegemon invites debate.

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