Jon Stewart Is Right: 5 Reasons Why White Privilege Is Alive And Well

by John Haltiwanger

Last night, Bill O'Reilly appeared on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" to promote his new book, "Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II's Most Audacious General."

It became quickly apparent, however, that the show's host did not intend to discuss the book whatsoever. Instead, Stewart confronted O'Reilly about a completely different issue: white privilege.

White privilege is the concept that white people, particularly males, have a much easier time progressing in society than minorities, especially African Americans.

Simply put, white people are less likely to be held back in society as a consequence of the color of their skin. Primarily, this is a result of the history of racism, discrimination and oppression in the United States.

Bill O'Reilly has consistently denied that "white privilege" exists, and Stewart wanted to change his mind. Ultimately, Stewart failed in this endeavor, but not without making some very important points:

White people set the system... That's what privilege is. ... My point is this, women face this, and minorities face this... They have to make strategic calculations in their lives that white guys never have to make...

O'Reilly essentially argued that white privilege may have existed in the past and that it's a factor in some situations today, but that it's not a major part of modern American society.

He contended that slavery and Jim Crow are dead, and we have an African American as president, so white privilege doesn't exist anymore.

O'Reilly has been persistently defensive about the concept of "white privilege," particularly since the situation in Ferguson, Missouri reignited conversations about race in America.

In his view, anyone can get ahead in this country as long as he or she works hard, regardless of race.

O'Reilly is wrong. Here are five reasons white privilege is very real:

1. Black people are far more likely to go to prison.

One in three black males will end up in prison at some point in life, while only one in 17 white males will share the same fate. This is not because black people are predisposed to crime; it's because police are more likely to arrest them.

In fact, the United States not only has the highest incarceration rate in the world, it also imprisons a greater proportion of its black population than apartheid South Africa.

The criminal justice system in the United States is proof that the fight for civil rights is far from over.

2. White people deal more drugs than black people, but blacks still get arrested more often.

As the chart above shows, black people are overwhelmingly arrested for nonviolent crimes.

Likewise, a higher percentage of young white males have consistently sold more drugs than young black males. Yet, black males are far more likely to be arrested for possessing or selling drugs.

Moreover, despite the fact that whites and blacks use marijuana at almost the same exact rate, blacks are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for possession.

3. Far more black children live in poverty, and unemployment among blacks is much higher.

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 33 percent of black children live in poverty, while only 10 percent of white children face the same struggles. In essence, a black child is three times as likely to grow up poor.

Likewise, the unemployment rate for blacks is 11.4 percent.

The white unemployment rate is 5.3 percent. To put it simply, blacks are twice as likely to be out of a job than whites, and it has been this way for quite some time:

4. Black people are far more likely to be threatened or killed by police.

As Megyn Kelly noted in a debate with Bill O'Reilly back in August, black men are three times as likely as whites to be threatened or subjected to force by police.

Another recent study also revealed that black males between the ages of 15 and 19 are 21 times more likely to be killed than white males of the same age.

5. US history created white privilege: slavery, Jim Crow, Civil Rights Movement, Rodney King, Ferguson...

When my parents were born, whites and blacks in the South were systematically segregated because of Jim Crow laws. Barely a century before that, slavery was still alive and well.

I'm a white American male, and the epitome of privilege.

No one has ever followed me around in a department store. I have never been profiled by the police. People do not look nervous when I walk by them on the street. And my gender means that I am decidedly less likely to experience sexual harassment or assault.

While my ancestors migrated to United States voluntarily, the ancestors of African Americans came to this land forcibly, under whips and chains.

Your life is a product of all your experiences up to this moment in time. Correspondingly, the United States has been molded by its history, and much of it has been defined by the oppression of minority groups, particularly blacks.

Progress is a complicated and stubborn endeavor. Discrimination and racism do not disappear overnight. These oppressive forces are often so ingrained in society that we become unaware of our own inherent prejudices.

The Civil Rights Act was signed only 50 years ago. Thus, African Americans were only granted full rights within the lifetimes of many of our parents.

In terms of the history of the world, that's barely a blink of the eye. The United States is still a very young country when you compare it to much of the globe; we still have a lot of growing up to do.

We have a long way to go in terms of establishing a more egalitarian society.

People that deny white privilege fail to acknowledge the history of this country. It's important that we recognize the way in which the dark chapters of our past have lingered in the present, or we will never move forward as a nation and a people.

Photo Credit: WENN