Thursday, April 24, 2008

feel entitled

When I sat down in a restaurant the other day with a fellow white person, the food was good and the service was wonderful. The conversation was too, and so I felt good afterwards.

However, since I try to remain conscious about my whiteness, I also realized that the service, and maybe even the food, could easily have been different if the two of us were not white.

As I’ve noted before, a bad dynamic often exists between non-white people and those who serve them. Also, even today, many restaurants are notorious for providing worse service to non-white customers than the service that white people expect in any restaurant.

Because I am white, I tend to get better treatment in many, many other ways. And I understand now that my racial status itself has helped to make me feel entitled to good treatment. I have also come to understand that being white discourages me from realizing that many non-white people don’t expect such things in the largely white world. Those folks tend to know that because they’re not white, the treatment they receive in most areas of their lives can be hit or miss.

Many non-white people, that is, do not feel a general sense of entitlement that white people feel. White folks rarely realize that their general sense of being entitled to good treatment is a white sense of entitlement. As fair-minded people, they tend to think instead that everyone should be entitled to that which they have come to expect. What they also tend to think, falsely, is that with the exception of blatant, extremely uncommon incidents of racism, all Americans are entitled to the same treatment that they enjoy on a daily basis.

As a result of this delusional sense of entitlement, white people don't often realize that much of what comes to them does so because they are white. As I pointed out with my example above, if they go to a restaurant, they expect to almost always receive friendly, polite, reasonably quick service, something that non-white people have learned not to automatically expect. If white folks seek a mortgage or a car loan, they rarely realize that their race tends to register favorably in the eyes of the loan officer or the car salesman.

Most whites are fair-minded enough to believe that all Americans should be entitled to such things. Again, though, what they often fail to realize is that both conscious and unconscious racial discrimination is still common, and that as a result, what tends to come to whites automatically comes less often to non-whites.

So much of what whites feel entitled to, non-whites don’t.

Some of the people who best understand what being white means are those with “white” skin and features, but a non-white background. Artist and philosopher Adrian Piper, who thinks of herself as African American but can pass for white, has produced many insightful artworks and writings that explicate the ways of white folks.

In her essay “Passing for White, Passing for Black,” Piper explains the white sense of entitlement that tends to come over her while being (mis)taken for white:

A benefit and a disadvantage of looking white is that most people treat you as though you were white. And so, because of how you've been treated, you come to expect this sort of treatment, not perhaps, realizing that you're being treated this way because people think you're white, but rather falsely supposing that you're being treated this way because people think you are a valuable person.

So, for example, you come to expect a certain level of respect, a certain degree of attention to your voice and opinions, certain liberties of action and self-expression to which you falsely suppose yourself to be entitled because your voice, your opinion, and your conduct are valuable in themselves. To those who in fact believe (even though they would never voice this belief to themselves) that black people are not entitled to this degree of respect, attention, and liberty, the sight of a black person behaving as though she were can, indeed, look very much like arrogance. It may not occur to them that she simply does not realize that her blackness should make any difference.

Because this white form of understanding, about what comes to oneself versus what comes to others, amounts to a false view of the world, the social work scholar Ronald E. Hall has diagnosed it with an appropriate term, “Entitlement Disorder.” As Hall explains, this disorder is a delusional state inflicted upon white people (especially white men) by their having been trained into a false sense of their own individuality. The result is a “sense of entitlement that distorts their perception of fairness and impartiality.”

So if you look “white,” you might try keeping your eyes and mind open to how others treat you. And to how you expect to be treated. And to how others know they can’t expect to be treated.

You could start with your next restaurant meal. All you have to lose is your disorder.


  1. Huh, that's really interesting! I've never really thought about going to a restaurant that way before. I appreciate having this pointed out. But I don't know how much I can really stay aware of my being white, tho I do actually try. Love the blog, keep it up!

  2. I have to agree with this blog entry even though I am not white, however, I have noticied this trend even when i sit among white people, i am usually the last one to be asked for my order and the last one to get my meal. But for some strange reason, I end up with the bill in my corner.

  3. I never realized that white people got better treatment in restaurants until I went out to eat with white people, and they got all upset when the waiters ignored us or the food took too long to arrive. They were upset to the point of "I will never come here again," while if I had that attitude, I wouldn't be able to eat at any restaurants.

  4. I just recently started reading this blog and love it so much I'm going back through old posts. I'm half white, half hispanic and can pass as white or hispanic depending on the context. I noticed just recently while dining with another light skinned half-n-halfer and a white ally that we got service much faster than the black family sitting near us. We were so mad! We'd finished and paid before they'd gotten half-way through their appetizers. The black family seemed to be taking it well, laughing and talking, etc. I think the point restructure! made about white entitlement must be true. I was probably far more angry than the family was because, by virtue of my light skin, I'm used to (and thus feel entitled to) fast service.

  5. What a great post, especially the Adrian Piper comment...she really hit the nail on the head.

    I have pointed this phenomenon out to my (white, Jewish) fiance many times. If he makes a complaint about his drink at Jamba Juice or Starbucks, the answer is always, "I'm so sorry, sir. Let me fix that for you." If I make a complaint, they look at me like I'm crazy and then tell me that I must be mistaken, because there's nothing wrong with my drink! Yes indeed, a white teenage barista will actually begin explaining to me, a thirtysomething black professional woman, *why I'm wrong*. I'm subjected to this blatant disrespect all the time.

    The most interesting part of this situation, for me, is that I actually had to point it out to my fiance. Not only did he not notice how white privilege protects him in these situations, he also didn't notice how lack of white privilege exposes me to unkind and disrespectful treatment in my everyday life. As a matter of fact, he had begun taking me to task for being complaining too much, without realizing that the reason I complain is because I'm treated unfairly. White privilege had blinded him to the reality right before his eyes.

  6. I read your article and I do not understand why you feel this way and I would like to know if your ashamed of being white? Your reference to "my whiteness" seems as if your referring to being white as a disease. You did not mention that there was a "non white" patron next to you who was getting less than fair service. So I assume that there was not, and you have this topic on your mind often. We could talk and write for weeks about racism and get no where I personally feel that racism has improved over the years and that every white person does not hate "non whites" Furthermore I am proud of my race as we are trying to correct the mistakes of the past as I am sure are many races. I would also like to add that if your are in public and you allow or stand for this type of treatment in your presence and you only go home and write about it you are not doing all that you are capable of. I am white, I do not feel entitled, I do not have people dropping at my feet because of my "whiteness" I do believe that all races have the opportunity to advance in this country.

  7. kiss1969, I get a lot of first-time comments like yours by people who never come back. So, I'm more than willing to answer your question and respond to your comment, but only if it's clear that you'll be back to read it. If you really want to read a response from me, please leave another comment here saying so.

  8. Sure I would be more than willing to read your reply. I do not feel as if I represent everyone and I am fully aware that there may be something for me to learn here. I think that maybe this is a battle that you may be more familiar with than myself, as I am guessing you have put more time and energy into it. I have a similar battle, for years I have been trying to assist and bring awareness to the needs of disabled children. I also feel that they are discriminated against on every level. Perhaps I should begin a blog as well. I look forward to your comments....Thank You

  9. Okay, to answer your question, I feel the way that I said I felt in this post because I don't like how being raised and treated as a "white" person has made me oblivious to some facts about life in the United States for various sorts of people. I've been sort of fooled into thinking that all people, white and non-white, basically get the same kind of respectful treatment that I do in public life, but I now know that they don't.

    It's true that no one who wasn't white was sitting near me that day and receiving worse service than I was. Nevertheless, I now know that if someone non-white (and especially black) had been sitting nearby, there's a very good chance that they would have received worse service than I did. And again, there's also a very good chance that very few of the white diners around me that day realized that--because they're delusional. No, whiteness isn't quite a "disease," but it does tend to induce disordered mental states, including the "entitlement disorder" described in this post.

    As for racial "shame," I don't think of being white in terms of shame or pride. I'm not ashamed that I'm white, because it's not my fault that I'm categorized as "white" (and it is a mere social category--there's nothing significantly, inherently, fundamentally different about me, as a so-called white person, from non-white people). I do think that the group who categorized themselves as white have treated people outside of that category horribly, in ways their group has yet to make up for. I also now know that a lot of horrible treatment enacted in racial terms continues today.

    Yes, a lot of white people don't "hate" non-white people anymore, but hatred isn't the only form that racism takes. There's also disregard, disdain, arrogance, prejudice, cultural appropriation, differential treatment, conscious and unconscious assumptions, and on and on. And when white people harbor such feelings and beliefs and attitudes and so on, and then occupy positions of power (often without realizing their power)--as teachers, loan officers, police officers, medical workers, lawyers, judges and on and on, or as service industry workers--they negatively affect the lives of non-white people, in hundreds and even thousands of ways.

    So, much of what this blog is about is my trying, as a white person, to understand those ways, so that I can stop doing them, and so that I can encourage others to stop doing them. Waking up to how I get treated differently, just because I'm white, is one, significant part of that process.

    You wrote, "I am white, I do not feel entitled, I do not have people dropping at my feet because of my 'whiteness' I do believe that all races have the opportunity to advance in this country."

    Again, you don't feel entitled because you've basically been discouraged from realizing that as a white person, you are more entitled, in many situations, than non-white people. Right, people don't literally bow in deference to your glorious whiteness, but if they're white (like most people in positions of power are), they tend to treat you with more friendliness and respect. They also tend to provide you with better, and sometimes even life-saving, services. And you probably feel entitled to that as an American citizen, not realizing that other American citizens feel (and justifiably so) less entitled to it, just because of their non-white appearances.

    Yes, all races do have the opportunity to advance in this country. It's just easier for some to do so, especially yours, than it is for others. Whiteness is a wind at your back that you probably don't even realize is there. It doesn't mean that all white people are ahead of all non-white people; it just means that it's that much easier for them to get ahead, and to live better, less stressful and even less dangerous lives.

    Does that clarify anything for you?

    I hope you do start a blog about disabled children. If you do, please let us know.

  10. Yes I think I understand you better now. I am sure you realize by now that I have not read any of your prior writings. I was replying to just the mentioned article that I read,I have ignorance to this subject as I am sure many do. I however have many black friends and have my whole life. I can tell you that none of us focus on this issue and surprisingly have never really discussed it although we have had many opportunities to do so. We are just friends who all face our own challenges, perhaps I would be a better friend if I was more aware. I do remember a time when I would judge a person by their attire. I would see a black person wearing a sports jersey and having his pants ready to fall off (drooping) and I would for some reason discount him as a caring or passionate person. Early on in my introduction to special needs facilities for children the first thing I seen was 2 black men dressed in this manner (I guess it was allowed)taking care of special needs children. And not because they had to (you can tell the difference) but because they wanted to, these were caring and passionate people. I have learned not to judge a book by it's cover well after I was told not to as a student and a son. I appreciate you taking your time to discuss this issue and answer my questions, I do hope that I did not take you from anything binding.

  11. An even greater sense of entitlement is given to white children. I live in a white somewhat rural part of North Carolina. After school and on weekends, the white kids in my neighborhood, get on these ATV vehicles, these are illegal on asphalt and public streets. These kids race up and down these streets and there are never any police called to stop this. I called once or twice because my wife had worked nights and she was trying to sleep. The dispatcher said she would "look into it". Nothing, ever. Now, I wonder, what if these kids were black or Hispanic? I'm sure they would all be in jail!

  12. The truth of this entry made me cry....I am a half black- half white service worker pursuing my nursing degree while raising my two young sons alone. I am well educated, polite, well spoken and try to avoid carrying the opposite of white entitlement. It's all true. The disregard, disdain.... its as though we are not people but some thing that wandered in offending the very air. I was once revealed as a mulatto by a patron, saying he recognized my Obama skin, he proceeded to tell me that all of my attractive qualities were due to my white lineage and what an advantage I had over "the others". It exists.


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