It’s Time for Bill O’Reilly to Get Real about White Privilege

It’s time for white America to get real about white privilege. Last night, Bill O’Reilly came from back vacation early to host a special edition of “The Factor”, one that he said would “tell the truth” about what’s going on in Ferguson, Missouri.

Right off the bat, it was obvious that Bill was really, really mad about how he people he calls “race agitators” are using events in Ferguson to drive their “agenda.” But he really lost his cool after playing a clip from Monday of MSNBC contributor Michelle Bernard saying there is a “war on black boys” in this country.

With the help of his video editors, Bill made Michelle Bernard’s comments look pretty damning. Obviously, black people aren’t only getting killed by the cops. They're also not the only race of people who experience police violence, so it’d be ridiculous for Bernard to make it seem like they are. But the thing is, Michelle Bernard wasn’t just talking about cops killing young black men. If you watch the full, unedited clip of her remarks, you’ll see that she was talking about the shooting of Michael Brown in the larger context of a social system that devalues the lives of black people.

What Bill O’Reilly doesn’t get, and what, frankly, most white people don’t get, is that the shooting of Michael Brown, and the killing by law enforcement of other young black men like him, didn’t happen in a vacuum. It happened in a country with a huge white privilege problem.

There are many ways of defining white privilege, but at its core it’s a system of social relations that gives white people an inborn advantage over people of other races simply because of the color of their skin.

White privilege is like white supremacy and apartheid because it puts white people at the top of society, but it’s more subtle than both of those systems, which use explicit racism like Jim Crow laws to oppress people who aren’t white. What really makes white privilege so problematic - and what makes it so difficult for most white people to understand - is that the single biggest part of white privilege is that it gives white people the luxury of never having to worry about the fact that they are white.

As feminist scholar Peggy McIntosh puts it, “White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.” Because white people are born carrying that invisible knapsack, they usually don't even know they have it. White people don’t worry about getting pulled over on the highway because of the color of their skin - it doesn't even occur to them. We don’t worry about getting denied a mortgage just because of the color of our skin, and, for the most part, we don’t ever think about people crossing the street to avoid us.

The great comedian Richard Pryor said he finally understood what it was like to be white in America when he visited Zimbabwe, where most people are black. He said, “I know how white people feel in America now, relaxed. Because when I hear the police siren, I knew they wasn't comin' after me.”

That presumption of criminality that Richard Pryor talked about is the ugly flip-side of white privilege. While white people almost never have to worry about being treated like the bad guys, black people always have to worry about being treated like the bad guys.

This is why the killing of Michael Brown has struck such a nerve with people of color all across the country. It’s brought home in a very brutal and very personal way the fears that non-white people in this country live with every day, the most powerful of those fears being that the cops won’t hesitate to kill you if they get the chance. And yes, that fear is justified. White people get killed by the police too, but the FBI’s own statistics show that black people are disproportionately victims of police shootings.

Despite making up only 12 percent of the population, black Americans make up 31 percent of all victims of police shootings. They also make up 39 percent of those police shooting victims who are not attacking when they’re killed.

In a society like ours, where white privilege infects every single relationship, every single institution, and every single decision we make, the shooting of an unarmed young black men by a white police officer doesn’t “just happen.” It’s always going to be tied up into the bigger issue of a racial power structure that continues to control this country 149 years after the abolition of slavery.

Instead of blithering about “racial agitators” and lecturing black Americans about smoking pot, Bill O’Reilly and other white Americans like him should take a good long look at this racial power structure and understand how they benefit from it. An equal society is not going to happen overnight, but the only way we can move forward is for white Americans to realize how much they continue to profit from racism both past and present.

If there’s one lesson that everyone should take away from the killing of Michael Brown and the ongoing protests in Ferguson, it’s that it’s time for white Americans to get real about white privilege.


stecoop01's picture
stecoop01 9 years 43 weeks ago

In a previous post about racism, I had mentioned that racism in America is still active, deeply rooted, and growing. Thank you, Thom, for putting a name to it.

I think, the only way to end racism is to teach people, starting at an early age, to control "The Tribal Instinct". In the TRUE non-racist, the tribal instinct is deeply buried, and has no affect on the persons behaviour; in the hard-core racist, the tribal instinct is in full control, defeating rational thought and fueling the flames of hatred. Most people fall somewhere in between the two extremes; I consider myself to be a little racist because I'm more likely to be afraid of a large black man than a large white man. But I would never refuse to hire any person because of their skin color. I'll admit that right now I have no black friends, though I do have a few Hispanic friends; but most of my friends are white. But, my little world is mostly white or hispanic, for now; that may change someday.

Anyway, I know that I will not live long enough to see a truly non-racist America; even with the most intense anti-racism educational programs, it will be several generations before racism is deeply buried (it will never be gone).

Control the tribal instinct and be happier.

leighmf's picture
leighmf 9 years 43 weeks ago

In South Florida there is a reverse effect when it comes to a jury trial. From experience we have reason to be suspicious of police who are building their careers on poor people, especially young people and illegal immigrants or immigrant people they want to deport. We know prosecutors are building a careers of wins to land a juicy job in the private sector. Jurors here see through that and it makes them sympathetic for the defendant side. Too much scandal uncovered about the police and sheriff's departments have ruined their credibility.

We don't just have black Americans here, we have black Haitians, black people from all over the Caribbean, Africans, and many shades incorporatng Puerto Rican, Cuban, Mexican, East Indian, and South American. These are not united people and have more prejudices amongst themselves than the black/white. A Cuban pulled over by one shade of black policeman can be as endangered as a black American on the white man's street.

These prejudices are present in the police force and on the streets.

I am white with freckles and I am terrified of the police here. I would never challenge or not instantly obey a police command, no matter how ludicrous, because I am afraid of getting hit or tasered to death or shot and crippled. It has happened to others.

But Praise the heavens we have running for State Attorney General a brilliant and fine Mr. Perry Thurston. As an outstanding defense attorney, various segments of the black community have in the past stood together to engage his help with racist-motivated charges against the poor. He was elected Judge in our county in the last election, and now he's going all the way to Tallahassee. Men like that give me hope and inspiration, and I was white-privileged to have been deliberately selected as a white juror in a trial where he defended the lives of two young Haitians we could not bear to see railroaded. As I recall, we were an all-white jury. We sent our message to the police and the prosecutor, they are going to be wasting their time picking on the weak. I do like Mr. Thurston.

SHFabian's picture
SHFabian 9 years 43 weeks ago

America has a poverty crisis as a direct result of policies chosen over the past 30+ years. Most of our poor are women, and most of these are white. Hunger hurts as much for white people as it does for black poeople, homelessness is as terrifying, joblessness is as hopeless. These masses of people -- sometimes referred to as "white trash" by fellow Americans of all races -- might dispute any claims about "white privilege." The one advantage they do have is that they are usually able to avoid police. It's a bit weird to hear discussions by those who appear to be utterly oblivious to white poverty.

leighmf's picture
leighmf 9 years 43 weeks ago

Mel Gibson, Paris Hilton, Brittney Spears, Martin Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, Nicholas Cage, Khloe Kardashian, Sean Penn, and Martha Stewart were not able to avoid the police, to name a few rich, white, and famous people who have been arrested.

The term "white trash" was in the south used by impoverished people who nevertheless made a distinction between being honest poor and being too lazy to even grow a patch of potatoes and a row of corn. "White trash" get likkered up and go shooting off rifles in the peace of the mountains on Sunday. Instead of chopping firewood from their own trees, they throw their furniture into the fireplace when it gets cold. "White trash" come begging at the doors of the white poor in winter who worked all summer and spring to grow and put up their winter food supplies. This is what the term meant to poor farmers in the south. Even the white poor have a class system.

In any case, "It is not what a man has, it is what he is."

and, "It is not that which goes into a man's stomach that defiles him, it is what comes out of his mouth, because what comes out of his mouth shows what is in his heart."

John Pranke's picture
John Pranke 9 years 43 weeks ago

Being clueless about white privilege is a big part of white privilege. Being aware of it is a tiny step forward to understanding it. I can't walk in another persons shoes but it doesn't mean I shouldn't try.

Craig Bush's picture
Craig Bush 9 years 43 weeks ago

We must include in this discussion the human genome study and our unique likeness. Over $10 billion spent on this study and very little review from our genetic theorists? We know now that we are all 99.98% identical. Recently, in Santa Cruz from the UCSC genetic research dept. they discovered all homo sapiens (us) shares an identical strand of human genome. This proves there is no species differentiation among humans.

There are no white people. Just a group of humans with fewer melanin in their skin cells. That's it. Nothing special about that at all. Oh, I get it. That is why our unique likeness is not being taught in our schools. Truth is being stonewalled by bigots much the same way as the Stokes trial and Darwin's theory of evolution.

The discovery of our unique likeness should be treated as the most important social epiphany of this century. We must begin educating the next generation this truth with lesson planning as early as 4th grade. One day we will all understand that we are created equal.

N Z Sarah's picture
N Z Sarah 9 years 43 weeks ago

Dr. Andrew Wakefield, once again, exposes and documents CDC malfeasance. Watch Video

Excerpt rom Mike Adams on the cover up: “Today I can report that I now have in my possession CDC documents which prove beyond any doubt that the former head of the CDC, Dr. Julie Gerberding, actively participated in willful scientific fraud in order to bury clinical evidence linking the MMR vaccine to a 340% increase in autism among African-American children”. Read more...

Breaking: autism, MMR vaccine, CDC cover-up (excerpts from
By Jon Rappoport
August 20, 2014

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 9 years 43 weeks ago

Wow "leighmf", that's quite a story! I hope Mr. Thurston wins that seat. Sounds like he'd be perfect for it. - AIW

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 9 years 43 weeks ago

Thom, telling Bill O’Reilley to get real about anything seems almost laughable. Especially anything that pertains to matters of race or class.

Frankly Thom, I don’t know how much I’ve “profited” from white privilege. I’ve almost always been aware of it. However I’m aware of how I’ve been hurt by it as well.

My family moved from L.A. to Oakland, California in the mid-fifties, a time when Oakland was well populated with black transplants from the south. Their children were angry and hostile. Undoubtedly the abuse they’d just suffered back in the ole confederate dung hole left many of them hungry for some form of revenge. At the age of six, I had no knowledge of racism; all I knew was that I was being verbally harassed and bullied by a bunch of strangers I’d never spoken or interacted with, for no apparent reason. It bloody infuriated me, and my quick temper got me into a heap of trouble. After I’d experienced a particularly traumatic scuffle with some teenage black girls twice my size, my mother finally sat me down and explained everything from slavery to all the current turmoil going on in the south. It changed me forever. From that moment, I was determined not to be part of the problem.

I was punched, spat on and verbally abused. There were other racially fueled traumas I endured through the years, that I’d rather not go into here in any detail because it is too painful and too personal. But the point is, I could easily have become a racist because of those experiences. Instead, after that talk with my mother, I went the other way. But it turned out to be the other extreme. For years after that I suffered what I now call “white guilt syndrome”, thinking I deserved to be punished because of what my ancestors did or might have done, thinking I always had to turn the other cheek and just take all that crap, thinking that if I stood up and defended myself that it would make me a “racist”.

Racism hurts even some of us who benefit from “white privilege”. To this day, it bothers me that my skin color could symbolize tyranny and oppression for so many people. I would give up "white privilege" in a heartbeat in exchange for a childhood untouched by racism. Because racism hurts. It batters the spirit. Anyone who sees my avatar knows I’m not black, but I was deeply traumatized and hurt by racism.

Not all the black kids I knew, growing up, were mean and hostile. Some even became friends. But I’ll never forget those early traumas and I wouldn’t wish them on anyone. I am disgusted by the cluelessness from which most white people seem to regard this relentless, ongoing scourge. If you’re in denial, you’re part of the problem. Sorry if the truth hurts, folks.

In much more subtile ways, unearned privilege can feel kinda degrading. That’s how I have experienced it. “Enjoying” something at someone else’s expense doesn’t feel all that good to me.

What is called “white privilege”, from my perspective, is basic human dignity. It’s not that we, as whites, are getting anything we don’t deserve to get; it’s that people of color aren’t getting what they deserve as much as we do. - Aliceinwonderland

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 9 years 43 weeks ago

P.S. Thom, one more thing if just a little off-topic. I happen to be no fan of Richard Pryor’s. Roughly 35 years ago, maybe late seventies or early eighties, I saw Mr. Pryor deliver the most vile, hateful homophobic diatribe I’ve heard, before or since. It was revolting. Because it was so long ago, I’m unable to offer any quotes. But I’ve never forgotten it. - AIW

Palsimon's picture
Palsimon 9 years 43 weeks ago

While racism is a huge social issue, we have major social and political issues that are even more destructive than the social issue of racism. The best way to over come racism is for the races to protest over issues on which they agree and are more important, and less divisive.

To make racism the most important issue of our times is divisive and destructive. We overcome our tribal insticts when we come together for a purpose. We should not allow ourselves to be balcanized to the advatage of our oppressors.

And we do have OUR oppressors, oppressors of all races. Divided we fall.

Palindromedary's picture
Palindromedary 9 years 43 weeks ago

The whole history of humans has shown a predilection for racial hatreds. People have slaughtered each other just because others were just slightly different. And when there is a significant difference in physical or religious belief it doesn't take much to set them off against one another. Indian tribes in the Americas were slaughtering each other. Europeans could never really get along very well always fighting each other. Southeast Asians would constantly kill each other. All over the world over the whole history of the world people were seeing each other as different somehow. Yes, some of it had to do with trying to steal what others had but seeing each other as different helped to justify their atrocities against each other. Even, according to the Bible: "God" told Moses to send down unto the land of Canaan an army to kill every man and man child and to take the young girls as concubines. Steal their land and possessions. Even the blacks, taken as slaves from Africa, were previously killing off other tribes and taking their own slaves.

The movie Apocaloyto" was an interesting movie that portrayed how the Mayans had enslaved other Indians and even had ritualistic sacrifices to appease the gods.

Palindromedary's picture
Palindromedary 9 years 43 weeks ago

Craig Bush:

Quote science magazine:... chimps and bonobos are two species of chimpanzees that are close enough to humans to share 99.6% of their DNA.
...the ancestors of humans split from the ancestor of bonobos and chimps more than 4 million years ago...

Quote popular science:Once upon a time in the 1960s, scientists thought the human genome might contain as many as 2 million genes, units of DNA that code for proteins. But ever since then, the estimated number has been steadily shrinking. A new study suggests that the human genome could contain as few as 19,000 protein-coding genes, fewer than nematode worms.
Quote craig bush: Truth is being stonewalled by bigots much the same way as the Stokes trial and Darwin's theory of evolution.
Most bigots just can't stand the idea that they evolved from monkeys and that Darwin's theory of evolution is correct. Most of those deep South thumpers (and many can now be found interspersed throughout the nation) are really big into segregation based on race thinking their white asses are better than the blacks. A lot of it is based upon their ridiculous religious beliefs and they have a long history of using those religious beliefs to justify their racial hatreds of blacks. It wasn't atheists who put on white hooded sheets and put up those burning crosses. The real bigots are not of those who believe we have evolved from lower forms of animals...the real ones are the one's who believe the ridiculous story of Adam and Eve...creationism...and who believe themselves superior to blacks. Not that atheists couldn't be bigoted as well...but there has to be far fewer just because of the fact that they are the minority in the US. I've heard far more bible-spouting believers make condescending remarks about blacks than I've heard from atheists. What I don't get is why do the exploited always take up the belief systems of their exploiters. Do they not see how it is not really in their interests to do so unless it is purely from a standpoint of trying to assimilate and hopefully, yet failing in that endeavor, to gain respect and equality.

bentley72's picture
bentley72 9 years 43 weeks ago

I believe that what's going on in Fergeson is not Racist, it's Bigotry. Most people don't even know the difference. It has nothing to do with skin color, it has to do with culture. There is a violent culture inherent in Americas urban youth. Bill O'Riely is right when he says that the biggest cause of this is lack of parenting. Particularly the lack of fathers in the urban family's. These young men grow up angry and gravitate to violence. It is not Racist to disagree with ones culture, that is Bigotry. So, myself and many others and admitidly bigots because we do not agree with or respect the culture of violence.

PhilipHenderson's picture
PhilipHenderson 9 years 43 weeks ago

Thom Hartmann again writes words of wisdom. When a person is the recipient of "invisible privilege" it is difficult to understand that he is being treated in a special way. Hartmann has unwrapped the privilege he experiences that is denied black men. Well done my friend.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 9 years 43 weeks ago

bentley72 -- Isn't bigotry the biggest cause of lack of parenting?

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 9 years 43 weeks ago

Palsimon, it’s typical for white folks to minimize the significance of racism by characterizing it as just one of many issues, while over-simplifying the remedy for it, and in a way that seems dismissive to me.

Racism itself is divisive. Calling attention to it is not.

I agree that coming together across racial lines towards common goals is a great way to overcome “tribal instincts” (which is just a polite reference to racism). But that is not the only response needed to counter this huge social ill.

It’s also way too easy for whites to claim racism isn’t our most important issue when we’re not the ones being targeted, dismissed, bypassed, refused and abused, and it’s not our kids being shot down like dogs in the middle of the street. - AIW

leighmf's picture
leighmf 9 years 43 weeks ago


Isn't bigotry the biggest cause of lack of parenting? -

Bigamy, maybe. Babies having babies, general immaturity, and substance abuse I think interfere more with the natural instinct to protect the young. All animals have an instinctive recognition of babies according to head shape which tells them not to kill the young ones.

Humans who see a baby or a child's head shape and don't feel the instinct to protect have something unnaturally wrong with their entire perception of the world and themselves.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 9 years 43 weeks ago

leighmf -- I was mostly kidding about the bigotry. I think the key cause of both bigotry and bad parenting is economic inequality. Do you know of any animal other than humans that have to deal with the effect of economic inequality?

I have never heard that about head shape. That is very interesting. I know I have an unbelievable amount of love for my children and granchildren. Do you think some of that is due to their head shape?

I assume drugs could effect that instinct to protect. Economic inequality does lead to more drug use.

Roland369 9 years 42 weeks ago

Whatever credibility Bill O’Reilly may have had in the past, certainly no longer exists, at least to those with half a brain. These talking heads were created by Rupert Murdoch’s FOX News that even he stated was nothing more than “infotainment.” Yet the Christian Right, Tea Partiers, and Republicans watch him as well as others like Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Pat Robertson, Ann Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh as if they are the only possessors of truth.

Mark J. Saulys's picture
Mark J. Saulys 9 years 42 weeks ago

There are many kinds of privilege and most of it is 'invisible" to the posessor of the privilege. Middle and upper class, white, male heterosexuals just don't understand the advantages they have and the disadvantages of others. They are used to the world belonging to them and wouldn't get sharing it with others.

Check this cartoon out.

Ever hear of the "just world complex"? It's when privileged people think the world is just. A lot of cops suffer from it.

Mark J. Saulys's picture
Mark J. Saulys 9 years 42 weeks ago

Bentley 72, I don't think there is a difference between racism and bigotry nor do I think it is either to disagree with one's culture. That's just being a social critic or a social dissident. It is, however, both if you are adopting and accepting a racist's racist or bigotted (false and biased) view of your own culture - which I'm not necessarily trying to say that your doing.

Alice we do, in fact, benefit from white privilege - and class privilege, and I from male privilege - but to us it's invisible. The master always benefits, in some basic sense, from a slave's uncompensated or undercompensated service - and exploitation - but he takes it for granted.

Palindromedary, not all cultures are necessarily racist, at least not like ours. Native Americans may've developed animosities toward each other and fought each other but they also accepted strangers and newcomers.

Mark J. Saulys's picture
Mark J. Saulys 9 years 42 weeks ago

Leighmf, you gotta watch that kind of theorizing. Casual, facile, sweeping and careless definitions and condemnations are a hallmark of privilege.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 9 years 42 weeks ago

Mark, regarding how we do in fact benefit from white privilege... where have I denied or challenged this? Tell me something else I don't know already. - AIW

cherylkelmar's picture
cherylkelmar 9 years 41 weeks ago

See my story of how the courts in CA will do anything to protect a rich white kid from one day in court at Sign my petition at

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