Aaron Boyd
3 min readNov 1, 2020


(Hey, I know this is long, but please humor me and read it anyway. I have an actual point. I swear.)

I've made this comment on pretty much every article involving the phrase "white privilege," and I'll probably have to make it 100 more times because this is an alarming trend:

Please, please, PLEASE stop referring to basic human rights as "privileges".

Virtually every piece on "white privilege" makes the same rhetorical mistake of loosely tossing the term around as a catch-all for both "positive privileges" (i.e. receiving unearned benefits based on skin color, such as better employment opportunities) and "negative privileges" (things whites DON'T have to put up with, like living in fear of the police).

These two things are separate problems that need to be addressed differently.

A functioning police force that serves every community equally and in good faith is not a "privilege", it's one of the bare minimum expectations of a functioning society.

The right to be treated with the basic dignity to which all humans are entitled is not a "privilege", it's the theoretical foundation for the entire concept of human rights.

When you refer to not living in terror of being murdered by the police as a "privilege," you're contributing to the general lowering of standards of what Americans expect from society.

Let me give you a real-world example I experienced a couple years ago.

A few years back I was going through a really rough time involving multiple family deaths, my mother going through a brutal divorce, and a near-fatal drinking problem. I was a mess. And visibly miserable and angry.

I didn't have a car, so I had to walk everywhere, and in suburban Michigan, that's very rare. On multiple occasions--not once, not twice, but *three separate, unrelated times*--a cop drove by and talked to me.

One time it was because there was a report of a nearby break-in involving a guy who vaguely fit my description (it didn't help that I have a very pronounced Angry Walk when I'm mad). Another time it was because I was walking through a long, muddy patch of dirt road. The third time was general concern for my well-being because, again, I have an Angry Walk.

In all three instances they asked me if everything was okay, listened to me vent for a minute, and then offered me a ride.

It would be easy to frame this as "white privilege," and by the standards most people apply to the term, it is. But I'd argue that this is exactly what the police are *supposed* to do. This is what a community-driven police force looks like.

And this is why I think the distinction between "positive privilege" and "negative privilege" is so critical, because it plays a key role in how the ideal police force of the future should be trained. Approaching this from a "positive privilege" standpoint would mean telling officers that they were providing me with an unearned benefit, and in the future, they should never help out a person in need unless it involves someone breaking the law and requires the use of force. A "negative privilege" framework would mean A) eliminating the fear of being arbitrarily arrested or murdered by the police, and B) raising the baseline expectations of the Black community towards law enforcement beyond, you know, doing their jobs without killing innocent people.

Put more succinctly, it's not about lowering unjust advantages given to whites, it's about elevating the treatment of Blacks so that they have the same relationship with the police that I enjoyed.

Which isn't to downplay what a colossal undertaking this is, or to be overly reductive towards a complex problem. I just think the way we frame it today will have a lasting impact on how we approach it in the future.