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What is white privilege? What questions should white Americans be asking? Two academics weigh in

The impact of white privilege in 2020
Authors Robin DiAngelo and Ibram X. Kendi on how to become aware of privilege 06:30

A new CBS News poll shows how Americans' views on racial discrimination are shifting, with 52% of respondents saying they believe that white people have a better chance of getting ahead in today's society compared to black people. That's up 13 points from 2015. 

Nationwide protests against inequality are encouraging more conversations not only about race but also about white privilege. 

Sociologist and author of "White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism," Robin DiAngelo, and CBS News contributor Ibram X. Kendi, author of "How to Be an Antiracist," joined "CBS This Morning" during its Race for Justice special on Friday to answer questions about white privilege and racism.

What is white privilege and why do some white people have a hard time seeing it?

"White privilege is the automatic, taken-for-granted advantage bestowed upon white people as a result of living in a society based on the premise of white as the human ideal, and that from its founding established white advantage as a matter of law and today as a matter of policy and practice," DiAngelo said. "It doesn't matter if you agree with it, if you want it, if you even are aware of it — it's 24/7/365.

"One of the reasons why it's so hard for white people to see it — well, there are many reasons — but one is it serves us not to see it. We come to feel entitled to that advantage. We're told that we deserve it and that we earned it, and we take great umbrage when that is challenged."

What about white people who say, "I struggle too"?

"I'm really clear that I'm not saying that white people don't struggle or face barriers or work hard, but there's a major barrier in this society, racism, that we don't struggle with and not struggling against that barrier actually helps us navigate the barriers that we do struggle with," DiAngelo said. "You grew up in poverty. How has being white shaped how you experience poverty, and how you get out of poverty if you do get out of poverty? Again, it's not saying that white Americans don't work hard, but it's a bit like being a fish in a current that impacts the outcome of that work. There's a kind of moving along that amplifies that work, and for people of color, for black people, you're swimming against the current. And we're both working, we're both swimming, but there's such a different impact on the outcome of that effort."

What are the questions white Americans should be asking? 

"I think many white Americans claim they believe in racial equality, and so the way you put that to the test is by asking questions, questions about racial disparity," Kendi said. "So why is it that unarmed black people are killed by police too many times and armed white people are simply arrested? Why is it in Minneapolis that black people are 20% of the population but 60% of the victims of police shootings? Why is it that the black unemployment rate is twice as high as the white unemployment rate? And there's only two answers: either there's something wrong with black people, there's something superior about white people, or racism."

To end white privilege, do you have to deal with racism first? 

"Yes," Kendi said. "I mean, as Robin talked about, it is critical for white people, for people in general, to stop denying their racist ideas, to stop denying the ways in which policies have benefited them, to stop denying their racism, and to realize that actually the heartbeats of racism itself is denial, and the sound of that heartbeat is 'I'm not racist.'"

Do white folks actually care about racial injustice? 

"It doesn't appear that we do," DiAngelo said. "If you look at what it takes to wake us up, when you look at the explosion of umbrage white people take from the simple claim that black lives matter, from somebody respectfully going down on their knee, all of the outrage about that. And then it takes us literally seeing a man being murdered in front of our eyes to wake us up. You know, that's a really high price to pay for our enlightenment. 

"You know, I wonder what will happen when all the cameras go away and there's another issue in front of us. You know, if we don't put something in place to keep our attention and our focus here, I mean, the status quo of our society is racism, and it's comfortable for white people. And so, we're not going to get there from a place of white comfort. We're going to have to get mighty uncomfortable and inconvenienced, and it appears to me that in, you know, 20 years of working with white people that if it requires anything of us, like discomfort or inconvenience, we don't seem to be particularly motivated to do anything."

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