How Unearned Privilege Gives White Men Unearned Power
Two sexual assault cases, two different outcomes.
It is evident that racism and discrimination against people of color still exists in today’s society; therefore, if a person happens to be a white heterosexual male they continue to prove that white and male privilege is in fact a benefit only they can receive. In order to demonstrate how white and male privilege exists I will be comparing Brock Turner’s and Brian Banks’ sexual assault cases.
Brock Turner’s Case
In 2015, Brock Turner raped an unconscious woman, and was charged on three felony accounts: “assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated or unconscious person, penetration of an intoxicated person and penetration of an unconscious person”. Even though Turner was found guilty it is important to note the viral attention this case garnered. When media would talk about Turner’s case they would use headshots that showed Turner formally dressed and a smile that shows symbolizes how much of a good life he has. In addition, media would also introduce him as a Stanford swimmer athlete. My initial question was: why was media trying to cover the haunting assault Turner committed by portraying him as a student athlete when in fact he is a rapist? This is where I found Peggy McIntosh’s article — White Privilege and Male Privilege (1988) — to further my understanding of how white heterosexual men obtain unearned power from white and male privilege. Brock Turner’s case proves one of McIntosh’s arguments that white men are “given considerable power to escape kinds of danger or penalty as well as to choose which risks [they] want to take”. Not only did Turner get to escape a long state prison sentence, but he also managed to escape his short six-month county jail sentence. Instead of serving six months in prison, Turner only served three months because the (white) judge — Aaron Persky — believed prison would have a severe impact on him. It is ironic for the judge to believe that prison could severely impact Turner because it seems the judge forgot how much of a severe impact Turner has left on the victim. The victim provided her statement to Buzzfeed where her statement continues to prove how society can place the blame on the victims. The woman mentioned how “[she] was not only told that [she] was assaulted, [she] was told that because [she] couldn’t remember, [she] technically could not prove [the rape] was unwanted”. The judge allowed Turner’s white privilege to help him out, but who was going to help the woman who was raped? The woman was physically and mentally violated, and her rape assault is something that will continue to haunt her in the future. Turner’s portrayal in the media and the result of his sentence continues to prove that as long as a person is white their unearned privilege can allow the consequences of their unethical actions to be ignored.
Brian Banks’ Case
When looking at the following (falsely accused) rape assault, the consequences Brian Banks faced show how white and male privilege is exclusive for only white heterosexual men. Back in 2002, when he was only 16 years old with a dream of one day playing in the NFL, Banks was accused of raping a 15 year old girl where he was ultimately tried as an adult. Banks would end up serving a little over five years in prison when the accuser came clean and admitted that the rape assault was in fact a lie. Unlike Turner’s judge, Banks’ well-being was not considered in the sense that the judge did not worry if prison would have a “severe impact” on him. Instead, Banks “faced 41 years to life in prison and first turned down plea deals for 25, 18 and 9 years”. Once the accuser recanted her story, the charges against Banks were dropped. It is evident in this case that a black man “assauting” a woman was no shock. Unlike Turner’s case where it was innocent until proven guilty, Banks’ case seemed to be guilty until proven innocent. Banks himself felt disgusted to know that Turner’s unearned privilege gave him the power to get away from danger/penalty. Banks argued Persky’s decision to give Turner a short prison sentence was based on lifestyle because Turner had a life that in no way prepared him to survive prison. Even though Banks’ charges were dropped once the truth came out, Banks’ life was already damaged. Banks’ stated he “was kidnapped, taken against [his] will… denied all human rights”. Turner’s whiteness sheltered and protected him from experiencing a long sentence in prison, but Banks’ did not have that same privilege.
Earned Strength vs. Unearned Power
Even though it is unfair how a falsely accused black man suffered a heavier punishment more than an actual white rapist, I want to point out Turner’s unearned power does not outweigh Banks’ earned strength. This is another argument McIntosh pointed out in her article that unearned power and earned strength are not the same thing. The difference between the two is that “power from unearned privilege can look like strength when it is, in fact, permission to escape or dominate”. While Turner’s unearned power helped him escape severe consequences, his case will be remembered as one of the many unfair trials which proves white privilege still exists in today’s society. Turner may have escaped many years in prison, but he will not be able to escape the reality of people reminding him that he committed a harmful act and that he is a rapist. On the other hand, people of color who do not have unearned privilege can obtain something more valuable — moral strength. Moral strength can give “them a great deal to teach the others”. The people with earned strength can turn their oppression into something beneficial that can help others. While Banks may not be playing on a NFL team, he is however working for the NFL’s department of operations in New York where the passion of football is just as strong in the office as it is on the field. People of color’s earned strength can go on to inspire and educate others to show them to not let their oppression hold them from being able to achieve their dreams and fighting for social justice.