Jon Stewart invited Bill O'Reilly, his political TV news show host antithesis, on to “The Daily Show” for a conversation about white privilege. On his own show “The O'Reilly Factor,” O'Reilly has repeatedly maintained that white privilege does not exist. Stewart begins the conversation by telling O'Reilly that he has invited him on the show with one goal in mind: to get him to admit that white privilege does not exist. As you can probably guess, both debaters leave with their preexisting views intact, as does the studio audience and all viewers at home.
Below you can watch the extended version of the interview segment, all tense twelve minutes of it. While O'Reilly never outright admits that white privilege exists today, Stewart does get O'Reilly to agree that:
- white privilege did exist through the time of slavery and at least until the end of Jim Crow laws in the 1950s
- yes, it is harder for a kid growing up in the ghetto to work hard and get an education and succeed than someone else born into a more privileged upbringing
- yes, the “residue” of slavery and Jim Crow laws continue to have an impact on the lives of black Americans today
But where O'Reilly draws a hardline is on the expected point of individuality: sure, it is harder for a black kid, but not so hard that if that individual works hard enough and gets an education, he or she could succeed. O'Reilly sites his own background growing up poor in a working class neighborhood as an anecdote that proves that yes, it was easier for kids growing up in richer neighborhoods, but he worked hard and was able to pull himself up and succeed.
The mantra O'Reilly repeats is one of the most important core beliefs shared by millions of Americans, implicitly or explicitly, on the right and and the left of the political spectrum: that the system is basically fair. That if you work hard and succeed, you deserve that success and you shouldn’t have to feel guilty for the people living in poverty who don’t have as much as you. And for the people living in poverty, the belief is just as important: sure, you’re in poverty now, but maybe, just maybe, if you work hard and get lucky you too could be rich one day. It’s the American dream.
While emphasizing personal responsibility is necessary and empowering, it ignores structural forces that systematically privilege a certain type of person over another. When employers prefer to hire white people over black people with the exact same credentials, it seems clear that white privilege still exists (study). And when in fact employers prefer to hire white people with a criminal record over black people without one (study), it seems pretty damn obvious that white privilege not only exists but is thriving sixty years after Jim Crow. Even if you are working as hard as you can, a system that is biased against a type of person will perpetuate that prejudice forever unless interventions occur to change the system.
If you feel like gritting your teeth while watching an uncomfortable yell fest, watch the clip below: