Is Your Skin Color an Advantage?

Race has been a big issue in this year's presidential campaign. During the primary season, Rev. Michael Pfleger, a guest minister speaking at Barack Obama's church, stirred controversy when he suggested that Hillary Clinton felt entitled to "white privilege" and upset that a "black man" was "stealing [her] show."

But others claim that today Barack Obama has what might be called "black privilege."

Former Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro (and Clinton supporter during the primaries) told a local California newspaper in March, "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position." She was widely criticized for saying that.

Watch the story tonight on "20/20" at 10 p.m. ET

White privilege? Minority privilege?

Still, it's tough to argue that blacks are more privileged than whites.

Chris Rock, one of the most successful comedians in America, suggests in his routine that no white person would ever trade places with him.

"None of you would change places with me and I'm rich! That's how good it is to be white!" he said.

Discrimination Set Precedence

Tim Wise lectures at schools, universities and other organizations about the problem of white privilege.

"Whiteness allows those of us who have it, and the privileges that come from it, of not knowing black and brown truth," he said. "It's having one less thing to sweat [about] when you go in for that job interview."

Wise's lectures are in big demand; he has more than 80 speaking engagements a year. He recently wrote about white privilege in his book "White Like Me."

He says discrimination has held black Americans back, and this has privileged whites.

"If certain folks historically have been elevated above others, their children, their grandchildren are going to be starting out, one, two, five, 10 steps ahead," he said. "Meritocracy is as close to a lie as you can come."

But what about all the successful immigrants, many of color, who come to America and make fantastic lives for themselves?

"How many more of those persons would there be if there were truly equitable opportunity?" he asked.

Over the years, ABC News has documented many ways in which society puts blacks at a disadvantage. In seeking apartments, applying for jobs, shopping in a mall, even hailing a cab, our hidden cameras captured discrimination.

Whites don't face that kind of discrimination, said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League.

"It's better chances in the job market," Morial said. "It's better chances when you walk through the door to get a bank loan. It's better chances -- a head start, for the most part, in the game of life."

Black or White?

David Matthews said that was so obvious to him even at age 9 that he lied about his race to get that head start.

Matthews is biracial. His father is black, but David could pass for white, which he did growing up because, he said, it was better to be white. At 9, he decided he wasn't going to be black, and would identify as white.

"You walk in, there's the cafeteria table," Matthews said. "Where do you go? Do you go with the kids who look like you or do you say, 'Hey, everybody: Despite appearances to the contrary, I'm actually black'? And I was not going to be a social vanguard at 9."

He was worried his classmates would find out the truth about his race.

"I lived in terror of it," he said. "It was like an ulcer every day. Because I knew then I'd be relegated to what I considered to be second-class status."

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