Saturday, March 7, 2009

Exploring White Privilege

This is a giant one. In fact I think I'm going to make this a long term discussion. And since I'm just getting started, I will begin by asking questions. Does white privelege exist? Why do you think so? (you can assume I think it exists)
If it does exist, what can a white person do about it? What can a person of color do about it? Can people of color have white privelege, at least sometimes? What is the connection between racism and white priviledge? Are all white people racist?

It's kind of interesting when you think about it. These questions get asked all of the time if you are in a radical community. But I'm not sure there really is a consensus among radicals, minus the basics. It get's even more complicated the when you look at communites that aren't extremely radical but left leaning. These questions are also asked in those environments but with less frequency. And than they are gigantice segments of the population that never ask these questions because there to busy asking if the USA is racist against white people.

I have some ideas. But I want to hear what other people have to say. So now is the time for my legion of loyal readers to chime in. What do you think?


  1. White privilege definitely exists. I don't believe in blaming everything on white privilege and/or racism, but I know it when I see it, and I see it all the time.

    One of the most troubling side effects of the Obama Age is this whole "post-racial" myth that so many people are trying to push. It mystifies me that people think that an election (even a historic one) in any way erases America's racism, both institutionalized and in-your-face. The idea of devaluing the trials and experiences of others is a very central part of the American way. And in America there is an unwritten assumption that those who are not white are inherently "other."

    Not to be completely negative; there are certainly white people who are working against white privilege. Which brings me to what a white person can do about it. Listen to people of color. Engage in an open-minded discourse. The best way to understand or recognize white privilege is to speak to it's victims. And once you do learn to recognize it CHALLENGE it when you see it. Sitting idly by is a crime of complicity.

  2. Here are my thoughts: (i) Does white privilege exist? Yes.

    (ii) Why? Because of a multitude of interrelated factors including generations of unequal wealth accumulation which has its genesis in a system that enslaved one race to benefit another; decades of overt and covert employment & housing discrimination; a two-tiered legal justice system that disproportionately incarcerates people of color; inequitable access to higher education; pernicious media perpetuation of racial stereotypes; and oh yeah present and continuing overt racism and violence against people of color.

    (iii) What can white people do?

    Rather than be immobilized by guilt over privilege, white people can use the privileges they have to organize against systems of privilege and racism. They can also put the advantages they accrue because of their privilege toward being better allies to people of color and supporting them in their struggles.

    (iv) Connection between racism and privilege?

    I think white privilege helps perpetuate racism, in so far as it places white people on the stronger end of a power hierarchy that allows segments of the white population to continue to impose and legitimate racist practices. White privilege also gives some white people an undeserved sense of entitlement by deriving an “ought” from an “is.” I.e. they wrongly conclude that because there is white privilege, there ought to be white privilege, and that they are entitled to this system of privileges.

    (v) Are all white people racist?

    No. I think all white people enjoy a degree of white privilege, but this is different from being racist. Simply having white privilege does not mean that you think the existence of that privilege is legitimate or just, or that it shouldn’t be strongly opposed. Many white people commit themselves to anti-racism as the driving force in their lives.
    I see it like this: All white people have white privilege. Some white people are racist. Some white people are racist and have privilege. Some white people have white privilege but are not racist. (I have a helpful ven-diagram in mind here but can’t draw it on this page).

  3. I'd like to respond to Colin's comment, ok my own comment. Re-reading it tonight, I feel like I did not phrase section (iii) particularly well in response to the question: what can white people do about white privilege? In the second part of my response to this question I state how white people should use the privileges they/we accrue to be better allies to people of color. I think this was not a good way to state my position. It gives the impression of white people sitting around, twirling their mustaches and monocles, thinking of Machiavellian schemes to enrich themselves based on their privilege and then use those gains to assist people of color.

    What I actually had in mind is if for example, as a white person, you happen to enjoy certain privileges such as you can challenge police authority at a direct action protest with significantly less of a risk of facing a violent response you should take on that role, or if (hypothetically) you are able to go to law school as a 21 year old and gain the privileges of being 24 and having a law degree, you shouldn't use that privilege to enrich yourself by charging people $200 an hour to sue other people for no reason, but instead should use it to empower people struggling for justice.

    So bottom line, to clarify, if white people, like me, come to understand white privilege at a time in their life when they have already benefitted from it, they should seek out ways to dismantle that system and support people who oppose it. They should not use it to accrue further benefits from it.

  4. hey torie. i started focusing on blond haired blue eyed priveledge. but it didnt get me anywhere closer to my dreams, or to making friends. if you have heart, it reflected in your actions and people sense that. at my university in the chemistry program i would say that a majority of the students are non-white. and they dont have to feel bad about being friends with each other, without being accused of being racist. people talk about the brutality of slavery and such. and its true it was barbaric. but living further form the sun , for whatever reason is no cup of tea either. cold and starving. im just glad everyone is trying to work together. lets hope we focus on the goal (whatever each person chooses to offer) and pull ourselves together soon enough to stop further uneccessary calamities. trying to stay hip to what's on the horizon. and not to get too caught up in my own ego. lest i miss the boat again. that carry's me to my true destination. black white green or blue, one can be a crook. but eventually the tides will turn and balnace will return. one will get caught. loose their self respect till forgiveness find them. and, perhaps, if they're lucky they will forgive themselves.
    also that macio parker concert i went to was incredible!!!
    science and music and whatever else is out there for all to receive. and to share.

  5. Hey everyone this is from a man named Bob. He emailed this to me...
    As you know, I am a white male. Being white, male, veteran, straight, married, middle class, are some of the various talismans that hang from my neck and are useful in different ways and in different circumstances. If I were to rank the power of all the above identifiers in terms of the privileges they offer I would rate being male as the most powerful by far. Just being white has for me meant less than the privilege of being raised solidly middle class in an economically stable community. Being a veteran, straight, and married have all had their privileges as well.
    Now, if I boil it down to what I was born into, that would be white, male,straight, middle class my being white in rural Wisconsin was about as privileged as being black in Harlem. The real privilege was not being from a poor family, not being a girl, and not being gay. When I went to college and for the first time lived in a racially diverse environment it was the late sixties and I found that race mattered on a new level that I had not encountered directly before. My liberal up bringing had me supportive of the civil rights movement, I cheered Dr. King's speech from the tv coverage of the great March on Washington. What I was not prepared for was the black students who were not all as eager to know me as I was to know them. I had friends who were black, worked and studied with them, but for the most part the in liberal college I attended, most black students hung with other blacks and white with white. We shared in social events, sports, and activities, but in the dining hall there was a definite division of the mutual choice. Just as the theater kids, the jocks, the hippies, and the frat boys stuck together.
    Here is where I think white privilage comes in. My northern European great grandparents came to this country in the late 1800's and worked the lumber jack jobs in northern Wisconsin, lived in the lumber camps, and earned a dollar a week. Their offspring became the paper mill workers who worked the long hours but achieved financial security enough that some of their offspring, myself included, could go to college. The real privelage was that race did not stop that direct line to achieving the American dream. I never had to deal with the idea that there were some places or opportunities that would be denied me because of race. I was blissfully ignorant of the idea that being white was privilaged because the barriers I encountered were never racial barriers.
    I hesitate to answer your challenge because I know how these discussions can cause lots of misunderstandings among all of us. The issues are always so deeply personal and complex that I really don't have the time to write out a full explanation of what it involves or what my experience has been and do the subject the thorough exploration it deserves.
    But you did call me a chicken...... Bob

  6. I think the " White Privilege" campaign is a fraud , I truly think that black people should learn the truth about slavery and that 99% of Americans didn't participate while the elite 1% owned the whole operation including the ships. The Arab/Jewish slave trade started it all and is STILL GOING over 2000+ years strong ( need I point out that people of color never stopped practicing slavery)? This is a carefully calculated way to dissolve white countries, it's not just being used against America but all of Europe etc. every white country is being over saturated with unwanted violence etc and they pre stigmatized ( these people) before going in to basically weaponize immigration systems. There is for sure Jewish privilege but no such thing as white privilege. This just entices people to act in a predatory way against white people and make them feel " justified" while tearing white countries apart from within. It labels white inventions/ accomplishments as privilege. Entire cultures globally have a " whiteness" identity imposed on them while colored folk are bussed in and told to kill all the whiteness. I guess that you have to trick people this way, after all, telling foreigners to tear down an entire culture may shock them and out of good will they may refuse, but it you carefully craft this " scheme" and make them feel justified then they will carry out this dirty deed in the name of killing all whiteness. If you critically think this through, everything is based on capitalism ( making money) so the band aid theory for example, is there a lucrative market for black band aids in a white country? Hell no, so who wants to make them? See the logic? America is founded and built by European Caucasians and yes, the culture and country are different from all others, American like all other cultures is unique and different from other cultures. Mexican is different than American, Canadian is different than American, African is different than Vietnamese etc, calling for the distraction of any ethnicity no matter how it's worded is Genocide, there is no such thing as multiculturalism as eventually, they are all mixed away ( ethnocide) slow motion genocide is still genocide. There is a whole world of people and cultures whom are not American. On that note, I come from a broken family, raised by grandparents who were dirt poor and had to deal with the great depression. Worked until the day they died and I'm sure I will too. I have not been given anything but instead only denied benefits because I'm not a minority. The problem is this, where we end up in life is based on personal choices, manners and behavior and those things are not being tracked. Crime by race is not being tracked , he'll, the highest earning households are Asian ( minority) do the real question is this, why are some minorities not performing as well as others? Same with % in jail etc..