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White perks vs. white privilege [Apr. 12th, 2007|12:23 pm]
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Let's talk about how I use the term "white privilege."

There are certain things which are gifted to every white person, which aren't fully afforded to people of color. I don't have to worry about being pulled over for "driving while white." Other white people tend to trust me more than they would a person of color of the same age and socioeconomic status. I'll make more money, in the long run, than I would if I were non-white.

These things I think of as white perks -- benefits which society chooses to bestow on white people. Society does this because it is white-dominated and white-supremacist.

Then there is this thing which I call white privilege, which is not a set of perks at all -- but rather a mindset. It is a subtle, quiet ideology, that is rarely taught directly any more, but which definitely exists and its effects can be seen all over. It is typified by several qualities:

  • First, the net results are covert but existent racial discrimination. White privilege is a racist ideology and results in racism (racism, as defined by people who study the issue, involves not only racially motivated bigotry, but also a power differential).
  • Second, is a self-defensive ideology. It innoculates white people from having to listen to people of color, because it teaches that everything important about race can be worked out by white people. There's nothing of value to be gained from listening to people who have felt the effects of racism.
  • Third, it is self-cloaking. People afflicted by white privilege -- and I do view it as an affliction, a sickness, an addictive disease on which so many of us are hooked -- are unaware of the problem, and the self-defensiveness and societal reinforcement work in tandem so that it's never directly confronted.
  • Finally, it's aggressive. As part of a racist ideology, it strikes back at its targets. "You're racist!" the cries go. "You're attacking ME!" "What about black people, you say ho!" The best defense is said to be a good offense, and as such, white privilege defends itself by attacking others who confront it. You can't listen to someone if you're attacking them.

Just as people who suffer from alcoholism will frequently deny that they have a problem and attack even recovering alcoholics who try to provide help, so too do people with white privilege attack anti-racist whites for their cardinal sin -- of pointing out white privilege, of trying to get the other person help, of asking them to set aside their privilege and listen. Anti-racist whites must be attacked, because failure to do so would be to admit that maybe they're right, maybe I do have a problem, maybe there is something in my psyche that needs fixing regarding how I view people of color and issues of race.

And the racist ideology of white privilege just won't allow that.

White perks and white privilege are separate things, but interact in self-reinforcing ways. White perks subconsciously validate white privilege. And white privilege generates perks for other whites. The cop who doesn't pull over a white guy because he looks like he belongs in that neighborhood, in that car, isn't actively hating on blacks; he just thinks he's exercising good judgment. The white guy who drives past him receives the perk of not being pulled over, plus he receives the perk that he isn't forced to think about racism today.

Anyway, this is how I view white privilege and white perks. Most of the "privilege lists" you see floating around have a lot of perks, and few examples of privilege.

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Comments:
[User Picture]From: rezendi
2007-04-12 07:43 pm (UTC)

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racism, as defined by people who study the issue, involves not only racially motivated bigotry, but also a power differential

Bleah. It always kinda creeps me out when experts deliberately use a common word in a way different from the majority of people who do not study the subject in question. (I think it's fair to say that "racism" is most commonly used in casual conversation to refer to "racially motivated bigotry," nothing else, with or without any power differential.)

Redefining a word, especially a loaded word like racism, leads to an endless number of useless angry conversations that, once you get past all the sound and fury, boil down to semantics. But I guess the whole thing about loaded words is that they have inherent power, and if you get to define them your way, you own that power.
[User Picture]From: kynn
2007-04-12 07:48 pm (UTC)

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Well, I'll err on the side of giving power to the anti-racists rather than the white privilegists, if that makes sense.

What's most important to me seems to be useful definitions, rather than assuming that terms should conform with what other people (which in this case is majority culture, which is white-supremacist) assume.
[User Picture]From: rezendi
2007-04-12 07:57 pm (UTC)

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So you're arguing that using a definition of racism which does not include power differential is, in and of itself, majority1 privilege?

Personally, I'd like to see two different terms for the two different things.

1not necessarily "white" 'cause lord knows there's plenty of racism, under whichever definition, in Africa, China, India, Indonesia, etc.
[User Picture]From: kynn
2007-04-12 07:51 pm (UTC)

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Anyway, given that you don't like semantic arguments, and you could easily mentally substitute "racism coupled with power differentials" for my parenthetical definition, did you have any other comments on the rest of the post?

Other than the semantic quibbling?
[User Picture]From: rezendi
2007-04-12 08:00 pm (UTC)

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I don't think what you call "semantic quibbling" was quite what I meant by "semantic arguments," but never mind. I thought the post was well-written and interesting, if very American.
[User Picture]From: stoneself
2007-04-12 07:53 pm (UTC)

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semantic is meaning.

what people mean is important.
[User Picture]From: tekanji
2007-04-13 09:39 am (UTC)

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The problem with dictionary definitions is that the dictionary is usually defined by those who have power, and therefore is going to privilege the majority point of view more often than not, which just perpetuates the power that the privileged group has over the non-privileged group.

The only defense to that is to continue to use and educate people about the anti-oppression meanings of the word, in hopes that they gain enough force that even biased systems such as dictionaries must acknowledge.

It's a crap shoot and it's certainly not easy this way, but so far no one has been able to find anything better.
[User Picture]From: stoneself
2007-04-13 07:07 pm (UTC)

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i think it's not really about educating people about the "anti-oppression meaning of words", so much as teaching people the nuances of that is really meant when a word is used.

words, by their very nature, lose information about the real world they are trying to represent. which pieces of lost information are important varies from person to person and group to group. and thus there are different pieces of information that people try to restore to actually communication that is attempted using words that have lost some nuance of the real situation.

words don't have some intrinsic meaning. words have the meaning that people give them and that people use them for. thus it often the case that two people are using the same word for variant meanings. communication is in getting people to understand the differences between how they are using the words.
[User Picture]From: tekanji
2007-04-13 10:54 pm (UTC)

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Yeah, I was trying to go for brevity over being precise, but you're right.

Another way to put it, stolen from my friend about using the term "survivor" in relation to surviving sexual violence is this: "You may not be comfortable with language drift, or with the idea of usage dictating meaning, but both are realities you’re gonna have to face if you ever plan to communicate effectively in English."

The problem with dictionary definitions is that they don't change fast enough to accommodate the way that English shifts and grows depending on usage. I mean, how long did it take for "ain't" to be put in the dictionary? Much, much longer than it took for it to become common usage.
[User Picture]From: rainbow_goddess
2007-04-12 08:28 pm (UTC)

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I have a question. I have seen reports in LJ communities of black people crying "racist" when a customer-service person cannot give them what they want. For example, a store is sold out of item X; the black person claims the store is denying them the item because of "racism," even though the store has no more of it.

How do you explain that? It is something I really do not understand. To me, if a store is sold out of something, there is no way they could give it to me whether I was white, black, green or purple.

Maybe it's because I am white and have no experience of racial discrimination (though I do have experience of gender discrimination and discrimination on the basis of disability.) Maybe it's because I have Asperger's and take everything at face value rather than looking for hidden meanings. Maybe it's because I live in Canada rather than the U.S. and I never heard anyone make this "racism" claim in the years I worked customer service. But I do not understand this "crying racist" thing.
[User Picture]From: pope_guilty
2007-04-12 08:53 pm (UTC)

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Your average black person is just as stupid as your average white person.
[User Picture]From: lokilokust
2007-04-12 09:02 pm (UTC)

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it's got nothing to do with stupidity.
[User Picture]From: pope_guilty
2007-04-12 10:09 pm (UTC)

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Right, racial minorities are all entitled bastards and demand special treatment.

==OR==

Store clerks can magically conjure up fresh stock and break the rules of their employer without concern, but only for white people.

Which of the above are you positing?
[User Picture]From: lokilokust
2007-04-12 10:11 pm (UTC)

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[User Picture]From: lokilokust
2007-04-12 09:01 pm (UTC)

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people who actually are persecuted, tend to feel persecuted.
it may be a bit irrational to assume, for example, that a store employee is simply lying about having an item in stock, but it's understandable.
(and, also, there have been a giant pile of actual incidences where a white employee pulled the 'we don't have that' routine to not service a customer of colour. it's actually not that uncommon a tactic. homophobic merchants have pulled the same shit with me when i went in to certain stores with a male partner. including one happy episode where the item i was interested was quite clearly sitting on the shelf behind the jackass.)
[User Picture]From: kynn
2007-04-13 01:22 am (UTC)

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I have seen reports in LJ communities of black people crying "racist"...

Well, for starters, customers_suck is a really bad place to get your views on race.

Secondly, you need to realize that you will never see a posting on LiveJournal in which someone says "well, this black guy came in, and because I hate n-----s, I didn't sell him something."

Thirdly, you need to remember that the experience of racism is far, far more common than the experience of false claims of racism.

It's a lot like the way some people treat claims of rape. Every idiot out there has a "friend" or "cousin" or something who got "falsely accused of rape by some b----." And based on that anecdotal evidence, they conclude that a bunch of rapes accusations are false.

Problem is, though, the actual facts are against them. There are far, FAR more cases of actual rape -- in the U.S., in Canada, in the world -- than there are false accusations of rape. The vast, vast, VAST majority of rape claims are indeed reporting actual rapes that happen.

Despite the truth -- nearly all rape accusations are legitimate -- there are some people who based on their "cousin's" anecdote will refuse to believe a woman who says she's been raped.

The (purported) false accusations are given grossly undue weight, while the actual numbers are ignored. This exaggerates public perception of the incidence of false rape accusations.

Likewise, on LiveJournal (which is an overwhelmingly privileged and white userbase to begin with), you will frequently see undue emphasis on "false accusation of racism" but very, very little in the way of "true accusations of racism."

In a post in another thread, stoneself described the sort of daily bigotry he faces as a gay, Korean man. You don't see those kinds of posts on customers_suck, not only because people of color are underrepresented, but also because the white majority just doesn't want to hear it and will often target for harassment any person of color who confronts white racism and white prejudice.

Look at this: I've currently got some nimrod who hates black people posting horribly racist comments to my LJ because I wrote about white privilege. There's not a single person who would post to customers_suck about a black person falsely crying "racist!" who would be subject to the same kind of treatment. Why? White privilege.
From: physicsguy
2007-04-12 08:32 pm (UTC)

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Okay, now that it's better-defined (and thank you for that...I felt like everyone else was at Step 12 of an argument while I was still learning the words) I do recognize what you're calling "white privilege." I also apparently live in an area (New Mexico) that doesn't experience as much black-directed racism as most other places. Now my question: what does one do about it?

I've tried to live a racism-free life and treat people based on their merits/personality and not their race, religion, what-have-you. Apparently I had some white privilege issues and, now that it's defined, I'll try to become more aware of them. What next?
[User Picture]From: stoneself
2007-04-12 09:27 pm (UTC)

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beyond becoming more aware of them...
what affects do they have?

but if you want to become more away of them...
make a list of white privileges you have.

also, you might looks at racism that is directed at mexicans and native americans. it's all over the southwest.

you could also get the book list from any intro africa-american class, intro american studies class, or such like. most of the big universities list these online.

can you think of anything at all that you could do?
From: physicsguy
2007-04-12 09:56 pm (UTC)

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I...I could hug a black guy.
(that was a joke)

I'll think about it some.
I definitely know about the Native American situation, my commute takes me through a reservation twice a day. The Hispanic situation is kinda interesting down here, but I've definitely seen signs of racism towards that group.
[User Picture]From: cacahuate
2007-04-12 11:57 pm (UTC)

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I recommend the book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D. It was my introduction to antiracist issues, and has some useful material on becoming a white antiracist and developing a healthy white identity.

Online, there are the columns of Tim Wise, whom I kind of love. He can get a bit ranty at times, but his points are sound. I think someone else already pointed you to his book White Like Me—I haven't read it, but I've been meaning to as I've heard it's great.

And, if by any chance you want a hardcore theoretical and statistical sociological grounding in the subject of institutionalized racism in the U.S., I'm taking a terrific course in it now, and I'd recommend all of the assigned books, which I listed here (Organization, Stratification, and Race). Except for The Bell Curve, which we read for, uh, comparative purposes.

(Sorry if this comment comes off as arrogant or anything! I don't know everything and am very far from perfect. I'm really just a big nerd, especially on this subject.)
[User Picture]From: kynn
2007-04-13 01:32 am (UTC)

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I also apparently live in an area (New Mexico) that doesn't experience as much black-directed racism...

Did you ever wonder why that is?

Did you ever wonder why New Mexico only has about 2.5% black people by population, and why Socorro only has 0.75% black people?

Have you heard of sundown towns? Do you know about the history of racism in New Mexico and why there are so few blacks?

12.1% of the U.S. is black. Why is New Mexico so non-black?

Think about these things, and you may start to understand a little more about WHY there isn't much black-directed racism. Hint: It's not that New Mexico folks like blacks any more or less than anyone else.
[User Picture]From: dv_girl
2007-04-12 08:54 pm (UTC)

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I think part of it isn't so much perks or privledge as ignorance, and while some of it is willful ignorance, a lot of it due to the way things are glossed over in our history books.

I hear lots of white males online whinge about how unfair it is that women, blacks, etc get 'special treatment' like affirmative action and they invariably take the position of "Well I don't have it so good! I'm not in power! I have trouble paying my bills! Why do they get a break and not me?"

I think many white americans think racism ended with slavery. They have heard of de-segregation but they don't really know what it means and they think of it as something that happened in 'history'. Not in the terms of 'My dad grew up seeing signs that said 'Whites Only' in windows. It wasn't very long ago at all.

For them it's just "So what? That was 40 years ago. They've had plenty of time to pick themselves up." And THAT is the core of the very subtle thing they fail to see.

Right here I jump from 3rd person to 2nd. I get an F.

As a white, maybe you're working at a dead-end job and don't have any money and you think it's unfair that blacks might get additional consideration. You're as bad off as they are! Why should they get the break?

Why? (If you can't comprehend larger things and blame classism) blame mommy, daddy, grandma, and grandpa. Unlike blacks, your family has had the opportunity to do better. They weren't categorically kept out of schools, lines of work, and home mortgages. The doors were wide open for them and THEY fucked it up. As a white, your privledge doesn't come from your skin, it comes from your family and the opportunities they were given that their peers were not given.

If you are poor white trash you need to look to your family album for blame. Oh sure. Grandpa got sick and lost the farm when the bank foreclosed. Well hey. At least your grandpa HAD a farm! Whites were pretty-much given all the land our government stole from the indians. It was his choice to take out a mortgage for equipment and a house. His fault he failed and lost it all. It happened BEFORE affirmative action. Back in THE GOOD OLD DAYS when you could still lynch a black if that was how you got your rocks off.

Why wasn't your daddy one of the smart ones like Hughes or Carnegie or Morgan or Dole. Why didn't he sell arms to the nazis and make a huge profit so you could be president now? The reason YOU are in a dead-end job barely making ends meet now is because you come from a long line of FAILURES.

Blacks, Native Americans, Latinos, Asians, etc by contrast have not had the same opportunities. Their parents and grandparents were kept out of schools, kept from voting for a system that would treat them more fairly, kept out of jobs, denied mortgages and business loans.

The difference you fail to see is the difference between a victim of a violent crime and the winner of a Darwin Award. Yes, they're both dead, but I know which one I find more laughable.

So yes. You, yes you Mr Whitebread down-on-his-luck-unemployed-american. YOU are just oozing with white privledge. Not your fault your parents were such fuck-ups. Maybe blacks are getting a little extra help via affirmative action and that seems unfair to you, but that help is only a replacement for the help their parents and grandparents were forbidden to gain for them.

But hey. Look at the bright side. With the growing division between the classes, soon we'll all be in the same boat. God bless america.
[User Picture]From: kittikattie
2007-04-13 05:29 am (UTC)

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The doors were wide open for them and THEY fucked it up.

The reason YOU are in a dead-end job barely making ends meet now is because you come from a long line of FAILURES.


I think I just fell for you.
[User Picture]From: dv_girl
2007-04-13 06:23 am (UTC)

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Woot! And my partner is conveniently out of town right now too! ;)

j/k. Actually thanks. I was a little worried about this post because it's not quite true. It doesn't deal with classism at all, but I've found that people who don't see racism tend to be blind to classism as well so I just put it terms they can understand.

Not to mention I just kinda like watching them eat their own words. I grew up constantly hearing all this crap about lazy blacks on welfare... From lazy whites on welfare. And well... What can I say. I like irony.

Speaking of irony, what do you think of my new bumper sticker design? I got tired of arguing with people who claim it's about being proud of their heritage and figured. Well. If you can't beat em. Join em!


And once I started looking at it that way, I realized they were right! That flag DOES totally represent them! :)
[User Picture]From: neurocat
2007-04-12 09:04 pm (UTC)

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Thank you for clearly defining white privilege, Kynn. I also found many websites that claimed to define it, but instead listed perks. Now I am much better prepared to respond. Ahem.

* First, the net results are covert but existent racial discrimination. White privilege is a racist ideology and results in racism (racism, as defined by people who study the issue, involves not only racially motivated bigotry, but also a power differential).

Ok easy enough to understand. I am not a racist. I do not practice nor advocate racially motivated bigotry, nor the use of power of one race over another. This includes instances where the minority has power over the majority, what some call "reverse racism."

* Second, is a self-defensive ideology. It innoculates white people from having to listen to people of color, because it teaches that everything important about race can be worked out by white people. There's nothing of value to be gained from listening to people who have felt the effects of racism.

Excellent. I do indeed listen to people of color, and I do so quite often. The best man at my wedding is a black man, and he is one of my best friends. My closest friend is latino. We talk politics frequently. I have contributed to Barak Obama's presidential campaign, and he is currently my choice for president in 2008. So I am listening.

* Third, it is self-cloaking. People afflicted by white privilege -- and I do view it as an affliction, a sickness, an addictive disease on which so many of us are hooked -- are unaware of the problem, and the self-defensiveness and societal reinforcement work in tandem so that it's never directly confronted.

So, if I have white privilege, I won't know I have it? Is there an objective third party that can analyze me for it? Someone who is not an advocate of the theory, so we can be sure to be intellectually honest?

* Finally, it's aggressive. As part of a racist ideology, it strikes back at its targets. "You're racist!" the cries go. "You're attacking ME!" "What about black people, you say ho!" The best defense is said to be a good offense, and as such, white privilege defends itself by attacking others who confront it. You can't listen to someone if you're attacking them.

So, there is no way to question your theory on white privilege? If I don't accept it, it means that I have it? If I think that the way you use it is racist, that just reinforces your point?

Wow Kynn ... it looks like I don't meet your white privilege criteria in two areas, and the other two are impossible to assess objectively. I am going to have to go with thinking I don't suffer from it. But thank you for the additional information, I am always listening.

Even to whitey. ;)
[User Picture]From: stoneself
2007-04-12 09:23 pm (UTC)

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I am not a racist. I do not practice nor advocate racially motivated bigotry, nor the use of power of one race over another.

not overtly or consciously. racist attitudes are built into the language use and the culture you live.
[User Picture]From: kynn
2007-04-13 12:41 am (UTC)

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I think you're mistaking a definition of an ideology for something you can use to diagnose a problem in yourself.

And I really, really can't believe you went for "some of my best friends are black! And I love Obama!"
[User Picture]From: stoneself
2007-04-13 02:45 am (UTC)

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prefaced with "i'm not racist"
[User Picture]From: pheret1
2007-04-13 12:45 am (UTC)

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So, there is no way to question your theory on white privilege? If I don't accept it, it means that I have it?

Actually, if you feel the need to rebut it point by point, Kynn's descriptions have struck a chord in you. How about recognizing where you *do* show your white privilege, rather than where you feel you don't?

Oh, and the whole "some of my best friends are __________" or having a minority friend "vouch" for your non-racism-ism are old, tired arguments that really don't hold much weight. You can be a good person and a great friend and still suffer from privilege.

And racism is commonly described as: Racism = Power + Privilege. What you call "reverse racism" becomes mostly impossible in the USA once those criterion are agreed upon (and I think that definition is becoming more mainstream right now). Then the idea of voluntarily giving up some privilege is an interesting thing to consider next to so-called "reverse racism" - I think the concepts are tangentially related.