Minoritized people and our allies are coming together in greater numbers than ever before. We are pushing the boundaries unwilling any longer to accept the repressive status quo.
“Educators in social justice schools and universities talk to students about race regularly, even incorporating it into their daily curriculum, regardless of course subject. Now, thanks to radical teacher training programs and Common Core recommended texts and other aligned resources, the white privilege guilt-trip is rapidly spreading.” —Danette Clark, EAGnews.org, 3/30/14
Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr. founded the White Privilege Conference (WPC) in 1999 to examine “challenging concepts of privilege and oppression and offer solutions … to work toward a more equitable world.” Now more than 2500 students, educators, and other civil and human rights activists attend the conference annually.
As stated by an educator commenting on WPC 7:
The most powerful message that continues to reverberate through my head and heart is that of looking at the future and eliminating systems of oppression through the lens of possibility and hope.
I regularly participate and present workshops at the White Privilege Conference as it has traveled to various sites around the country. The theme of this year’s conference was “Building Relationships! Strengthening Communities! Seeking Justice!” According to the conference website:
WPC is a conference designed to examine issues of privilege beyond skin color. WPC is open to everyone and invites diverse perspectives to provide a comprehensive look at issues of privilege including: race, gender, sexuality, class, disability, etc.—the ways we all experience some form of privilege, and how we’re all affected by that privilege.
Resistance to WPC specifically and issues around social justice more generally comes in many forms along a spectrum from disbelief, denial, stretching the truth, fabrication, and downright lies and slander, to harassment, physical attack, and even more violent backlash.
Among the printed attacks on this year’s conference, in addition to the quote above, is a blog by the Council of Conservative Citizens, 3/30/14, which states in part:
Each year radical leftists hold a ‘White Privilege’ conference to demonize white people. The event openly promotes hatred against white people, especially white males.
Alongside the article, they include a cartoon depicting a blond man tied and hammered to a cross, a sign hanging around his neck announcing “WHITE HETEROSEXUAL CHRISTIAN MALE,” as three apparent men of color dressed in ancient Roman garb gaze from below, one is Barack Obama lifting high a golden grail demanding “FINISH HIM OFF ERIC” to a menacing Eric Holder dressed in military uniform pointing a long sharp spear inches from the crucified man’s groin.
The resistance we have seen and are continually experiencing to the White Privilege Conference, while venomous and blaming in tone, is nonetheless predictable in that these tactics have been employed time after time against individuals, groups, and communities that have challenged oppression and dominant hegemonic discourses.
Dominant groups try to intimidate minoritized communities and incite fear within the larger population in its attempts to silence opposition and to prevent minoritized groups from engaging in the decision-making process that affects the course of their lives, and even to name and define the terms of their existence.
Dominant Group Privilege
Among the definitions of “privilege” is “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.”
Peggy McIntosh’s (1988) has become universally acknowledged as the preeminent scholar and social activist investigating dominant group privilege, in particular white and male, which she asserts constitutes a seemingly invisible, unearned, and largely unacknowledged array of benefits accorded to white people and to males, with which they often unconsciously walk through life as if effortlessly carrying a knapsack tossed over their shoulders. This systemof benefits confers dominance on white people and males while subordinating people of color and females.
These systemic inequities are pervasive throughout the society. They are encoded into the individual’s consciousness and woven into the fabric of our social institutions, resulting in a stratified social order privileging dominant groups while restricting and disempowering marginalized groups. In keeping with McIntosh’s inventory outlining the manifestations of white and male privilege, authors have developed parallel lists summarizing overarching examples and forms of dominant privilege including Christian, heterosexual, age-related, economic, physical and mental ability, and others.
With its relative invisibility, privilege has been rarely analyzed nor scrutinized, neither interrogated nor confronted. Dominance is perceived as unremarkable or “normal,” and when anyone poses a challenge, those in the dominant positions brand them as “subversive,” “extremist,” “hateful,” “reverse oppressors.”
The concept of “hegemony” describes the ways in which the dominant group, successfully disseminate dominant social realities and social visions in a manner accepted as common sense, as “normal,” as universal. Hegemony is advanced through “discourses,” which include the ideas, written expressions, theoretical foundations, and language of the dominant culture. These are implanted within networks of social and political control, described by Foucault as “regimes of truth,” which function to legitimize what can be said, who has the authority to speak and be heard, and what is authorized as true or as the truth.
The concept of oppression, then, constitutes more than the cruel and repressive actions of individuals upon others. It involves an overarching system of differentials of social power and privilege by dominant groups over minoritized groups based on ascribed social identities and reinforced by unequal social group status. And this is not merely the case in societies ruled by coercive or tyrannical leaders but, according to Iris Marion Young, occurs within the day-to-day practices of contemporary democratic societies like the United States. “Unpacking” the knapsack of privilege (whether it be white, male, Christian, heterosexual, owning class, temporarily able bodied, English as first-language speakers, and others) is to become aware and to develop critical consciousness of its existence and how it impacts the daily lives of both those with and those without this privilege.
Forms of Resistance
When raising and discussing issues of oppression and privilege, I like to refer to Dr. Sherry Watt’s “Privilege Inventory Exploration” (PIE) model to name the types of resistance that may emerge:
1. Denial – Rejection of the concept of dominant group privilege, for example “It’s not white privilege. I worked hard for what I have gained.”
2. Deflection – The notion that majority rules and that the minority cannot expect the majority to adhere to minority standards. “They can’t expect the dominant culture to change for them. If someone is going to live in America, then they need to understand that we were founded by white Europeans, that our founding fathers were white, and the majority rules.”
3. Rationalization – The notion that the individual did not set the conditions for the inequities that may exist in the society currently or historically. “My relatives arrived in the United States after slavery, and I had nothing to go with it.”
4. Intellectualization – The assertion that the individual is not prejudiced and does not discriminate. “I am opposed to hate groups. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of my heroes. Beside, my best friend is an Asian American.”
5. Principium – A defensive reaction arising from a personal or political belief. Though the person may feel badly that a certain social identity group may not have achieved full equality and equity within in society, this is the way it was meant to be. “As I see it, white people’s culture has created some of the greatest civilizations in the world, and other cultures can learn a lot from these white cultures.”
6. False Envy – Sometimes manifesting an affection for a minoritized person or group, it is an effort to deny the complexity of the social and political context. At times, it manifests itself in dominant groups claiming victimhood at the hands of minoritized groups. “Actually, white people are the victims. We should be talking about reverse racism.”
7. Minimalization – Reducing the effect that social identity has upon one’s life chances, and that issues of oppression based on social identity are no longer a problem. “People of color all have the same chances to succeed as white people do. It’s not about race. It’s about motivation. Besides, racism used to be a problem, but it’s no longer a problem today.”
8. Benevolence – Projecting an excessively sensitive attitude toward a social and political issue or group based on a position of charity. “I treat everyone with respect. I don’t see race. I am color blind.”
Look, for example, at the clear similarities between consistent charges lodged against WPC with the tenets of the 2010 law passed in Arizona, HB 2281, abolishing Mexican American studies programs in Tucson Public School and the banning of foundational books like Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. The following is from the actual language of the law:
The legislation prohibits a school district or charter school from including in its program of instruction any courses or classes that:
–Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
–Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.
-Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
–Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.
While the legislature and governor of Arizona may have eliminated the program (which, by the way, had successfully increased graduation rates to an amazing 92% of students enrolled in the courses), this short-term “victory” on their part has only increased opposition to these racist policies and has served to unify the opposition.
[Not A] Conclusion
I have often attended WPC to learn as much as I can, and to recharge my batteries to reenergize for the work, the often difficult work, of joining with others to help bring about a more equitable and just society, one that truly fulfills the ideal of justice and equality on which our nation was built but has not yet achieved.
Being anti-racist is NOT being anti-white. Working against white supremacy is NOT working against white people. Rather, it is attempting to share privilege with all people of every socially constructed identity. As a white person, I am not working to ensure that white people suffer from racial profiling, or receive tougher penalties in the judicial system, or are punished more harshly in the schools, or suffer the consequences of higher unemployment or lower educational outcomes, or are “red lined” into certain neighborhoods on account of their “race” as people of color currently experience. Instead, we are working to end these discriminatory practices for everyone by looking at and challenging the systematic social inequities.
The great news is that no amount of intimidation will ever lock us away again. Minoritized people and our allies are coming together in greater numbers than ever before. We are pushing the boundaries unwilling any longer to accept the repressive status quo. In coalition with other disenfranchised groups and allies, we are refusing to buckle under and to assimilate into a corrupt and corrupting system that forces people to relinquish their integrity and their humanity. And most exciting of all is the fact that people of the younger generations are leading the way.
In the final analysis, I do believe that love will conquer the hatred, the lies, the stereotypes, the violence, and ultimately the resistance.
Photo: AP/Jim R. Bounds