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okay the controversy

So I was reading an LJ today and the subject of "White Privilege" Came up. This is the notion that by the mere dent of being white, a persons life will have an inherent benefit or easing of problems or standards. This was used as an argument for why someone was being clueless talking about a subject related to race. The idea is if you are white your opinion on race is suspect because you benefit of the so called White Privilege.

Now I believe that 50 years ago there was a strong argument for White Privilege. It was clearly present Culturally and in the laws of the time sadly. I believe in the last 20 years though you are hard pressed to come up with real evidence for it. You can find evidence of some things which are sad. The statistics of minority students who get higher education or doctorates are distressing. However the evidence these days could easily be read on the aspect of financial status more than race. With a very few exceptions the evidence just is not conclusive.

I personally don't believe in it. It just isn't there any more. That is not to say there are not some individual racists out there. There are of course plenty of them out there. I am saying there is no inherent cultural, religious, or legal benefits to being born white. I certainly have never benefited from it. There is no one in my long and winding experience that I can point to and say they benefited from it more than being born in to an upper middle class home. The arguments so far presented fail to show privilege in an indisputable way. What is more I feel using that as a justification to discount someone is lazy and disingenuous. Rather than explain why you think someone is wrong on something you point to them and say well they are white. Not only does it not address why they are wrong, but it really is kind of racist. it renders any argument might offer there after weaker as a result.

This discussion went on someones lj and they very politely indulged the discussion till they were done and then asked it be moved elsewhere. So I am posting my thoughts here to any who felt compelled to continue the discussion.

keep it civil.


( 80 comments — Leave a comment )
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May. 20th, 2009 10:13 pm (UTC)
Racism is only damaging if accepted?
I really think you don't realize what/how damaging it can be even in people who don't even know they are doing it. Racism is not only damaging to people if it is the accepted cultural norm, it's plenty damaging even today.

Many people simply absorb a cultural attitude, and act on it, without ever knowing why. They had a better reaction to one person over another, and unless they really analyze their own patterns of behavior, they don't understand what they have been socialized to.

The "flash faces" tests where people are shown different types of faces and asked to quickly assess show a universal preference for White faces. This even in people of color. That's the media saturation and societal conditioning. It is *very* similar to the issue of weight bias at that level. Many people don't even know they do it.

And finally, racism, prejudice, and bias are not all precisely the same. Group bias is common, ingroup vs. outgroup (us vs. them) - and very difficult to really eliminate psychologically. Prejudice is when there are ideas and judgements (usually derogatory, but not always - think American common cultural attitudes toward Koreans.) - these can range from simply demeaning to outright harmful (and aren't always race).

Racism is also about power. It is, a system of dominance. We really should coin a term for it. But it's not just having a prejudice, it is acting upon it in a way to anothers' detriment. That's why some people go so far as to say that non-empowered groups can't *be* racist per se. They don't have the power generally to inflict detriment. I disagree, because power relationships can be situational and relative. But overall, dominant groups can inflict detriment more often. It's power relations.

May. 20th, 2009 11:20 pm (UTC)
Re: Racism is only damaging if accepted?
Racism is still damaging. I did not say otherwise, but if we found out about a child molester we would not say well that is just society, we would say something. We would do something. The same with people who beat their wives or drive drunk. These things happen. Everyday in fact. With many many people doing it. It does not reflect a culture of acceptance though. These things when shown to the light of day are opposed almost every time. Why should racism some how be different.

IT is not illegal for instance to express a racist view, but it is illegal to use it to insult someone in particular. It is illegal to fire someone based on race. It is illegal to not hire someone based on just their race.

The Cultural attitude expressed over the last 20 years in our popular media has been it is not okay to judge someone based on skin color. For all the people who point to the negative portrayals of race that do make it in to popular media(and they do have them sadly), i can point to one that is positive.

Racism is not about power. A racist living in the hills wallowing in his hate has racism but is not in a position of power. Racism is about an attitude. It i can be held, no matter your position.

May. 21st, 2009 02:45 pm (UTC)
Re: Racism is only damaging if accepted?
The academic definition of racism includes holding a position of power over the person whom you are discriminating against.
May. 21st, 2009 02:51 pm (UTC)
Re: Racism is only damaging if accepted?
From Websters

\ˈrā-ˌsi-zəm also -ˌshi-\

1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
2 : racial prejudice or discrimination

May. 21st, 2009 03:12 pm (UTC)
Re: Racism is only damaging if accepted?
That is the standard definition. There is a difference between the standard, common parlance usage and the Academic Definition of a whole host of words. Racism seems to be a big one because you wind up with the academics arguing their version, and everyone else arguing the standard one.

I say this not as a good/bad thing. I just point it out as something to be aware of. If you are discussing racism with someone, make sure that terms are defined ahead of time.
May. 21st, 2009 12:44 am (UTC)
So, there are a couple of things floating about this discussion that puzzle me:

1.) Is anyone really asserting, like you seem to claim, that white privilege is the only significant kind out there? Feminists have been talking about male privilege for at least 20 years. GLBT people have been talking about straight privilege probably as long. Class (or wealth) privilege is commonly studied and discussed. The privilege that thin people have over fat people is widely discussed.

From what I've read, it's generally accepted that all forms of social privilege are systemic and interrelated - they do not act as separate forces, and none of them exist in a vacuum independent of other factors.

They also don't "cancel out" one another in a linear sense. If an African-American man is richer than you are, he has class privilege compared to you. That doesn't negate your white privilege compared to him. It might mitigate some of the effects of it, but it's folly to suggest that some kind of objective comparison can be made between your privilege and his - you both have privilege and situational factors will determine who has the advantage.

A poster on John Scalzi's blog said this, and it stuck in my mind: "The world isn’t neatly separated into oppressed and non-oppressed people. It all depends on context as to which person is going to have an advantage over another." Why is it so difficult for you to accept the possibility that race issues play a part in that context just like other factors (ones that you *do* acknowledge) do, and that precisely because they're experiencing it, non-whites notice it more than you do?

2.) How much reading have you actually done on the subject? I don't mean this to be a rude or condescending question, and I realize it might come across that way in text; apologies for that in advance. I'm asking because it strikes me that some of the assumptions you make about privilege, the types of privilege, and how well they have or haven't been studied / acknowledged are not really verified (or are directly contradicted) by the resources that exist.

3.) While it's true that the lion's share of the statistics regarding privilege is tied to correlation and it's therefore difficult to prove precise causal relationships, I don't see how that gives you an objective basis to totally rule it out, either. High levels of statistical correlation often *do* indicate causal relationships (when the example is not absurdly out of scope, like your cancer/shoes example) - they just don't define the causes. It seems illogical to me to dismiss those statistics out of hand, rather than to probe deeper into the matter.

Overall, it seems to me that your ultimate reasoning for claiming it doesn't / can't exist is largely based on your own anecdotal experience, which, if you want to talk about hard facts and sampling data (which you seem to want), also has little value. You can't really have it both ways. What is your basis for claiming that manifestations of race-related inequality (as a result of individual action or as a socioeconomic construct) is a "cultural exception" and not an ingrained norm?

4.) You talk a lot about the term "white privilege" being used as a club to eliminate whites from the discussion and to perpetuate reverse racism. Taking it on faith that you've witnessed and read enough to believe that this does occur, has it occurred to you that it's possible for people to *misuse* any concept? Is Christianity wholly invalid because some individuals have used the concepts associated with it to justify murder and torture?

Like any idea, the notion of privilege can be abused in discussion and other acts. Is that really a good reason to claim that the idea itself lacks any merit?

Thanks in advance for your patience with a long post. I'm curious to see what you have to say.
May. 21st, 2009 01:39 am (UTC)
Okay, I appreciate the comment though I do like for people to say who they are when they post on my journal. That said lets dive in. I am trying to not loose as much productivity tonight as I did last night?

1)I suppose I should confess that I did not really have my position firmly established in the initial post. I believe there is a statistical expressed advantage afforded to whites. What prompted the post was primarily that I have seen that used as an argument. Case in point. I had an argument with someone that maybe no racism was present in a particular work of a friend of mine. The work featured a race as of inteligent apes as the heroic figures. The argument was that due to the racism in the pulp progenitors. of that trope, then any work drawing on some of the aspects of pulp were also racist. I disagreed and I was told initially this was due to my white privilege.

This started my distaste for the term. My opinion on the matter is with out merit because I am white? The individual went on to explain I was cracker cause I was from the south and clearly I was racist.

So all of that said I began to see the term used more often. Invariably it was used to discount someone elses arguments on anything related to race. It became a thing separate from the statistics and became an argument you dont have to have. I dont have to point out a statement is wrong, merely that your white and that means it is with out value. Whether that was the original intent of the term or not. It also establishes a president of saying because I am white I DO have privilege conditions rather than CAN have conditions The can have is accurate. I could statistically speaking have had a greater chances at certain aspects at life. My problem is not with the statistical notion as it is that the term has come to the statistical reality. I am privileged(the definition of which is special rules or standards) by being white is wrong. That I have a greater chance of being privileged is accurate. It does not however discount the possibility that I might have something cogent to say on race.

As to my reading, other than some W.E. B. Dubois in high school my reading has been on online sources(wikipedia, some Blogs by Tim Wise and others. ) Anything more extensive probably would require me to be a lot more invested in this subject and sociology in general.

My argument is not that is cant exist. 30n or so years ago I could point to clear cases of it in fact. Today however I feel the statistical trends actually say it is no greater a marker of success than wealth. I do say its current usage rather than perhaps its intent when the term was come up with is essentially racism. To say someone has no value in their reasoning based on their race is in fact racism no matter who says it. I think the term has come to have a weight it does not merit because it relates to race which we as a people are entirely too obsessed with.
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