Monday, 5 March 2012

White Privilege and My Problems With The Concept

Lately, thanks to the world of Tumblr and the so called 'social justice bloggers' there, I have become aware of the concept of 'white privilege'.

White privilege is a part of critical race theory that makes claims about the differences between white people and all others, and how white people inherently, because of the colour of their skin, get treated better than others and the advantages they receive in life due to being white.

A famous piece on white privilege by Peggy McIntosh can be found here. It's worth a read because it explains McIntosh's idea on white privilege well.

One of my main problems with McIntosh's idea of white privilege is that she lists 50 things that show the daily effects of white privilege. Whilst some of them are concerning, many of them are problems only in countries like the United States, where there is a large white population and a large multicultural one. Yet McIntosh doesn't acknowledge this- she writes as if white privilege effects the globe in the same way.

For example, some of the things she lists that are examples of white privilege-

'6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.' or '12. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser's shop and find someone who can cut my hair.'

Are examples of issues people of colour face in the United States, which is perfectly valid, however this is not a worldwide issue. For example, I could be living in a country where the music of my 'race' wasn't represented, or the staple foods I eat were not sold. Does this mean the people in the country I am living have 'privilege' over me? No, of course not.

See I feel that white privilege theory needs to be fine tuned to really sell me. From what I've read on critical race theory (and I'm not an expert, by any means, so it may just be what I've been reading) it uses a blanket approach to white privilege, and leaves no room for different situations in different neighbourhoods, cities, countries or cultures.

But once again I want to repeat that I do not opposed the theory of white privilege when applied to western countries completely, I just have issues with some of theory and how it is used by some people. I feel that in some ways white privilege theory and feminism have some things in common- often some feminists use blanket approaches to the problems facing women, when they can differ greatly.

For example, a woman in Saudi Arabia has very different problems with equality than a woman in Australia. Does this mean that women in Australia have complete equality? No. But it means that when discussing issues of feminism you must take in account the country and culture. I feel this is relevant to race theory as well- you need to tailor the theory to the different issues in different countries.

I could go on dissecting all of the list that McIntosh published but that would take a long time. Essentially a lot of the things that she discuss I believe can be put down to being specific to some people in western countries, particularly the US, UK and Australia.

One of the other reasons I dislike white privilege theory is how it is used by many people of colour against anything a white person says. Particularly when voicing opinions on anything relating to the people or culture of a person of colour. I am not arrogant, I do not seek to believe I know more than a person of colour (or anyone), or that their experiences are not important, but I am still allowed an opinion on all issues- even issues about racism.

For example, if I was having a conversation with a person of colour about a third race/culture separate to both of us, it may be said (and has been said to me before) that my thoughts and opinion is not valid because I have white privilege. Now to me, disallowing someone an opinion because of the colour of their skin sounds a little like racism, but that is another problem with white privilege- it treats racism against white people as non existent. That, along with the issues of reverse racism, are quite large in themselves and will have to be left for another day.

The third problem I have with white privilege theory is that is is sometimes used to try and make the issues of people of colour more important than anything else. An extreme example of this is a post on Tumblr that can be found here. In this example a 'social justice' blogger tries to argue that Jews had white privilege during the holocaust. Which to me is a ridiculous notion and shows how white privilege theory can be thrown against almost anything without much sense being applied.

I don't agree with critical race theory and white privilege because I feel there are so many inconsistencies and issues with the theory.

(Oh and I would appreciate no comments on how I'm wrong because I have white privilege. That would just be ironic).

3 comments:

  1. Understand what you are saying. Here are 3 resources that I believe address your concern (in order of relevance) Since Peggy McIntosh wrote that, there has been a lot of work on this. Happy Reading and let me know if I can help in any other way

    1)Complicating “White Privilege” » Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names http://www.scoop.it/t/whiteness/p/1075814364/complicating-white-privilege-counterpunch-tells-the-facts-names-the-names

    2) Ten Things Everyone Should Know About White Privilege Today http://www.scoop.it/t/whiteness/p/1322693899/ten-things-everyone-should-know-about-white-privilege-today

    3) Deconstructing White Privilege in honour of Black History Month http://www.scoop.it/t/whiteness/p/1140221144/deconstructing-whitness-white-privilege-in-honour-of-black-history-month-the-africana

    4) The new kind of racism – it goes by the name of ‘implicit’ http://www.scoop.it/t/whiteness/p/1136411448/the-new-kind-of-racism-it-goes-by-the-name-of-implicit

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  2. You're right - you cannot examine the single identity of "whiteness" or race in general without acknowledging how this intersects with a person's other identities - religion, gender, socio-economic status, nationality, etc. Great deconstruction of the concept.

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  3. Mike Steinberg11 June 2013 at 16:11

    It's very much a cultural marxist concept. In previous times it could have been used to describe jewish privilege or kulak privilege depending on the targeted group. Successful groups tend to be resented and this is a manifestation of that. Note that the likes of Tim Wise and co never acknowledge human biodiversity and the role that may play in privilege.

    Of course, as you reasonably point out, a lot of the things described as privilege are simply what you would expect where a group is the majority. Presumably there is Kenyan privilege and Japanese privilege in those countries too?

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