Thoughts and Perspectives

Renaming “White Privilege” – Hidden Power of Words Series, #7

As a scholar of racialized actions and mores, I am very familiar with the concept of White Privilege. In a nutshell, White Privilege is the other side of racism, how racism happens, it’s the ways in which White people benefit from racism. 

Tim Wise has a great, short definition: 

White privilege refers to any advantage, opportunity, benefit, head start, or general protection from negative societal mistreatment, which persons deemed white will typically enjoy, but which others will generally not enjoy.

For more of his thoughts see this page.

Some of the previous posts I’ve written in reference to this unfortunate practice include Understanding Privilege: A Conversation about Personal Understandings.

But the term “White Privilege” does not really do justice in describing the processes at work. In particular, it causes many White people to become mad, upset, or confused. They will say things like “White people aren’t privileged!,” “Where is my privilege? I have x, y, z going against me,” and so on. 

For some time I have been thinking about how we could perhaps rename White Privilege such that people are more comfortable discussing it and minimizing its effects. Typical discussions frequently make it look like White people either don’t have control over what happens or that they are beyond arrogant, especially to the non-specialist. 

(As a side note, in any discussion of racism, sexism, heteronormativism, etc, we must remember that systemic “isms” are more problematic than those by individuals per se.) 

A few days ago I was walking around the neighborhood on my exercise routine. I can’t run, but I was walking pretty fast. About this time a police car came driving down the street. And it occurred to me: If I had skin racialized as Black or Middle Eastern that I could have easily been stopped, questioned, and searched. This simple, seemingly innocent and everyday act is a form of White Privilege. Taking a 30 minute walk around where I live and not being bothered or looked at as an object of suspicion by anyone, ever is on some level benefiting from racism, using White Privilege. 

But it’s also and perhaps more appropriately labeled insiderism.  

Individuals racialized as White compared to others are insiders. 

People genderized and sexualized as cis-Male compared to others are insiders. 

So, what do you think?  

See the full Hidden Power of Words Series postings, too!

insider-trading-aa-confidentiality

10 replies »

  1. Had a good, long conversation with a strong student this week; he would describe himself as “mixed” race and at one point in our conversation, he mentioned something about how he wished he could feel what it was like to be white. I understood what he was saying. It’s my white privilege to not be questioned in most cases around the police; I’ve even been stopped for traffic violations, given a verbal warning, where I know (Houston PD statistics will support this) that a black man or Latino would have been hauled away.

    But the concept of insiderism is more appropriate than just physical markers, as you note. Because I grew up in a working class family who yet had access to the information about college application and academic lifestyle, I was already an insider when I went to a private (98% white) university. I didn’t struggle with the discourse, the bureaucracy, the behavioral expectations that many of my students of color do at their local community college. Ironically, though I was able to travel thousands of miles away to attend university, I was still considered an insider, yet these students of working class/poverty class, students of color who travel less than 10 miles to their community college struggle with all those things, and often don’t come on top. They are outsiders even before they visit the campus for the first time, and they feel it. In their verbal contests with a professor, or their mutterings under their breaths, their conscious resistance to curriculum requirements, their unconscious struggles with the material, they identify as outsiders in an institution that — sadly — was designed to keep these outsiders outside.

    Public education verbalizes much about equal opportunity; but the reality, it’s designed to maintain the status quo, consciously (systemic rules, lack of resources, etc.) or unconsciously (hiring professors and so many adjuncts who are themselves insiders and “expect” the student to come where she is, and who rarely reconsider their own privilege.

    Two cents. Good posting.

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  2. In your example, walking freely through your neighborhood without being stopped by the police, you appear to make the claim that this is possible due to your white skin. “If I had skin racialized as Black or Middle Eastern that I could have easily been stopped, questioned, and searched.” However, insiderism sounds like a term that substitutes white skin for social and/or economic privilege.

    And I don’t mean this as an attack, but I feel your neighborhood walk example represents white privilege pretty poorly. I’m not sure if it was an example used to demonstrate how necessary you feel it is to remove the “white” label from the concept of white privilege, as explaining white privilege in a such a way–neighborhood walk–can easily anger and end any productive discussion,

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    • Hi Mark, Thanks for your comment.

      The Walking in the neighborhood is just one very simple example. If you haven’t read it before, check out this article: http://amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html – It’s Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” – she has an excellent list of examples. She is basically the founder of White Privilege as we think about it. I have some personal examples in other postings, too.

      The thing with “insiderism” is that the examples are going to frequently be seeming very innocent and simple.

      More soon.

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