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The White Privilege Series: Revealing the Origins

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This post is part of a series about white privilege, in which I discuss my views on the topic and how it affects our greater community.  Click here to read the entire series.

Sometimes it’s difficult to articulate what white privilege is, but what it basically boils down to is a set of rights for whites that is distinctly different from those of people of color.  It amounts to extreme inequality and an overall lack of acknowledgement or response to this inequality by whites.  So why aren’t whites responding and furthering equality at a level that could dissipate much of society’s racist activities?  The answer is white privilege.

In talking about white privilege, I think it’s helpful to separate those who benefit from white privilege into two groups.  There are those who are aware of their privilege and seek to retain their advantages and historic, unearned status (white supremacists).  While the second group are whites who  are simply unaware that they are the beneficiaries of privilege and have not placed themselves in a position to counteract their biases.

So why are there what seem to be two different kinds of racism in society?  How did some whites become unwitting participants?  The answers are rooted in our history.  They are rooted in the fact that some whites KNOWINGLY created imagery of “savages“, birthed the “3/5 law” and explained slavery away by simply removing HUMANITY from the equation.  Powerful whites did so with intention, they did so to retain their power, they did so to RATIONALIZE the inequalities that they were creating.  All of this was systemic or “institutional“, it was not a mistake and stories had to be created in order to fool those of us who would question these inequalities.  Scientific “research” was conducted in many cases to present “proof” to those whites who may be skeptical or to promote the misguided assumptions of prominent, historic “scientists”…and for a long time…IT WORKED.  We bought into the stories, we believed that we were the superior race …and while many of us many not believe this (in a concious sense) today…those messages are still programmed in our psyche…deeply embedded and still affecting our perceptions of people of color and the choices that we make in their regard.

Learning our history can help prevent us from repeating it.  What has been your experience?  What history have you studied or uncovered?  Do you agree that these historic events still play into modern day race relations and hinder equality?

 

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  • Glenn Robinson
    December 13, 2011 at 11:58 am

    Excellent article Chantilly! Straight to the point. To answer one of your questions, yes, this history does play into modern day relations. The U.S. military justifies killing non-European people to 'liberate' them still to this current day. Also, it seems the vast majority of us (regardless of our phenotype or ethnic background) play along with the system. We (U.S. society) willingly label the 'race' of our children when they attend school for the No Child Left Behind law, and we fill out our 'race' (social construct version) every 10 years for the census. 

    • Chantilly Pati&ntild
      December 14, 2011 at 8:25 am

      Thanks Glenn.  Every now and then I like to write a shorter piece and this one will likely have a follow up.  I really appreciate writing on this topic because I feel like the conversations that come up here are just as great a learning experience for me as the initial discoveries.

      I definitely agree…this is STILL affecting the way we live and view POC and those stereotypes allow us to live by these labels and not by interactions or experience.  Like Letty said above…more exposure needs to be happening…

  • BellaVida
    December 14, 2011 at 3:32 am

    I love your clear, direct, precise language.  I believe all minorities have to stop relying on other people and write & tell their own history.   We must use our own words and describe the past and present from our point of view.  We need to publish our photos and memorabilia.  Our voices must be heard and our faces must be seen. 

    • Chantilly Pati&ntild
      December 14, 2011 at 8:15 am

      Thanks Letty.  I think that is such an IMPORTANT part of the issue!  Thank you for sharing that!  There definitely needs to be more stories, news, etc. from POC in "white owned" media.  It's a shame that media outlets are STILL not integrated and that so many whites are not hearing those voices.  So, so important!  <3

  • Fanshen
    December 20, 2011 at 9:31 am

    Please add in your follow up how one might 'place themselves in a position to counteract their biases.' Not that it's our responsibility to teach others to do it, but it can't hurt to explain what that action would look like.

    My concern with using the word 'white' in this terminology is I don't know who it refers to.  Judging from the photos of everyone who has posted so far (including me), in many communities we are all recipients of 'white privilege.'  I think we are aware of it and, by the nature of the work we do, we are working towards combating it – but I would say that's a third category of the types of people who benefit from it.  What do you all think?

    • Chantilly Pati&ntild
      December 20, 2011 at 10:20 am

      Thanks Fanshen.  :)  I'm working on two posts about what we can do to combat our privilege…which will probably go up after the holidays.  About a third category, what would you suggest?  I know that there is some benefit for those who are mixed race or lighter skinned, but I'm not sure it operates in exactly the same way.  Definitely would be interesting to write a post on it though and hear others' thoughts. I think there are some very real similarities there and also I would love to talk more about internalized racism soon. I'm not sure yet, if that will be another series, but I do feel it needs more conversation.

      I'm also working on a project right now about parenting children without racial biases.  Of course, I think a child will always have certain preferences as a result of how they're raised…but we can definitely do more to prevent prejudice and discrimination by teaching our children about it and giving them the tools to combat it.  This is definitely a long term project…lol…but such an important topic!

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