THE TRANSPARENCY OF PRIVILEGE | Understanding the Nature of White Skin Privilege: The Advantages

October 6, 2014


I ended my earlier post with an examination of the perks associated with white skin privilege. As Jennifer R. Holladay states in her book, "White Anti-Racist Activism: A Personal Roadmap"  concerning the subject of privilege:


"All of these things are things that I never think about. And when the tables are turned and my white skin is used against me, I am greatly offended (and indignant)." 


What she never has to think about are the advantages of being white in America. Here are some of her examples: 


"White Privilege: The Advantages

Certainly, white privilege is not limited to perks like band aids and hair care products. The second function of white skin privilege is that it creates a significant advantages for white people. There are scores of things that I, as a white person, generally do not encounter, have to deal with or even recognize. For example:


  • My skin color does not work against me in terms of how people perceive

    my financial responsibility, style of dress, public speaking skills, or job


    People do not assume that I got where I am professionally because of my race (or because of affirmative action programs.

  • Store security personnel or law enforcement officers do not harass me, pull me over or follow me because of my race. 


"White Privilege: The World View


The third thing that white privilege does is shape the way in which we view the world and the way in which the world views us. The perks and advantages described above are part of this phenomenon, but not all of it. Consider the following:


  • When I am told about our national heritage or 'civilization,' I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

  • Related, the schools that I attend or have attended use standard textbooks, which widely reflect people of my color and their contributions to the world.

  • When I look at the national currency or see photographs of monuments on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., I see people of my race widely represented and celebrated.


"As a white person, I see myself represented in all of these places. And, until a couple of years ago, I never questioned that representation — or why people of color were excluded. After all, people like me have done a lot for this country and for the world. If people of color had done their part, so the theory goes, they too would see themselves represented. 


"Well, people of color have done more than their share for this country. There is an old saying that the victors of war get to write the history of the world. White privilege works this way, too. Since white folks have been in control for so long, we have determined what is valuable or interesting or useful in terms of education. Greek and Roman mythology, Chaucer, and other canonized works have been selected and revered through the ages as critical components of any 'solid liberal arts education.'


 "I rarely have to question the validity of these selections — this is, after all, what is valuable and considered 'the real stuff.' And I am entitled to a good education, aren’t I? I never question how or why some things are valued and others are not — why some things are important to 'us' and other things are not. When people begin talking about diversifying a curriculum, one of the main things that opponents say is: 'I am not willing to lower standards for the sake of minority representation.'


"The Black Student Coalition at my college, for example, lobbied the faculty to diversify the readings for the Literature 101 class, a required course for first-year students. One professor objected, saying: 'You want me to replace Chaucer with the likes of Alice Walker?'"


Why isn't it important to include the story of all of the people who were instrumental in making America the greatest country in the world? Jennifer Holladay asked this question when confronted by the statement made by the professor for her Literature 101 class:


"Why do we value Chaucer more than the literary offerings of Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, or Audre Lorde? Who assigns that

value and on what basis?"


This is an extremely good question for everyone to ask, especially people who are willing to think critically about such a question. 





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