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What Does It Mean to Be White? This presentation is largely based on a PowerPoint created by Dr. Derald Wing Sue. Dr. Sue’s DVD-Video lecture is available.

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Presentation on theme: "What Does It Mean to Be White? This presentation is largely based on a PowerPoint created by Dr. Derald Wing Sue. Dr. Sue’s DVD-Video lecture is available."— Presentation transcript:

1 What Does It Mean to Be White? This presentation is largely based on a PowerPoint created by Dr. Derald Wing Sue. Dr. Sue’s DVD-Video lecture is available from the Microtraining and Multicultural Development web site at: ml

2 WHAT IS WHITE PRIVILEGE? “White privilege” is a name for the unearned advantages and benefits that accrue to “white” (or lighter skinned) people by virtue of a system that establishes the experiences, values, and perceptions of their group as the norm and what is most desired or esteemed. White privilege  (1) automatically confers dominance to one group, while subordinating groups of color in a descending relational hierarchy,  (2) owes its existence to the history and ideology of White supremacy, both as an idea and a set of legal and social practices  (3) is premised on the mistaken notion of individual meritocracy and deservingness (hard work, family values, etc.) rather than favoritism,  (4) is deeply embedded in the structural, systemic and cultural workings of U.S. society and  (5) operates within an invisible veil of unspoken and protected secrecy.  (6) means not having to think about race all the time--the privilege to enjoy the benefits of whiteness without acknowledging those advantages and while denying that “race matters”

3 Signs of Privilege, Signs of Oppression

4 America: White By Law In 1789 the Constitution of the U.S. established white supremacy by giving whites extra votes, including congressional seats awarded on the basis of the number of slaves held (though such slaves could not themselves vote): “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons [enslaved Africans].)” In 1790 Congress passes a citizenship and naturalization act dictating “that any alien, being a free white person, who shall have resided within the limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States for the term of two years, may be admitted to become a citizen thereof.”

5 America: White By Law In the Dred Scott decision of 1856, upholding the Fugitive Slave Law, the Supreme Court of the U.S. rules that even “A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a 'citizen' within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States.... Consequently, the special rights and immunities guarantied to citizens do not apply to them.” In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion act states that “the coming of Chinese laborers to this country endangers the good order of certain localities within the territory,” and so “the coming of Chinese laborers” to the U.S. is outlawed. In the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896, the Supreme Court validates the “separate but equal” tactic of white supremacy, legalizing “Jim Crow” laws that would regulate every aspect of social, economic, and political life according to the interests of white supremacy.

6 America: White By Law “ All railroads carrying passengers in the state (other than street railroads) shall provide equal but separate accommodations for the white and colored races, by providing two or more passenger cars for each passenger train, or by dividing the cars by a partition, so as to secure separate accommodations. ” --Tennessee, 1891 “ Marriages are void when one party is a white person and the other is possessed of one-eighth or more negro, Japanese, or Chinese blood. ” -- Nebraska, 1911 “The Corporate Commission is hereby vested with power to require telephone companies in the State of Oklahoma to maintain separate booths for white and colored patrons when there is a demand for such separate booths.”--Oklahoma, 1915 “Any white woman who shall suffer or permit herself to be got with child by a negro or mulatto...shall be sentenced to the penitentiary for not less than eighteen months.”--Maryland, 1924

7 America: White By Law “No colored barber shall serve as a barber to white women or girls.”— Atlanta, Georgia, 1926 “ Separate free schools shall be established for the education of children of African descent; and it shall be unlawful for any colored child to attend any white school, or any white child to attend a colored school. ” - -Missouri, 1929 “ It shall be unlawful for a negro and white person to play together or in company with each other in any game of cards or dice, dominoes or checkers. ” --Birmingham, Alabama, 1930

8 Asking the Question For his research, Dr. Sue stopped pedestrians at random around the San Francisco area and asked them the question: “What Does It Mean to be White?”

9 WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE?  42-year old White businessman  A: Frankly, I don’t know what you’re talking about!  Q: Aren’t you White?  A: Yes, but I come from Italian heritage. I’m Italian, not White.  Q: Well then, what does it mean to be Italian?  A: Pasta, good food, love of wine (obviously agitated). This is getting ridiculous!


11  26-year-old White female college student  A: Is this a trick question?...... I’ve never thought about it...... Well, I know that lots of Black people see us as being prejudiced and all that stuff. I wish people would just forget about race differences and see one another as human beings. People are people and we should all be proud to be Americans.

12 WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE?  65-year-old White male retired construction worker  A: That is a stupid question!  Q: Why?  A: Look, what are you... Oriental? You people are always blaming us for stereotyping and here you are doing the same to us.

13 WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE?  Q: When you say “us” whom are you referring to?  A: I’m referring to Americans who aren’t colored. We are all different from one another. I’m Irish but there are Germans, Italians and those Jews. I get angry at the colored people for always blaming us..... when my grandparents came over to this country, they worked 24 hours a day to provide a good living for their kids. My wife and I raised 5 kids and I worked every day of my life to provide for them.  No one gave me nothing! I get angry at the Black people for always whining... they just have to get off their butts and work rather than going on welfare. At least you people [referring to Asian Americans] work hard. The Black ones could learn from your people.

14 WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE?  34-year-old White female stockbroker  A: I don’t know (laughing), I’ve never thought about it.  Q: Are you White?  A: Yes, I suppose so (seems very amused).  Q: Why haven’t you thought about it?  A: Because it’s not important to me.  Q: Why not?  A: It doesn’t enter into my mind because it doesn’t affect my life. Besides, we are all individuals. Color isn’t important.


16 WHITE REACTIONS TO WHITENESS  White people:  (1) often find the question perplexing,  (2) would rather not think about their whiteness,  (3) are uncomfortable or react negatively to being labeled “White”,  (4) deny its importance in affecting their lives, and  (5) seem to believe that they are unjustifiably accused of being bigoted by virtue of being White.

17 Whiteness and Color Blindness  The pretense by White Americans that they do not see color is motivated by the need to appear free of bias and prejudice, fears that what they say or do may appear racist or as an attempt to cover up hidden biases.  To be color blind not only denies the central importance of racial differences in the psychological experience of minorities (racism and discrimination), but also allows the White person to deny how his or her whiteness intrudes upon the person of color.

18 How Do People of Color Answer the Question? How are their answers different from those given by white people?

19 WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE?  21-year-old Chinese American male college student (Ethnic Studies major)  A: My cultural heritage class was just discussing that question last week.  Q: What was your conclusion?  A: Well, it has to do with White privilege. I read an article by a professor at Wellesley [Peggy McIntosh]. It made a lot of sense to me. Being White in this society automatically guarantees you better treatment and unearned benefits and privileges than minorities. Having white skin means you have the freedom to choose the neighborhood you live in. You won’t be discriminated against. When you enter a store, security guards won’t assume you will steal something. You can flag down a cab without the thought they won’t pick you up because you are a minority. You can study in school and be assured your group will be portrayed positively. You don’t have to deal with race or think about it.  Q: Are White folks aware of their privilege?  A: Hell no! They’re oblivious to it.

20 WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE?  29-year-old Latina Administrative Assistant  A: I’m not White I’m Latina!  Q: Are you upset with me?  A: No... Its just that I’m light, so people always think I’m White. Its only when I speak that they realize I’m Hispanic.  Q: Well, what does it mean to be White?  A: Do you really want to know?....... Okay, it means you’re always right. It means you never have to explain yourself or apologize...... You know that movie “Love Is Never Having To Say You’re Sorry?” Well, being White is never have to say you’re sorry. It means you think you’re better than us.

21 WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE?  39-year-old Black Male Salesman  A: is this a school exercise or something? Never expected someone to ask me that question in the middle of the city. Do you want the politically correct answer or what I really think?  Q: Can you tell me what you really think?  A: You won’t quit will you (laughing)? If you’re White, you’re right. If you’re Black, step back.  Q: What does that mean?

22 WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE?  A: White folks are always thinking they know all the answers. A Black man’s word is worth less than a White man’s. When White customers come into our dealership and see me standing next to the cars, I become invisible to them. Actually, they may see me as a well-dressed janitor (laughs), or actively avoid me. They will search out a White salesman. Or, when I explain something to a customer, they always check out the information with my White colleagues. They don’t trust me.  When I mention this to our manager, who is White, he tells me I’m oversensitive and being paranoid. That’s what being White means. It means having the authority or power to tell me what’s really happening even though I know it’s not. Being White means you can fool yourself into thinking that you’re not prejudiced, when you are. That’s what it means to be White.

23 WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE? Japanese Americans behind barbed wire at Manzanar Internment camp, California, in 1942

24 What do the answers tell us about the meaning of whiteness? For people perceived as “white,” whiteness means  To be socialized into a world of White supremacy.  To inherit and benefit from a world of White privilege.  To knowingly or unknowingly have a stake in the perpetuation of White racism.  To deny the reality of people of color and to define their experience from a White perspective.  To be oblivious to your own biases and prejudices.

25 Whiteness means….  To be right.  To possess the luxury of not exploring yourself as a racial/cultural being.  To be able to equate a “human being” with being White.  To be in the position to be an oppressor with the power to force your will upon persons of color.  More importantly, being a White American means living in a world of self-deception, “color blind” in the sense that you do not see that in this world your skin color is an asset while all other colors are a liability.

26 White Cliches: We are the norm, we are the world  “People are people.” “We are all human beings.” “We’re all Americans.” “We’re all the same under the skin.”  “We should emphasize our similarities, not our differences.” “I don’t see color at all.” “We should be a color-blind society.” “Everyone should be treated the same.”  “We should all learn to blend in.” “If you immigrate to this country, you should assimilate and acculturate.” “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” “We are a melting pot.”

27 AWAKENING TO WHITE PRIVILEGE  In his own racial awakening, Robert Jensen, a White professor of journalism writes:  “I know I did not get where I am by merit alone. I benefited from, among other things, white privilege. That doesn’t mean that I don’t deserve my job, or that if I weren’t white I would never have gotten the job. It means simply that all through my life, I have soaked up benefits for being white. I grew up in fertile farm country taken by force from non-white indigenous people. I was educated in a well-funded, virtually all-white public school system in which I learned that white people like me made this country great. There I was also taught a variety of skills, including how to take standardized tests written by and for white people.”

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