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Understanding White Privilege-- A Brief Introduction Frances E. Kendall, Ph.D.
© 2006, Frances E. Kendall, Ph.D. 2 Understanding White Privilege What is white privilege? For those of us who are white, it is sort of like asking fish to notice water or birds to discuss air. American Heritage Dictionary (2000) defines privilege as “a special advantage, immunity, permission, right, or benefit granted to or enjoyed by an individual, class, or caste.” Peggy McIntosh (1995) reminds us that those of us who are white usually believe that privileges are “conditions of daily experience...[that are] universally available to everybody.” It is “unearned power conferred systematically.” (Margaret L. Andersen and Patricia Hill Collins, 2 nd ed. Race, Class, and Gender, pp )
© 2006, Frances E. Kendall, Ph.D. 3 Understanding White Privilege White privilege is an institutional (rather than a personal) set of benefits. Purely on the basis of our skin color doors are open to us that are not open to other people
© 2006, Frances E. Kendall, Ph.D. 4 Understanding White Privilege All of us who are white, by race, have white privileges. Privileges based on the other groups of which we are a part are added or taken away, depending on who we are. Socioeconomic class Gender Sexual orientation Ability/disability Religion
© 2006, Frances E. Kendall, Ph.D. 5 Understanding White Privilege White privilege has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not we are “good” people. Privileges are bestowed on us by the institutions with which we interact solely because of our race, not because we are deserving as individuals.
© 2006, Frances E. Kendall, Ph.D. 6 Understanding White Privilege While the bestowal of white privilege is not necessarily intentional and/or malicious, obviously, it is usually one or both. Historically, there are many, many examples of intentionality and/or cruelty. It is essential to be conscious that the patterns set in history are continued today not only in the on-going systemic and systematic discrimination of people of color but also in the privileging of those of us who are white.
© 2006, Frances E. Kendall, Ph.D. 7 Understanding White Privilege Our privileges are bestowed prenatally. We can’t not get them and we cannot give them away, no matter how much we do not want them.
© 2006, Frances E. Kendall, Ph.D. 8 Understanding White Privilege We (erroneously) believe that we do not have to take the issues of racism seriously because we think they don’t really have to do with us.
© 2006, Frances E. Kendall, Ph.D. 9 Understanding White Privilege White privilege is the ability to make decisions that affect everyone without taking others into account. This occurs at every level, from individual to international. “Oops, I forgot to ask other people what they thought as I planned this event” is classic behavior for white women in particular.
© 2006, Frances E. Kendall, Ph.D. 10 Understanding White Privilege Being white enables us to decide whether we are going to listen to others, to hear them, or neither. We also silence others without intending to or even being aware of it.
© 2006, Frances E. Kendall, Ph.D. 11 Understanding White Privilege White privilege allows us not to see race in ourselves and to be angry at those who do.
© 2006, Frances E. Kendall, Ph.D. 12 Understanding White Privilege Believing that race is “N.M.I.—Not My Issue” and being a member of one or more groups that also experience systemic discrimination, we use the privilege of emotionally and psychologically removing ourselves from the “white” group, which we see as composed either of demonically racist people who spout epithets and wear white robes or of white, straight, wealthy males. For those of us who are white, and are also women, and/or are gay or lesbian, or working class, our experience of being excluded from the mainstream blinds us to the fact that we still benefit from our skin color. By seeing ourselves as removed from the privileged group we are all the more blind to our silencing of people of color.
© 2006, Frances E. Kendall, Ph.D. 13 Understanding White Privilege Those of us who are white have the privilege of always seeing and keeping ourselves central, never marginal. White people are our reference point, the ones to whom everyone else is compared.
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