A Jeanne Site
California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: February 11, 2000
Curran or Takata.
Part of Teaching Series.
Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata
Copyright: February 2000. "Fair Use" encouraged.
According to McIntosh, Caucasians don't recognize their white privilege, because they were taught not to recognize it, but I believe that if a white person is isolated from a multi or semi-multi cultural environment, then yes, it is a possibility that they don't see that they are privileged. However, if one interacts with other cultures, how could they not see that their color has gotten them ahead in some way?
Jeanne, I would really like to hear your opinion on my comment
Tyshae, I'm gonna answer briefly now, even though Pat's in the hospital and everything is topsy turvy for me, so you'll need to nag me to clarify this draft . . .
A well thought out answer to your question will take us all semester. So this is just a frist crack at it. You're all invited to join in as we try to answer this.
One plausible explanation for Causcasians' failure to see white privilege is the social construction of reality. (I'll give you some links on this later. Nag me.) One interpretation of that social construction is that when you are socialized into a given social context (say, the US in the late 90's and 2000), that's the whole of your conscious world. We aren't inclined, and certainly not taught, to see our own social context as one of many possible contexts. We learn much more simply: this is the way things are. We aren't inclined to ask, is this the way things should be? So if I'm white in a mixed world that has the unstated privileges McIntosh identifies, I don't ask should I have these privileges? I don't even see them as privileges. I see them as the way things are. And if I know that the world is basically good, then I may see the way things are as basically good. I may say, as Michael did, "I'm basically white," and what I mean by that is that I'm white for most intents and purposes, but I recognize that sometimes "I'm white" may be used in ways that I would not accept as basically good, so I qualify "I'm white" by saying "I'm basically white." You'll have to ask Michael what he meant, but that's what I understood when he used the phrase "basically white."
So all of this revolves around how much of what we feel and understand we believe everyone else feels and understands, too, and how we manage to communicate to each other that some of us aren't clear on what is being communicated. That's the essence of public discourse, since our need to resolve issues of communal importance depends on how well we manage to communicate our different perspectives to each other. We each need to know what "I'm white" means when one of us says it. And it will mean many different things to different people. Discourse won't be meaningful until we share those definitions.
If I have learned to get ahead in a world that is basically good and in which I am basically white, then I may feel that my getting ahead is the result of my being basically good in a basically good system. I don't need to reach the issue of what if I were basically "not white?"
But if were basically "not white" then I would need to understand what people meant who were saying they were basically white, and what all those implications were. Unless, I, too, saw the world as basically good and tried to succeed the same way that people who are basically white succeed. Sometimes that would work, and I would succeed just like those who are basically white. But sometimes my color would stand in my way. Racism is. But since I believe the world is basically good, I would just try harder, and sometimes, like Clarence Thomas, when I finally do succeed, then I will be able to say I did it by my hard work, and so could others if they just tried harder. He may be right. But those who question his point of view are trying to remind him that sometimes trying didn't work and he had to try harder, and that some whites didn't have to put forth that extra "trying harder" effort. If I saw the world as basically racist, I would be much quicker to point out the error to Clarence Thomas in his thinking. Remember, it's all in the perspective you take.
The position you are taking, Tyshae, is that of critical theory. Why don't white people see the difference in success rates when you are white and when you are of color? And one plausible answer is that they don't see it because it isn't included in the "basically" white. They are seeing success as dependent on effort. And they are right. They are not seeing that succes is dependent on other factors, too. They are coming to "spurious conclusions." They see one part of the causal realtionship, and mistake it for the whole causal relationship. And you don't need to teach them not to see the whole relationship. They see an obvious relationship: effort - success. Just by stopping there, and being color blind beyond that point, they can draw their spurious conclusion.
How do we change that? By making them aware of the spuriousness of their conclusion, and by bringing the causal effect of color to awareness. This is a partial explanation of Jennifer's comment that she is not responding to color. And of many responses of agreement on that point. They are in fact responding to actual behavior, actual relationships between appearance and behavior, and not to color alone, maybe not to color at all. The problem crops up when others of us see that expectations based on color alone have contributed to the more complex expectations of behavior. We need to sort out our definitions of "basically white," basically "not white," and of how far back we go in our analysis of causality to locate spurious assumptions that lie beneath our conclusions.
Does that help for starters, Tyshae?
love and peace, jeanne