How Well-Intentioned White Families Can Perpetuate Racism

Fascinating interview and discussion on class-based white privilege works in practice as families choose what they believe is best for their children:

When Margaret Hagerman was trying to recruit white affluent families as subjects for the research she was doing on race, one prospective interviewee told her, “I can try to connect you with my colleague at work who is black. She might be more helpful.”

Modern-day segregation in public schools

To Hagerman, that response was helpful in itself. She is a sociologist at Mississippi State University, and her new book, White Kids: Growing Up With Privilege in a Racially Divided America, summarizes the two years of research she did talking to and observing upper-middle-class white families in an unidentified midwestern city and its suburbs. To examine how white children learn about race, she followed 36 of them between the ages of 10 and 13, interviewing them as well as watching them do homework, play video games, and otherwise go about their days.

These kids and their parents display a range of beliefs about race. “Racism is not a problem,” one girl tells Hagerman, adding that it “was a problem when all those slaves were around and that, like, bus thing and the water fountain.” Meanwhile, the girl’s mother nods along. Other parents in the book have educated themselves better, but often, intentionally or unintentionally, still end up giving their kids advantages that, in the abstract, they claim to oppose. (White Kids is not, as Hagerman writes at one point, “a particularly hopeful book.”)

I recently spoke to Hagerman, and that second group kept coming up in our conversation—how, despite their intentions, progressive-minded white families can perpetuate racial inequality. She also discussed ways they can avoid doing so. The interview that follows has been edited for length and clarity.

Joe Pinsker: One reading of your book is that the way white parents talk about race with their children does matter, but that what you call the “bundled set of choices” they make about what types of people their children encounter every day might matter even more. Can you talk about that set of choices and what it determines?

Margaret Hagerman: I use the phrase bundled choices because it seemed to me that there were some pretty striking patterns that emerged with these families in terms of how they set up their children’s lives. For example, I talk in the book about how choosing a neighborhood leads to a whole bunch of other choices—about schools, about the other people in the neighborhood. Decisions about who to carpool with, decisions about which soccer team to be on—you want to be on the same one as all your friends, and all these aspects of the kid’s life are connected to the parents’ choices about where to live.

I’m trying to show in the book that kids are growing up in these social environments that their parents shape. They’re having interactions with other people in these environments, and that’s, I think, where they’re developing their own ideas about race and privilege and inequality.

Why color blindness is a counterproductive ideology

Pinsker: Some of the parents in your book may see the problems with choosing mostly white neighborhoods or schools, but the explanation they usually provide for those choices is that they just want what’s best for their children. This rationale is generally considered understandable, even honorable, but can you talk about its dark side?

Hagerman: One of the things I talk about in the book is what I call this “conundrum of privilege,” which is that these parents have a lot of resources economically as well as status as white people. They can then use those resources to set up their own child’s life in ways that give them the best education, the best health care, all the best things. And we have this collectively agreed-upon idea in our society that being a “good parent” means exactly that—providing the best opportunities you can for your own child.

But then some of these parents are also people who believe strongly in the importance of diversity and multiculturalism and who want to resist racial inequality. And these two things are sort of at odds with one another. These affluent white parents are in a position where they can set up their kids’ lives so that they’re better than other kids’ lives. So the dark side is that, ultimately, people are thinking about their own kids, and that can come at the expense of other people’s kids. When we think about parents calling up the school and demanding that their child have the best math teacher, what does that mean for the kids who don’t get the best math teacher?

Pinsker: What would it look like for a white affluent parent to make a choice not to give their children “the best”? Is it a matter of not calling the school to get the best math teacher? Or is there a more proactive thing a parent might be able to do?

Hagerman: I think part of it is how we choose to define “the best.” Some of the parents in my book, they rejected the idea that their child needed to be in all the AP classes. They valued other elements of their children’s personalities, such as their concerns about ethics or fairness or social justice. There were a handful of parents in my study who resisted having a separate track for AP students, for example, which can sometimes be a segregating force within schools.

There were also affluent parents who were very much opposed to having police officers in schools, and they were using their position of influence in the community to try to get the police officers out of there. Maybe others would be aware of their own presence at PTA meetings, making sure they’re not dominating them and making sure they’re not putting their own agenda ahead of their peers’ agendas. I’m not sure that I saw tons of behavior like that, but I certainly saw moments where some of the families were concerned more about the collective than their own kid.

White privilege, quantified

Pinsker: Some parents in the book seemed to think of diversity as something that could be let in selectively, to teach certain lessons to their kids. This came up with a lot of parents’ decisions to send their kids to public schools, which were more diverse than the private ones. Can you talk about how, for a lot of affluent white parents, diversity is something that can be toggled on and off as they please?

Hagerman: I think the best example is when these two parents decided to pull one of their children out of a public school after a racist incident there. There was a lot of turmoil, and when things basically got too challenging, they just picked their kid up and took him to a different school, a private school. And the ability to do that was not only a reflection of their economic privilege—they had the resources to suddenly, mid–school year, send their kid to an expensive private school—but also a reflection of racial privilege in that you can somehow escape racism when you want to as a white person. Certainly that’s not the case for people of color.

Pinsker: So far we’ve talked about how white parents shape their children’s views on race. But a big theme of the book is that kids themselves actively contribute to the formation of racist beliefs. How does that work?

Hagerman: One of the things I was really struck by was how frequently some of these children used the phrase That’s racist or You’re racist. They were using this word in contexts that had nothing to do with race: They were playing chess, and they would talk about what color chess pieces they wanted to have, and then one of them would say, “Oh, that’s racist”—so things that had to do with colors, but also sometimes just out of the blue, instead of saying, “That’s stupid.” These kids have taken this phrase, That’s racist, and inverted it in a way such that it’s become meaningless.

Pinsker: One question you occasionally bring up in the book is: What value does one parent’s action hold when going up against a systemic problem? And I’m not asking Does it have value?, because of course it does. But I wonder how you think about all the micro-level decisions that these parents are making in the context of the central conundrum.

Hagerman: In my book, I’m trying to highlight this tension between the broad, overarching social structures that organize all of our lives and the individual choices that people make from within these structures. So yeah, if we had equal educational opportunities, people would not be able to make choices that would confer advantages to their child over someone else’s child, right? That wouldn’t even be a possibility. Certainly, the structural level really matters.

But the best answer I can really give is that the micro level potentially could shape what goes on at the institutional or structural level. I really think—and this might sound kind of crazy—that white parents, and parents in general, need to understand that all children are worthy of their consideration. This idea that your own child is the most important thing—that’s something we could try to rethink. When affluent white parents are making these decisions about parenting, they could consider in some way at least how their decisions will affect not only their kid, but other kids. This might mean a parent votes for policies that would lead to the best possible outcome for as many kids as possible, but might be less advantageous for their own child. My overall point is that in this moment when being a good citizen conflicts with being a good parent, I think that most white parents choose to be good parents, when, sometimes at the very least, they should choose to be good citizens.

The role of parents in improving school diversity

Pinsker: I don’t doubt that you’re onto something, but, pragmatically speaking, wouldn’t that ignore a biological impulse to look after one’s own?

Hagerman: So as a sociologist, I’m much more interested in how things are socially constructed rather than biologically constructed. For example, there are lots of families who have kids who are adopted, or where parents are taking care of kids who aren’t biologically theirs—I don’t have any children, but I care very deeply about other people’s kids, and would do things to protect them. So, I hear what you’re saying, but I wonder if even the way we think about what it means to be a parent is to some extent socially constructed. We have other societies that do things differently. I think when we look across time and history and geography, we can see that the way that we’re doing it—prioritizing your own child over everyone else—is one way, but I don’t think that has to be the only way. I don’t have any grand answer, but I think people could think in bigger ways about what it means to care about one another and what it means to actually have a society that cares about kids.

Source: How well-intentioned white families can perpetuate racism

Conrad Black’s rubbish column on racism a fine example of white privilege: Paradkar

Appropriate takedown of Black’s earlier column (Conrad Black: Racism is dying, yet hateful people are still frequently accusing non-racists of it):

Many who never experience racism view it as a now shunned but once socially acceptable reality of a bygone era, kind of like smoking in the ’60s.

In line with that thinking, Black draws on history to say “most whites considered non-whites inferior, most Chinese considered non-Chinese inferior . . . I and a very large number of readers remember the murder of millions of Chinese and Cambodian and Vietnamese non-communists, and of Rwandans and Sudanese of a minority tribe or religion.”

This reduction of racism to “We all have prejudices,” springs from a half-baked understanding of the subject. It creates false equivalence between groups, just like Trump did with “all sides” at Charlottesville.

It results in ideas such as reverse racism — “racism against whites is acceptable,” Black says.

I’m not surprised when ordinary people shoot off such ideas in their emails to me. I am disappointed, however, when a rich white man with the privilege and authority to open minds instead normalizes ignorance.

All humans have prejudices and biases, of course they do. Humans discriminate. But racism isn’t just about human bias — it’s bias in the context of societal and historical power dynamics. It is also about supremacy, or the discrimination that is stitched into a socio-economic system that privileges one identity above others. In India, for instance, it benefits upper caste Hindus. In Singapore, it benefits Chinese. In Britain, it privileges men who attended private schools.

In North America and many parts of the world, thanks to colonialism, it benefits whites.

In my reading of them, serious newspapers no longer publish columns by men saying sexism is a relic of the past, or that glass ceilings are a feminist invention. Yet, such stories on racism by white people are allowed because delegitimizing progress on that front aligns with the interests of the existing racial hierarchy.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand,” said the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass in 1857. “It never did and it never will.”

I understand when working-class whites chafe at the concept of white privilege. What privilege, if you’ve just lost a job and there are mouths to feed? I suspect some views would soften if they knew white privilege just means that in their exact same circumstance, a darker-skinned person is likely to be worse off.

But when rich white people deny racism, it suggests white power is threatened. They attempt to derail advances by dictating the terms of conversation.

Increasingly this is taking the form of discussions around, “Does racism exist?” It’s in their interest to keep everyone debating on square one rather than move on to, “What are we doing about it?”

Source: Conrad Black’s rubbish column on racism a fine example of white privilege: Paradkar | Toronto Star

White privilege, Jewish privilege, and neo-Nazis: Cohn 

A thoughtful exploration of the different forms of privilege, and the complexities involved by Martin Regg Cohn.

Money quote: “prejudice and privilege come in all shades and colours.”

The latest manifestations of white supremacy have reminded us that Jews, not just Blacks, are perennial targets at neo-Nazi rallies.

Put another way, African Americans and Ashkenazi Americans are seen as equally un-American by the blue-eyed, red-blooded, all-American white nationalists who chanted in Charlottesville, “Jews will not replace us.”

That shared demonization comes as no surprise to many Jews who know their history. And who have watched with apprehension the present-day tendency to lash out at so many other “others” — be they brown, Black, Indigenous or Muslim.

But the resurgence of anti-Semitism is also an awkward reminder that “white privilege,” supposedly enjoyed by white Jews and all other white folks, offers little protection from persecution or privation. Now, as the casual invocation of white privilege gains greater currency, it’s worth examining some of the questionable assumptions that underpin it — and undermine it.

This is not an attempt to shoot down the important social analysis behind the theory of “white privilege” — the idea that most whites have “unearned” advantages notably in dealing with the police, employment and education. But relying on colour to confer privilege on people — an entire class of people — is conflating, confusing and counterproductive.

When a phrase risks alienating potential allies in the quest for greater equality of opportunity, it’s time for better terminology. Much like “cultural appropriation,” the “white privilege” paradigm emerged from the academic world, which speaks in its own rarefied and coded jargon, often obscuring rather than clarifying real-world issues. Beyond the ivory tower, where colour analysis has superseded class analysis, the term “white privilege” is being used, misused and misunderstood.

I hope I have a head start in understanding the obstacles others face. My grandparents didn’t just face discrimination but death in the 1940s. I still have a Montreal Gazette clipping about the landlord who wouldn’t rent to my father in the 1950s because of our Jewish surname (which made the stories about Donald Trump’s father rejecting Black tenants personal for me).

Privilege is part of any society that stratifies itself along various lines — hierarchical, patriarchal, economical, geographical, political, religious. But when “white privilege” is appropriated as a proxy for societal unfairness, it too easily breeds resentment.

It is a classic anti-Semitic trope to confer privilege and power on Jews — propagating the pre-Nazi, Nazi and neo-Nazi fiction that they control the media, the banks, the world (you might call it fake news . . .). We are not reliving the 1930s today, but whether in Hitler’s Germany or Trump’s America, the privileged can be persecuted in the blink of an eye.

And not just Jews. Citizens of Japanese descent were unjustly incarcerated in Canada and the U.S. in the Second World War for fear they were fascist fifth columnists. Today, students of Asian descent are viewed skeptically for their disproportionate university enrolment. Talk of informal “Asian quotas” among college admissions officers has personal resonance given the formal Jewish quotas enforced at major universities in the 1950s.

Beware white privilege, for class and cultural differences are no less critical.

It is one of the great conceits of whites that we flagellate ourselves as the world’s most unrepentant racists. Go to Indonesia, where the majority has hounded an ethnic Chinese minority for decades as a “privileged” group of shopkeepers. Think of Vietnam, where so many boat people were ethnic Chinese fleeing persecution. Consider Hong Kong, where those of Indian descent are disparaged and whites are mocked as “gweilos” (ghosts). In East Africa, Ismailis of South Asia origin have been persecuted for decades. Entrenched homophobia across Africa conjures up Black heterosexual privilege. India’s caste system has long co-existed with a colour continuum that prompts marriage prospects to describe themselves as having “wheatish” complexions, as against less socially desirable “dusky.”

The reality everywhere is that race and skin colour are clumsy proxies for social distinctions that matter at least as much: Ageism is a chronic affliction. The urban-rural in Ontario and across North America is deeply rooted. Postsecondary education is ever more accessible, yet driving more enduring disparities for those left behind.

Yes, we need constant reminders of our blind spots, but white privilege is hardly the clearest prism for viewing the world. Whites assuredly have advantages — on average. But averages are just generalizations, which lend themselves to stereotypes, which can be skin deep. Averages disguise the individual variations underneath.

We live in a world of competing victimhoods. But if everyone plays victim — even the billionaire President Donald Trump and the white nationalists he flirts with — then no one is a victim.

When white Jews are targeted by so-called white nationalists, the notion of white privilege loses its colour palette. But it reminds everyone — not least Jews who joined the civil rights battles of the 1960s, in the wake of the Holocaust of the 1940s — that we must all stick together, even if we come at it from different life experiences.

Which is why we need a better term than white privilege. Because prejudice and privilege come in all shades and colours.

Source: White privilege, Jewish privilege, and neo-Nazis: Cohn | Toronto Star

‘White People’: MTV Takes On White Privilege – The Daily Beast

Looks like an interesting and needed doc:

“It was hard, but this was goal from the very beginning with MTV: ‘How do we create a space that’s judgment-free, that allows these young white people to say how they feel?’” continued Vargas. “The moment you hear ‘white fragility’ or ‘white privilege,’ people think of a very intellectual, academic thing. They think of the academic work that surrounds this kind of study—but how do you make that accessible? How do you say ‘white privilege’ without having someone just roll their eyes and say, ‘Stop making me feel guilty, slavery’s over, I didn’t do that to the Native Americans?’ That’s why it was important to me that we made the film the way that we did. We’re not letting them get away with anything, I’m constantly questioning and probing, but it’s about holding people accountable without letting them shut down.”

Vargas references Katy, the young white woman he spoke with who believes that people of color are hogging all of the scholarships. Vargas genuinely appreciates the way that Katy was able to open up and be honest about her feelings—it allowed for an authentic documentary experience, and also gave him the opportunity to redress a misconception that many young people hold.

“We wanted to make a film that creates a space where we can hear people,” said Vargas. “I traffic in empathy. That’s what I do. To me, the reaction just proves how necessary this documentary is. Talking about race is hard enough—the moment you start racializing white people, that’s really hard for people. Many white people are so not used to seeing themselves as a race, as a race to be questioned and dissected and explored. Think about Soledad O’Brien specials on being black in America, Asian in America…we’re thought of as the other. But to people of color in America, white people are the other. We’re standing there going, ‘Do you know what you’re saying…do you see yourself…do you know what’s going on?’”

Despite its empathetic treatment of its young white subjects, White People does not validate its cast’s feelings, especially when they’re factually inaccurate. Vargas does not treat racism or racial ignorance lightly. Discussing the black lives matter movement, he notes how so many white people took to social media to rebrand the hashtag as “All Lives Matter,” despite the fact that #BlackLivesMatter is a response to a criminal justice system created by white people for white people. In light of painfully common incidents like these, one can read White People not just as an anthropological study, but as a step towards reeducation—a move against the brand of sheer ignorance that gave rise to the all lives matter counter-reaction.

‘White People’: MTV Takes On White Privilege – The Daily Beast.

A New Satirical Ad Goes Viral With a Controversial Jab at White Privilege | TIME

Worth watching and makes the point:

A New Satirical Ad Goes Viral With a Controversial Jab at White Privilege | TIME.

Research Shows White Privilege Is Real

More examples of unconscious bias at work:

A field experiment about who gets free bus rides in Brisbane, a city on the eastern coast of Australia, shows that even today, whites get special privileges, particularly when other people aren’t around to notice.

The bus study underscores this point. Drivers were more likely to let testers ride free when there were fewer people on the bus to observe the transaction. And the drivers themselves were probably not aware that they were treating minorities differently. When drivers, in a questionnaire conducted after the field test, were shown photographs of the testers and asked how they would respond, hypothetically, to a free-ride request, they indicated no statistically significant bias against minorities in the photos (86 percent said they would let the black individual ride free).

Of course, unconscious bias might play out differently in the United States than in Australia. But research in America, too, suggests that decision makers use discretion to bestow benefits in a discriminatory fashion. For example, a recent study of 22 law firms by Arin N. Reeves, a lawyer and sociologist, found that partners were less critical of a junior lawyer’s draft memo if they were told the lawyer was white than if they were told the lawyer was black.

What does white privilege mean today? In part, it means to live in the world while being given the benefit of the doubt. Have you ever been able to return a sweater without a receipt? Has an employee ever let you into a store after closing time? Did a car dealership take a little extra off the sticker price when you asked? When’s the last time you received service with a smile?

White privilege doesn’t (usually) operate as brazenly and audaciously as in the Eddie Murphy joke, but it continues in the form of discretionary benefits, many of them unconscious ones. These privileges are hard to eradicate, but essential to understand.

Research Shows White Privilege Is Real –

When Whites Just Don’t Get It, Part 4 – Kristoff

Kristoff on the enduring legacy of race and history:

Yet one element of white privilege today is obliviousness to privilege, including a blithe disregard of the way past subjugation shapes present disadvantage.

I’ve been on a book tour lately. By coincidence, so has one of my Times Op-Ed columnist colleagues, Charles Blow, who is African-American and the author of a powerful memoir, “Fire Shut Up in My Bones.” I grew up in a solid middle-class household; Charles was primarily raised by a single mom who initially worked plucking poultry in a factory, and also, for a while, by a grandma in a house with no plumbing.

That Charles has become a New York Times columnist does not mean that blacks and whites today have equal access to opportunity, just that some talented and driven blacks manage to overcome the long odds against them. Make no mistake: Charles had to climb a higher mountain than I did.

WE all stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. We’re in a relay race, relying on the financial and human capital of our parents and grandparents. Blacks were shackled for the early part of that relay race, and although many of the fetters have come off, whites have developed a huge lead. Do we ignore this long head start — a facet of white privilege — and pretend that the competition is now fair?Of course not.

If we whites are ahead in the relay race of life, shouldn’t we acknowledge that we got this lead in part by generations of oppression? Aren’t we big enough to make amends by trying to spread opportunity, by providing disadvantaged black kids an education as good as the one afforded privileged white kids?

Can’t we at least acknowledge that in the case of race, William Faulkner was right: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

When Whites Just Don’t Get It, Part 4 –

Race and racism central issue of Toronto election

Margaret Hageman on racism and “white privilege:”

… We know that differences under the skin barely exist. Talking about race only becomes uncomfortable when we talk about different experiences among races in our shared society — such as why over-qualified brown people are driving Toronto’s taxis, or why so many young black men get questioned by police for no good reason, and why white men are over-represented in high-powered positions. It turns out you can’t talk about race without talking about racism.

There is a head-in-the-sand logic that needs to be called out when people deny white privilege. It denies the experiences of black people who get followed around in a store, over-scrutinized by security; or the voice of a black person driving a high-end car who has been stopped by police, over and over again. White privilege is invisible protection against all forms of racial profiling, including a pervasive form on Toronto’s streets called “carding,” where thousands of black and brown youth have been questioned and documented by police in Toronto over the past 10 years. White privilege is not having been carded, and subject to its cascading negative consequences. Investigative journalism done by Jim Rankin of the Star, reveals the numbers that tell the undeniable story about racial profiling by Toronto Police Services.

White privilege is an invisible protection in the streets and in the job market as well, where as a white person, your credentials are generally not called into question, your pay cheque is higher and your networks open doors. This is not opinion. Again, the facts and statistics in the workplace prove that unchecked systemic racism works to the advantage of white people, as shown by Grace-Edward Galabuzzi and Sheila Block’s research on the colour-coded job market in Canada. Denying this injustice will not make it go away.

I have heard people say that if we just stop talking about race, then racism will go away — like pundits who think that we must become colour-blind because the history of racism, the kind of deliberate discrimination against blacks and other non-white races has been discredited and legislated out of existence.

Race and racism central issue of election | Toronto Star.