White privilege and an exploration of uncomfortable truths

Good explanations and discussion by Denise O’Neil Green, Ryerson’s vice-president for equity and community inclusion, and Rinaldo Walcott, director of the University of Toronto’s women and gender studies institute:

In Philadelphia, two Black men are arrested by police for simply sitting in a Starbucks. In Australia, the pop star Halsey goes online to vent about the lack of hotel shampoos for ethnic hair. On Twitter, an exchange between two Canadian politicians — one white, one Black — sparks a national debate over issues of race and privilege.

Such stories are increasingly making waves around the world and each new headline seems to generate a flurry of tweets, thinkpieces and conversations about the notion of white privilege. After percolating in academic circles for decades, the term “white privilege” has found mainstream currency in recent years; it has also attracted both repudiation and support.

For many people, they are now engaging with the idea for the first time and asking: “What is white privilege anyway?” This week, hundreds of people will gather at Ryerson University to explore this question and more at Canada’s first white privilege conference, an event that has been held annually in the United States since 1999.

To address some of the basic ideas around white privilege, the Star spoke with two scholars who will be attending the conference: Denise O’Neil Green, Ryerson’s vice-president for equity and community inclusion, and Rinaldo Walcott, director of the University of Toronto’s women and gender studies institute.

Both have spent much of their careers thinking about white privilege and the ways in which it shapes our world. Here’s what they had to say:

Let’s start with the basic question. How do you define white privilege?

Green: In very basic terms, it is an unearned benefit or “perk” that one receives simply because of their skin colour. A more multi-layered way of looking at it is that white privilege operates in terms of a system that benefits particular groups over others. It’s a system structure that all of us operate in — whether we’re aware of it or not.

Walcott: For me, what the term “white privilege” seeks to allow people to understand is the way in which societies, like the one that we live in, are default white societies. Everywhere we look in these societies, all of the ways in which people are accorded, important, respected and so on centre around the idea that anything that is white North American or white European is the absolute standard to reach.

But what that means is that many people who are not white can never, ever achieve that standard, and many people who are simply born white are assumed to have reached that standard, even if they themselves can’t reach it either. So that’s what we begin to call “white privilege”; the ways in which we live in a society where some people, because of the accident of their birth, can enter that society — its institutions, government, education, universities, even the holidays we celebrate — and participate at levels and in ways that other people are unable to.

Can you think of some examples of white privilege in action, both on the micro and macro level?

Walcott: Let’s say (a Black person) enters a department store and they want to buy a pair of pants in the men’s section and a T-shirt for their child in the children’s section. They will make sure to pay for those pants in the men’s section and then go to the children’s section. Meanwhile, you see many white people who have piles of clothes, they walk all through the store and all kinds of floors, and they don’t have to think about it. The reason we pay before going to another floor is because we know that the possibility of being accused of shoplifting exists for us.

That’s an example of white privilege. When you don’t have to think about how you move through your everyday life, worrying about whether or not you’re going to be stopped by security or police. Non-white, Black and Indigenous people in Canada have to think about that all the time.

Green: On a macro level, unfortunately, it’s the way particular groups are treated by the police versus others. The CBC just came out with their own statistics (showing) that in particular areas of the country where you have a high population of Indigenous or Black Canadian citizens, they find themselves disproportionately impacted by the police in a very different and sometimes fatal way.

Another macro aspect is the diversity on boards; they still continue to be predominantly white and predominantly male. Probably another example is one’s name; if you have a racialized-sounding name, or a less English sounding name, then you’re less likely to be called back for a job interview.

So those are examples of privilege that for some can be very invisible, but is very visible for many of us.

A lot of people deny that white privilege exists. How do you understand that denial and where it comes from?

Walcott: When white working-class people hear “privilege,” they often think you’re talking about the individual material benefits that some people have. And yes, of course, a part of that is individual material benefits but when we’re talking about white privilege, what we’re really talking about is (how) the possibility of a white person being able to make it out of the working class is many, many times higher than, say, a Black person or Indigenous person.

When we talk about white privilege, we’re also talking about a body of ideas where even white working-class people can understand themselves to be more important or contributing more to society. So white privilege is not just about individuals being able to accumulate things for themselves, it’s also about a way of understanding the world — and that cuts across class.

Green: What I think is very interesting about white privilege, and just privilege in general, is you never really get to know what’s happening unless you walk in another person’s shoes.

I’ll give a personal example. My son was unfortunately hit by a drunk driver and as a result, he ended up needing to use a wheelchair. That experience has absolutely opened my eyes to how the world privileges those who are fully able-bodied: restaurants, institutions, buildings not having elevators, buildings not having ramps. That’s something that people can get and understand more readily because it’s something they can see.

White privilege operates in the same way. What happened with my son had a very profound effect on me, but it also helped me to greater understand how systems and white privilege and other privileges impact our day-to-day lives … and how the world sees us and invites us in. Or not invite us in.

A common reaction when someone’s white privilege is pointed out to them is defensiveness, the feeling that they’ve been accused of racism. Is pointing out someone’s white privilege the same as pointing out their racism?

Walcott: No, it’s not. Of course sometimes pointing out white privilege is about pointing out a set of racist practices or behaviours, but pointing out someone’s white privilege is not always about calling them racist. What you’re trying to point to is the way in which that person can do something — or have an experience — because of their whiteness that is not available to other people.

If we understand white privilege as embedded in the structures and institutions of society, then we can’t assume that everybody who benefits from it is actually engaged in racist practices. People are simply going about the ways in which they have been taught to live a life in this society. That is part of the reason why the idea of white privilege rubs some people the wrong way, because they don’t fully understand that the way in which they’re doing things will accrue to them a set of privileges.

I’d like for you to address the perspective that white privilege is an inherently racist concept and talking about it is racist. How do you respond to that?

Walcott: It’s wrong, absolutely wrong, because white privilege is not about demarcating a particular racial group. It’s pointing to ways in which an already demarcated racial group — in fact, a group of people who have historically marked other people as “not white” — has, through violence and other means, built a society in which they accrued the most privilege.

But more importantly, when people make the claim that to talk about white privilege is racist against white people, what we’re seeing is an attempt to hijack the language of civil rights and human rights and to turn that language in on itself … to take the progressive language that is supposed to push back against forms of oppression and use it to actually continue those forms of oppression.

Green: There are actually a lot of white scholars who have not only developed the concept, but explored the concept and done a lot of work on the concept of a white privilege and whiteness. So I don’t necessarily agree that the term in and of itself is racist.

For me, I see it as a way to bring to light something that can be extremely uncomfortable to discuss. I do agree with that — it’s very uncomfortable to discuss — but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to shy away from it.

What do you hope will come out of the upcoming white privilege conference?

Green: What I envision is that it will start the conversation in a very constructive, intentional way and get individuals to begin to look at various aspects of privilege that we operate in and how they impact all of us — looking at that, taking in this information, and seeing how it can be applied to their own personal circumstances. This is a means of helping us move the needle in the conversation around inclusion, and being able to truly make Canada an inclusive society.

Source: White privilege and an exploration of uncomfortable truths

Shree Paradkar’s related column:

Some privileges exist in the realm of emotions: It’s a privilege to be alive. It’s a privilege to live in a free country. It’s a privilege to write for this paper.

Then there are privileges that are not visible to, or acknowledged by, those that enjoy them: racial privilege, ethnic privilege, caste privilege, skin colour privilege, class privilege.

White privilege is a term that riles people who don’t understand it, which leads us to another academic term: “white fragility” — but that’s for another day.

I’ve enjoyed class, caste and skin-colour privilege in Asian countries. In India, as with my uncle, I was a “first-class” citizen. When I was looking for a house in Singapore, my real estate agent told me it was a “good thing” I was a light-skinned Indian “or nobody would give you a place.” In Canada, I have sufficient education/class privilege to compensate for the loss of racial privilege.

As someone who has walked both sides of the identity-based privilege line, I can attest to the invisibility of privilege when you enjoy it. I see the genuine blindness to its existence, but also the wilful ignorance of it. I recognize the defensive denial of this racial privilege because acceptance would challenge an enduring and implicit belief in white superiority as being foundational to Canada.

White privilege is a neutral academic observation. It doesn’t mean all white people are rich. It doesn’t mean all white people didn’t have to work hard for their success. It doesn’t imply all white people are racist. It does not attribute to an individual the actions of their race, or damn them for it.

White privilege just means that a white person in the exact same circumstance as a non-white person is far likelier to find success and growth. That means being white accrues some unearned benefits to an individual. “White” here depends on the current definition of it; not so long ago, Irish people were called the n-word on this continent. In the early 20th century Canadians from Ukraine and Eastern Europe were imprisoned in internment camps just based on their origin. Many, but not all, would be considered white today.

If the “white” race was created from an economic incentive to keep “Black” Africans low in the pecking order, or, in other words, if “white” was a term created to distinguish a set of people from “Black,” it’s obvious that a society that privileges whites least favours Blacks.

White privilege comes from the social value automatically ascribed to people just because of the colour of their skin. Add markers such as gender and wealth and education, and the value of white goes up exponentially.

Skin colour is the unkindest measure of a person’s worth and desirability. It’s a stamp branded on one’s body, one that cannot be covered or erased, so that people may be scrutinized and judged at a glance: whether they deserve to be rented a house or a key to the café washrooms or whether the mere sight of them is threatening enough to deserve instant death.

From what I’ve seen, the indulgent response to loud drunken white boys on public transit is quite different from the recoiling, recriminating looks shot at a sober Black man speaking somewhat loudly into his phone in a train.

Within whiteness, how closely you conform to British culture or physical type determines your chance of success. Once you meet those racial and cultural criteria, the ladder is yours to climb.

Meanwhile, the rest of the people are left looking at the ladder, realizing the game is already rigged.

Source: Shree Paradkar: White privilege is an academic observation, not an accusation

Anti-racism campaign in B.C. school district draws backlash from parents

Prompted a needed if uncomfortable conversation regarding one’s respective advantages or disadvantages:

An anti-racism program in a rural B.C. school district has caused an uproar among some parents.

In January, administration for School District 74 — which includes Cache Creek, Ashcroft and nearby smaller communities — plastered anti-racism posters in the halls and classrooms of the elementary and high schools in the area. The posters feature administration members reflecting on racism, in their own words.

Fair enough, say critical parents. But one poster featuring the superintendent of schools, Teresa Downs, is being seen as a step too far.

“I have unfairly benefited from the colour of my skin. White privilege is not acceptable,” reads the poster.

Downs, who has worked in education for 16 years and as superintendent for seven, says the administration was inspired by a billboard campaign in Saskatoon and felt compelled to do something similar in a school district with 60 per cent Indigenous children.

“We’re doing things to improve the sense of belonging and cultural safety for students of Indigenous ancestry,” said Downs. “So conversations on racism, privilege and prejudice are important for us to have.”

Downs says the school board understands that discussions about race and privilege can make some people uncomfortable, “but we truly believe that education and dialogue is what is really needed.”

Gil Anderson, a 37-year-old father of three, says life in the Gold Trail district has been “pretty harmonious” since he moved there from Nanaimo in 1997.

But the posters have caused unrest. Anderson says there was no notice given to parents about the posters, and he considers the wording of Downs’s is problematic.

“I teach my kids equality. I teach them tolerance. They know they’re no better being white than anybody is being a different colour,” said Anderson, who works the evening shift operating equipment for a local company. “(The poster) singles out people of a certain colour.”

Anderson isn’t the only parent to raise the issue both online and with the school board. While Downs says only four parents have voiced their concerns, the furor online has been more widespread.

A letter written by another parent to the school board obtained by Postmedia is critical of the administration’s “race-driven” policies and questions the children’s ability to grasp complicated social concepts like privilege.

“Children have innocent souls,” it reads. “I feel you have no moral ground to try to brainwash my children into thinking how you want them to.”

Downs says that concerned parents are free to speak to school administration privately, but Anderson and others believe there should be a public forum to discuss the controversial topic.

In Canadian academia, white privilege is typically defined as “the unquestioned and unearned set of advantages, entitlements, benefits and choices bestowed upon people solely because they are white. Generally white people who experience such privilege do so without being conscious of it.”

Source: Anti-racism campaign in B.C. school district draws backlash from parents

2017 Was the Year I Learned About My White Privilege : Max Boot – Foreign Policy

I regularly scan Commentary magazine writers and this article by Max Boot in Foreign Policy is one of the better ones on white privilege and how he came to understand the concept and reality. Canadians in denial should read this and reflect:

In college — this was in the late 1980s and early 1990s at the University of California, Berkeley — I used to be one of those smart-alecky young conservatives who would scoff at the notion of “white male privilege” and claim that anyone propagating such concepts was guilty of “political correctness.” As a Jewish refugee from the Soviet Union, I felt it was ridiculous to expect me to atone for the sins of slavery and segregation, to say nothing of the household drudgery and workplace discrimination suffered by women. I wasn’t racist or sexist. (Or so I thought.) I hadn’t discriminated against anyone. (Or so I thought.) My ancestors were not slave owners or lynchers; they were more likely victims of the pogroms.

I saw America as a land of opportunity, not a bastion of racism or sexism. I didn’t even think that I was a “white” person — the catchall category that has been extended to include everyone from a Mayflower descendant to a recently arrived illegal immigrant from Ireland. I was a newcomer to America who was eager to assimilate into this wondrous new society, and I saw its many merits while blinding myself to its dark side.

Well, live and learn. A quarter century is enough time to examine deeply held shibboleths and to see if they comport with reality. In my case, I have concluded that my beliefs were based more on faith than on a critical examination of the evidence. In the last few years, in particular, it has become impossible for me to deny the reality of discrimination, harassment, even violence that people of color and women continue to experience in modern-day America from a power structure that remains for the most part in the hands of straight, white males. People like me, in other words. Whether I realize it or not, I have benefitted from my skin color and my gender — and those of a different gender or sexuality or skin color have suffered because of it.

This sounds obvious, but it wasn’t clear to me until recently. I have had my consciousness raised. Seriously.

This doesn’t meant that I agree with America’s harshest critics — successors to the New Left of the 1960s who saw this country as an irredeemably fascist state that they called “AmeriKKKa.” Judging by historical standards or those of the rest of the world, America remains admirably free and enlightened. Minorities are not being subject to ethnic cleansing like the Rohingya in Burma. Women are not forced to wear all-enveloping garments as in Saudi Arabia. No one is jailed for criticizing our supreme leader as in Russia.

The country is becoming more aware of oppression and injustice, which have long permeated our society, precisely because of growing agitation to do something about it. Those are painful but necessary steps toward creating a more equal and just society. But we are not there yet, and it is wrong to pretend otherwise. It is even more pernicious to cling to the conceit, so popular among Donald Trump’s supporters, that straight white men are the “true” victims because their unquestioned position of privilege is now being challenged by uppity women, gay people, and people of color.

I used to take a reflexively pro-police view of arguments over alleged police misconduct, thinking that cops were getting a bum rap for doing a tough, dangerous job. I still have admiration for the vast majority of police officers, but there is no denying that some are guilty of mistreating the people they are supposed to serve. Not all the victims of police misconduct are minorities — witness a blonde Australian woman shot to death by a Minneapolis police officer after she called 911, or an unarmed white man shotto death by a Mesa, Arizona, officer while crawling down a hotel hallway — but a disproportionate share are.

The videos do not lie. One after another, we have seen the horrifying evidence on film of cops arresting, beating, even shooting black people who were doing absolutely nothing wrong or were stopped for trivial misconduct. For African-Americans, and in particular African-American men, infractions like jaywalking or speeding or selling cigarettes without tax stamps can incite corporal, or even capital, punishment without benefit of judge or jury. African-Americans have long talked about being stopped for “driving while black.” I am ashamed to admit I did not realize what a serious and common problem this was until the videotaped evidence emerged. The iPhone may well have done more to expose racism in modern-day America than the NAACP.

Of course, the problem is not limited to the police; they merely reflect the racism of our society, which is not as severe as it used to be but remains real enough. I realized how entrenched this problem remains when an African-American friend — a well-educated, well-paid, well-dressed woman — confessed that she did not want to walk into a department store carrying in her purse a pair of jeans that she planned to give to a friend later in the day. Why not? Because she was afraid that she would be accused of shoplifting! This is not something that would occur to me, simply because the same suspicion would not attach to a middle-aged, middle-class white man.

The larger problem of racism in our society was made evident in Donald Trump’s election, despite — or because of — his willingness to dog-whistle toward white nationalists with his pervasive bashing of Mexicans, Muslims, and other minorities. Trump even tried to delegitimize the first African-American president by claiming he wasn’t born in this country, and now he goes after African-American football players who kneel during the playing of the anthem to protest police brutality. (Far from being concerned about police misconduct, which disproportionately targets people of color, Trump actively encourages it.)

Adam Serwer argues persuasively in the Atlantic that Trump’s election could not be explained by “economic anxiety,” because the poorest voters — those making less than $50,000 a year — voted predominantly for Hillary Clinton. On the other hand, “Trump defeated Clinton among white voters in every income category,” from those making less than $30,000 to those making more than $250,000. In other words, Serwer writes, Trump does not lead a “working-class coalition; it is a nationalist one.” That doesn’t mean that every Trump supporter is a racist; it does mean that Trump’s victory has revealed that racism and xenophobia are more widespread than I had previously realized.

As for sexism, its scope has been made plain by the horrifying revelations of widespread harassment, assault, and even rape perpetrated by powerful men from Hollywood to Washington. The Harvey Weinstein scandal has opened the floodgates, leading to the naming and shaming of a growing list of rich and powerful men — including Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Roy Moore, and John Conyers — who are alleged to have abused their positions of authority to force themselves upon women or, in some cases, men.

As with the revelations of police brutality, so too with sexual harassment: I am embarrassed and ashamed that I did not understand how bad the problem is. I had certainly gotten some hints from my female friends of the kind of harassment they have endured, but I never had any idea it was this bad or this common — or this tolerated. Even now, while other men are being fired for their misconduct, Trump continues to sit in the Oval Office despite credible allegations of sexual assault from nearly 20 different women.

I now realize something I should have learned long ago: that feminist activists had a fair point when they denounced the “patriarchy” for oppressing women. Sadly, this oppression, while less severe than it used to be, remains a major problem in spite of the impressive strides the U.S. has taken toward greater gender equality.

This doesn’t mean that I am about to join the academic political correctness brigade in protesting “microaggressions” and agitating against free speech. I remain a classical liberal, and I am disturbed by attempts to infringe on freedom of speech in the name in fighting racism, sexism, or other ills. But I no longer think, as I once did, that “political correctness” is a bigger threat than the underlying racism and sexism that continue to disfigure our society decades after the civil rights and women’s rights movements. If the Trump era teaches us anything, it is how far we still have to go to realize the “unalienable Rights” of all Americans to enjoy “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” regardless of gender, sexuality, religion, or skin color.

via 2017 Was the Year I Learned About My White Privilege – Foreign Policy

How Legos helped build a classroom lesson on white privilege

Good read (remember that under the Conservatives, the multiculturalism program would not fund any organization that explicitly mentioned white privilege):

Are the yellow Minifigures in the Lego universe white people? A Grade 8 social-studies class at Allan A. Martin Sr. Public School in Mississauga mulled this existential question on a recent afternoon while their teacher delivered a lesson on one of the most politically charged topics addressed in Canadian classrooms.

Mandi Hardy stood in front of a whiteboard and asked students to list what they believed to be the most important jobs in the world, then asked them to list people – real or fictional – who hold those positions. Almost all the doctors were from TV, among them Derek Shepherd from Grey’s Anatomy and Dr. Phil. The same was true for the scientists and emergency-service workers that the students listed. Then, without explanation, Ms. Hardy began putting stars beside nearly all of the names – pausing when she reached a Lego character – and students quickly caught on to what she was doing.

“They’re all white!” one called out.

The lesson of the day was white privilege, the idea that white people enjoy unearned advantages due to their race. Her exercise was meant to show that white people receive greater public profile for many of the occupations society deems to be the most important. This isn’t a required subject, but one Ms. Hardy has elected to teach for the past four years.

While students in social-studies classes in B.C., Ontario and Manitoba must learn about the disturbing history of the residential-school system, and those in Nova Scotia are taught about how black people in their own province were enslaved, the specific term “white privilege” is so charged that provinces have steered clear of explicitly addressing it in their curriculums.

Just three years ago, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) caused a furor when it advertised a workshop for educators on teaching white privilege. During the municipal election that same year, Toronto Mayor John Tory said he does not believe it exists. Some teachers who have dared to deliver lessons on it have invited angry complaints from parents and the wider community.

But a growing number of educators, those who train them and the unions that represent them are taking on the challenge.

In the eighties, a white woman named Peggy McIntosh wrote a piece titled White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, which listed particular privileges white people have that many racialized people do not. It has become one of the key teacher resources on the subject in North America. She enumerated the daily effects of white privilege in her own life in the piece, among them: “I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.”

When a Grade 11 anthropology teacher at a high school in Caledon, Ont., passed out Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack to her class last spring, one of her students, Logan Boden, was skeptical. He declared white privilege to be a racist ideology. The teacher responded, “Coming from a white male …,” according to Mr. Boden.

When he got home from school, he told his mother, Rebecca Knott, about what had happened. He’d encountered the term “white privilege” before that day and was surprised his teacher was bringing it up in class.

“I’ve seen a lot of social-justice warriors and feminists use the term … to shut people down, to say their opinion isn’t valid because they’re white,” he said. “It’s a term basically coined to make you feel bad for being white.”

Ms. Knott contacted the teacher, the principal and the school board to complain about the lesson and said “the other side” should also be shared with students – suggesting the teacher screen videos from Rebel Media, a conservative outlet well-known for its anti-Muslim content that was roundly criticized for sympathetic coverage in August of white supremacists protesting in Charlottesville, Va.

A spokesperson for the Peel District School Board said the board investigated after Ms. Knott’s complaint and reviewed the matter against the board’s equity and inclusive education policy. The teacher and principal in question did not want to comment for this story.

The BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) has been developing resources for decades similar to the one Mr. Boden’s teacher used. As a result, BCTF president Glen Hansman has received e-mails from community members, among them parents, that accuse his union of racism against white people.

“I think we have to reject that as absurd,” he said. “We have to challenge our assumptions and work through them and sometimes that can be uncomfortable for people for a long period of time, especially if they’re the ones who are benefiting from that privilege.”

It’s not just students and parents who have taken issue with the subject, but educators, too.

Mohammed Saleh, a teacher in Southern Ontario, leads workshops on white privilege for ETFO throughout the province. Many have elected to attend but others have been sent by their superintendents and don’t hide their skepticism around the topic.

Some say this isn’t an issue for them because all their students are white. Mr. Saleh tells them those students likely will venture beyond their homogeneous communities as adults.

The issue with the workshops is that only the truly committed turn what they learn into lessons for their students, says Sam Hammond, ETFO’s president, and that’s not enough.

“White privilege should be incorporated into the curriculum both at the faculty of education level and in the curriculum across the system in a non-colonialized way,” he said.

The Ontario curriculum does cover the subject of privilege for students in grades 9 to 12 (relating not just to race, but also socioeconomic status, gender and religion among other things) but does not specifically identify “white privilege.” In other provinces, the greater emphasis is put on inclusion, diversity and pluralism.

Several compulsory courses at the University of British Columbia’s faculty of education address white privilege, and associate dean of teacher education Wendy Carr says many teacher candidates are uncomfortable with those discussions.

“And that discomfort can range anywhere from guilt to shame to anger,” she said. The goal is not to make these would-be teachers feel guilty about their own race, but to recognize the obligations that come with being from a more privileged place than some of their peers and students.

Back in Mississauga, after the whiteboard exercise in Ms. Hardy’s class, she led a discussion about white privilege with students, all of whom seemed receptive to the idea. Then she gave her class an assignment: Find a person of colour who has contributed something impressive to the world and create a poster about them. Students pulled out phones and tablets and began their work, typing some version of the query “people of colour who have done something amazing” into Google.

One student simply searched “top most influential people” and landed on a magazine cover from 2010, featuring a grid of faces labelled 100 Most Influential People. Her eyes scanned the image, hopping from person to person, and then she called Ms. Hardy over to show it to her. Nearly all of the faces were white.

Source: How Legos helped build a classroom lesson on white privilege – The Globe and Mail

ICYMI – Dear white nationalists: It’s not unfair, this is how equality works: Balkissoon

Good commentary:

The idea that certain light-skinned people – currently called “white,” though a multisyllabic name like “Cvjetanovic” might not always have made the cut – deserve more than their fair share, dates back centuries.

It’s documented at least as far back as 1493, when a papal bull known as the Doctrine of Discovery decreed that any land not inhabited by Christians was open to European settlement. This was used to justify the attempted genocide of Indigenous people across the Americas, concurrent to the enslavement of millions of Africans and before the invasions of India and China, to name two places.

Along the way, we’ve all been led to believe that a slew of inequalities are equally justified, even “natural.” These hierarchies are maintained through unjust laws and untold violence, but also deep patterns of belief.

These include who is deserving of police censure versus protection: at least 155 people were arrested at protests in Ferguson, Mo., after an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, was shot to death by police. The arrest total in Charlottesville, where heavily armed vigilantes converged to protest the removal of a statue, currently stands at four.

They’re also about who deserves stability, let alone power and influence: Just seven years ago, Maclean’s magazine ran a cover story titled “Too Asian,” blaming overly studious East Asian students for displacing white kids from their rightful place at Canadian universities.

Most recently, hatemongers such as U.S. President Donald Trump, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and Canada’s Breitbart-wannabe site, The Rebel, have whipped up hysteria about everything from a black U.S. president to an array of genders to female-only viewings of Wonder Woman. Having been raised to believe in their own entitlement, white people are also taught to fear those of us here to “take it away.”

This delusion has been millennia in the making. It’s rewritten history so that cruel men such as Lee and Cornwallis are venerated as heroes, while black female mathematicians who launched shuttles into space were, until very recently, erased.

Flipping that script is simply the truth, but to many white people, it feels unfair. It feels violent, and so deserving of violence.

I get it, Mr. Cvjetanovic, the undeniable structural truth of global white supremacy isn’t entirely evident in your day-to-day life. You just want to preserve what you have: respect, opportunity, money and power. The bloody spoils of an old and infectious evil.

Source: Dear white nationalists: It’s not unfair, this is how equality works – The Globe and Mail

I’m a White Man. Hear Me Out. – Bruni, The New York Times

Good thoughtful piece by Frank Bruni on the risks of a reductionist approach to identity to inclusion and integration:

Mark Lilla, a Columbia University professor, got a big, bitter taste of this late last year when he wrote, in The Times, about the presidential election and “identity politics,” which, he argued, had hurt the Democratic Party. He maintained that too intense a focus on each minority group’s discrete persecution comes at the expense of a larger, unifying vision.

Many people disagreed. Good. But what too many took issue with was, well, his identity. “White men: stop telling me about my experiences!” someone later scrawled on a poster that was put up to advertise a talk, “Identity Is Not Politics,” that he gave at Wellesley College.

“But I wasn’t talking about their experience or my experience,” Lilla pointed out when I spoke with him recently. “I was talking about an issue.”

In a new book coming out this week, “The Once and Future Liberal,” he asserts that “classroom conversations that once might have begun, I think A, and here is my argument, now take the form, Speaking as an X, I am offended that you claim B. This makes perfect sense if you believe that identity determines everything. It means that there is no impartial space for dialogue. White men have one ‘epistemology,’ black women have another. So what remains to be said?”

And where are the bridges?

Race, gender, sexual orientation, class: All of this informs — and very often warps — how we see the world. And for much too long, this country’s narrative has been scripted by white men, who have also dominated its stage and made its rules. Our advantage, as a class, is real and unearned.

The “check your privilege” exhortation asks us, rightly, to recognize that. It’s about “being aware of systemic injustice and systemic inequality,” Phoebe Maltz Bovy, the author of the recently published book “The Perils of ‘Privilege,’ ” told me. And she applauds that.

But she worries that awareness disclaimers and privilege apologies have ferried us to a silly, self-involved realm of oppression Olympics. They promote the idea that people occupying different rungs of privilege or victimization can’t possibly grasp life elsewhere on the ladder.

In her book she mocks the inevitable juncture in a certain kind of essay “where the writer (probably a cis White Lady, probably straight or bisexual, probably living in Brooklyn, definitely well educated, but not necessarily well-off) interrupts the usually scheduled programming to duly note that the issues she’s describing may not apply to a trans woman in Papua New Guinea.”

Should we really have say and sway only over matters that neatly dovetail with the category that we’ve been assigned (or assigned ourselves)? Is that the limit of our insights and empathies? During the Democratic primary, a Hillary Clinton supporter I know was told that he could not credibly defend her against charges of racism for her past use of the word “superpredators” because he’s white.

That kind of thinking fosters estrangement instead of connection. Lilla noted that what people in a given victim group sometimes seem to be saying is: “You must understand my experience, and you can’t understand my experience.”

“They argue both, so people shrug their shoulders and walk away,” he said.

Across a range of American institutions, we need more diversity. We need it to expunge and guard against the injustice that Bovy mentioned, and we need it because it’s indeed a portal to broader knowledge and greater enlightenment. That means that white people — men in particular, even Google engineers — must make room in that narrative and space on that stage.

But I question the wisdom of turning categories into credentials when it comes to politics and public debate. I reject the assumptions — otherwise known as prejudices — that certain life circumstances prohibit sensitivity and sound judgment while other conditions guarantee them. That appraises the packaging more than it does the content. It ignores the complexity of people. It’s reductive.

Thomas Chatterton Williams, the author of the memoir “Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and a Black Man’s Escape From the Crowd,” got at this in an essay about privilege that he published last year, writing: “My black father, born in 1937 in segregated Texas, is an exponentially more worldly man than my maternal white Protestant grandfather, whose racism always struck me more as a sad function of his provincialism or powerlessness than anything else. I don’t mean to excuse the corrosive effects of his view; I simply wish to note that when I compare these two men, I do not recognize my father as the victim.”

At the beginning of this column I shared the sorts of personal details that register most strongly with those Americans who tuck each of us into some hierarchy of blessedness and affliction. So you know some important things about me, but not the most important ones: how I responded to the random challenges on my path, who I met along the way, what I learned from them, the degree of curiosity I mustered and the values that I honed as a result.

Those construct my character, and shape my voice, to be embraced or dismissed on its own merits. My gayness no more redeems me than my whiteness disqualifies me. And neither, I hope, defines me.

Whiteness is a racial construct. It’s time to take it apart: Denise Balkissoon

Interesting commentary on “whiteness:”

Being white in Canada means a lower chance of developing cancer, hypertension and asthma. It also means being less likely to live in poverty. That doesn’t mean that every white person is healthy, wealthy or the prime minister (though every PM we have had has been white).

It does mean that as cards are dealt in the hand of life, white is a good one to get. But unearned benefits based on an unchosen identity are uncomfortable to grapple with – and that’s why people prefer not to say “white.”

“As a social concept, ‘white’ is profound in its meaning,” Robin DiAngelo, an educator and consultant in California, told me. “It means people who either come from or appear to come from Europe, but it’s necessarily a construct of oppression.”

Dr. DiAngelo, who is white, has dedicated her professional life to examining what it means to be white, what she calls “the missing piece” of studies of race and racism. She spent years as a professor and now leads workshops and seminars about racism for mainly all-white audiences, which include sharing language that helps to deconstruct whiteness.

Because, as with every other race, white is a construct. Racialization, or using ethnicity as an excuse to disenfranchise individuals and groups, can happen to people with light skin, too. In 2016, Ukrainians and Italians in Canada are pretty much white, but both were interned as enemy aliens in the past.

Italian-Canadians are an interesting case: Greeted with prejudice when they first arrived, they’ve since persuaded us to adopt their patio culture (after receiving tickets for eating outdoors in mid-20th century Toronto) and have been elected to every level of government. They now enjoy the benefits of whiteness, but many say that they’ll never be mangia-cakes.Yes, race is complicated.

Dr. DiAngelo tries to teach people not to be afraid of terms such as “white privilege” – daily, unspoken advantages due to skin colour – or “white supremacy,” the entrenchment of whiteness as the sun around which other, inferior cultures revolve.

That fear is a problem. Toronto Mayor John Tory, at an election campaign event two years ago, demurred on whether white privilege existed, while Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson recently called those who accused him of white supremacy as being “vulgar and rude.” What’s actually vulgar is that being white increases access to power and privilege, and that by not engaging with that truth, politicians can help to maintain that inequality.

Dr. DiAngelo has a term for that avoidance, too. “White fragility,” she says, is the inability to cope with conversations about race that don’t protect individual white people’s sense of innocence. Western society maintains that racism is an act that individuals do, not a system that all of us exist in.

Thus, she says, it teaches us that “being a good person and being complicit with racism are mutually exclusive.” To hear an accusation of racism is to believe one’s basic morality is in question, which stirs up guilt and defensiveness, leading to anger and avoidance.

White people experience obvious physical relief, Dr. DiAngelo says, when she tells them it isn’t a personal failing to ascribe to white supremacy. It’s what we’ve all been taught from birth. The conversations don’t necessarily get easier from there, she says, but her audiences’ ability to listen, and to cope with unpleasantness, gradually improves.

The solution to white fragility, she says, is to build up stamina; just as with exercise, that involves doing the painful task over and over again until you get better. So try it. Say “white.” Say it to white people.

Source: Whiteness is a racial construct. It’s time to take it apart – The Globe and Mail

Nicki Minaj Teaches Miley Cyrus a Lesson About White Privilege – The Daily Beast

I don’t follow pop culture but found this piece and the underlying debate of interest:

In the T Magazine piece, Minaj finishes up the vital work of taking Cyrus to task: “The fact that you feel upset about me speaking on something that affects black women makes me feel like you have some big balls. You’re in videos with black men, and you’re bringing out black women on your stages, but you don’t want to know how black women feel about something that’s so important? Come on, you can’t want the good without the bad. If you want to enjoy our culture and our lifestyle, bond with us, dance with us, have fun with us, twerk with us, rap with us, then you should also want to know what affects us, what is bothering us, what we feel is unfair to us. You shouldn’t not want to know that.”

Minaj is picking up where Azealia Banks left off, when Banks tweeted, “Black Culture is cool, but black issues sure aren’t huh?” Banks was subtweeting Iggy Azalea, a white Australian rapper who has come under fire for her distinctly black, Southern sound (she’s also just straight problematic). The faces are different, but the concept is the same: How can we justify a culture where blackness is profitable on the radio, but deadly on the streets? How can we defend white artists who appropriate African-American sounds and styles, in light of all of the black musicians who have been robbed of their own five minutes of fame? If Iggy Azalea and Miley Cyrus want to steal African-American innovations, isn’t a working knowledge of structural racism and a commitment to hearing and amplifying black voices the least that they can do? Why are we cutting Nicki Minaj’s mic anyway—what are we so afraid of?

Chapin: White people, stop getting defensive | Ottawa Citizen

Angelina Chapin on white privilege and defensiveness:

A study from New York University found that the concept of white privilege messes with our sense of personal achievement. It’s easier to believe you landed your job at a law firm through long hours and smarts, not because your parents shelled out for Ivy League tuition and knew a senior partner at the firm (in reality, of course, success involves a mix of hard work and opportunity.) To preserve the self-made myth, white people deny or distance themselves from privilege. You faced struggles, too. You know white privilege exists for some, but you have black friends. Maybe you don’t “see race.” All these tactics dodge personal responsibility.

To fight racism, white people need to own up to their privilege. Of course, the right mentality alone won’t erase discrimination. But without it, there’s little hope of political change. Authors of the New York University study concluded that white people who deny their leg-up in this world don’t support affirmative action policies. That’s a huge shame, since the best way to reverse the racial oppression rampant in criminal, housing and education systems in North America is to legislate greater equality.

White people need to reject the instinct to become defensive about racial issues. Save those feelings for your diary. We must instead recognize our personal role in big picture discrimination, rather than create a narrative that exempts us from blame. You can own up to white privilege without being a bad person. But denying oppression in any way – whether through a hashtag or spraypaint – is at best tone deaf and at worst racist. Canadians should really know better.

Chapin: White people, stop getting defensive | Ottawa Citizen.

Rex Murphy: ‘White privilege’ on the march

Rex Murphy, in a typical rant, misses the point entirely and the evidence that “white” or European privilege exists. Yes, some academics and activists take this to ridiculous extremes but that does not mean that it does not exist, and that those of Caucasian origin should not be more mindful of any advantages that they have.

But to use historic examples of how whites suffered through famines and wars while being silent on slavery shows an incredible blindness, as does his silence on more contemporary examples like US police disproportionate shootings of blacks or Toronto police carding:

To even set up white privilege as a category is prima facie racist. It is to reduce the sum of a person, his dignity, his drive, his worth and his soul to the colour of his skin; it is to posit skin colour as the point of departure for all interactions with that person, to found judgments on that skin colour, to draw feverish and deliberately negative conclusions from it.

That such a pseudo-concept even exists, and has full annual academic conferences to elaborate on its tedious fancifulness, and undergraduate courses to inject it into half-formed sensibilities, testifies — one more time — to the modern university’s descent into fatuousness. That any institution which claims to be one of higher learning even allows such trivial exchange offends the dignity of expression, and purporting to offer “instruction” under its banner is just the latest fulfillment of Alexander Pope’s prophetic alarm: A little learning is a dangerous thing. Emphasis on little, very little.

Some universities have become parodies of themselves, shops of petty moral vanity, given to feverish exhibitions of their putative sensitivity and moral preciosity. Hence “trigger warnings” for Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the hysteria over “rape culture” and, as here, activist sideshows masquerading as academic courses. (Exhibit A, from Columbia University’s Spectator: “Ovid’s Metamorphoses is a fixture of Lit Hum, but like so many texts in the Western canon, it contains triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom.”)

It is to the great shame of modern universities that they have debased themselves to the pursuit of these follies

The obsession of seeing everything in race-coloured terms is itself racist. Anti-racism pursed by zealots transforms itself into the very vice it deplores. This is the cost of identity politics, and its close bedmate, victimology enterprises — the desire to judge, define, represent and indict the individual by the group he or she belongs to. Every human being’s experience in its infinite particularities and potentials transcends category.

It is to the great shame of modern universities that they have debased themselves to the pursuit of these follies, and that they do not cast this cant aside as being hollow, sublimely tendentious and utterly shameful to the idea of, or the aspiration to achieve, an educated mind. Wasn’t Doctor King’s most famous prayer that he hoped to see the day “when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character?”

Fatuousness is not limited to universities as Rex demonstrates all too well.

Rex Murphy: ‘White privilege’ on the march