Tag Archives: power

White Privilege: What Is It? Do You Have It?

White Privilege is a concept that causes angst and dissension.  However, it is actually simple and straightforward.  Let’s take the second question first: Do You Have It?  Yes. If you are white or perceived by others to be white, you have it.  So, What Is It?

Simply stated, White Privilege is the ability to live your life doing your ordinary, daily activities without having to worry that you might become a target.  If this is still unclear, here are several examples.

White Privilege is deciding to go shopping at an upscale department store and not being worried that you will be trailed by a security guard or intimidated into leaving because you don’t look like “our type of customer.”  Read about two such incidents that happened at Barney’s in New York City where the customers were not white.

White Privilege is being in a car accident, knocking on the door of a nearby house to request help, and not fearing that you will be shot through the door instead.  The white homeowner who shot and killed a black woman asking for help was later convicted of murder, but that was no consolation to the woman.

White Privilege is being a boy playing in a park with a toy gun and not having to worry that a police officer will drive up and kill you.  White Privilege is also being able to kill that child and not having to go to trial and be convicted of murder.  Instead, the officer was fired.  Later, he was hired by another police department in Ohio, but quit when there was a public outcry. 

White Privilege is being taken seriously as a medical professional during a medical emergency on a plane, even when you offer no proof, simply because you are a white male when the first physician to offer help is ignored because she is black.

Once that physician’s story received publicity, it was quickly shown that ignoring non-white, non-male physicians is not a rare event.

White Privilege is eating lunch with your girlfriends in the school cafeteria and laughing uproariously without having to worry that you and your friends will be dragged off to the office and strip-searched for drugs. Why else would you be laughing if you weren’t high?  The school denies ‘strip-searching’ although they do agree that the girls had to remove at least some of their clothes and that they were given a medical exam.  Governor Cuomo is investigating.  As someone who has an uproarious laugh, I am disturbed to think that laughing could be considered a sign of drug use.

White Privilege is being a man who loves cars, owns a really nice one, and never worries about being randomly pulled over by police officers who think a man like him could not/should not own a car like that.  Highly-educated, professional black men always have that concern in the back of their minds when they are driving.

Driving while black can be dangerous.

White Privilege is entering your home and never having to think that someone might call the police on you to accuse you of breaking and entering.  Even when a non-white person proves to the police that they are in their own home, they still risk being arrested.

White Privilege is a type of Power, even for those white individuals who think they are powerless.  White Privilege allows those perceived as white to shop, play, laugh, work, ask for help, drive a nice car, and feel safe in their home without worry or fear that they will be targeted, arrested, or even killed for being the ‘wrong type of person.’

Since White Privilege is Power, those with this Power need to use it to aid those who do not have it.  When you see someone being targeted simply because that person is not white, intervene. Use your Power to make your community a more welcoming place.



A Call to Action

Just as I finished President Carter’s new book, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power, I heard the news about the killing rampage in Isla Vista, CA.   Here was a perfect example of what President Carter described: a man who used power and violence to punish women.

While religion has not yet been mentioned as an explanation for the killer’s rampage, attitudes in the US have been shaped by religious ideologies that value men over women.   This over-valuing of men permeates all aspects of our culture.  Many laws in the US control women in ways that clearly indicate that the law-makers  do not view women as adults equal to men.  When misogyny is rampant, violence against women is the result.

President Carter is a member of The Elders, a group of ‘independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights.’   One major focus of The Elders is on achieving equality for women and girls.   The Carter Center, founded by President Carter and Rosalynn Carter, lists 23 action steps that ‘can help blaze the road to progress’ and end misogyny.

Tony Porter called to men to get out of the Man Box.  The way we socialize men creates violence against women.  It is up to men to challenge and change male culture.  It is up to men to end violence against women.  It is up to men, the many men who truly care about women, to end misogyny. Let us heed President Carter’s and Tony Porter’s Calls to Action and end misogyny now.




Material Wealth Equals Intelligence? Part 1

Recently, a supporter of Mitt Romney at one of his fundraisers equated poverty with poor education and, by implication, lower intelligence.  “I just think if you’re lower income — one, you’re not as educated, two, they don’t understand how it works, they don’t understand how the systems work, they don’t understand the impact.”  It seems pretty clear that this woman believes that her station in life, which is due to her wealth and the privileges her wealth can buy, makes her superior in all ways, including intelligence, to those without great wealth.  Although this egregious attitude appears to be pretty typical of the 1%, they are not alone in equating material possessions/wealth to intelligence. This relationship, >material possesions = >intelligence, has been in effect for at least 5000 years, perhaps much longer.

For millions of years, our ancestors were foragers moving around their territory hunting animals and gathering other foodstuffs with which to sustain life.  Since they were constantly on the move, minimizing material possessions was a necessity.  Particularly rich foraging environments, such as along the Northwest Coast of North America, did allow foraging groups to settle down and accumulate some possessions, but large settlements did not begin to become widespread until after the domestication of plants and animals.

Once a group settled down, it was easy to accumulate possessions.  The number of possessions increased when craft specialties developed.  Each family no longer had to make everything it needed.  Families could trade what they made for something different someone else made.  Increasing population size and craft specialization led to the development of class structure and governing hierarchies.  Those at the top now had the resources to obtain even more possessions that became status symbols.  The ancient “1%” not only had the highest status and the most possessions, they had all the power. We can modify the relationship to read >power = >possessions = >intelligence.  The belief in this relationship still holds sway many millenia later.

The result is that those in power, those having the most complex material culture (i.e. possessions) believe that this relationship is evidence that they are more intelligent than those lacking in possessions and power.  Those at the bottom of the social hierarchy in agricultural or pastoral societies who possessed the least knew they were considered inferior in all ways to those at the top of the hierarchy.  Enculturation in this society probably led them to believe this relationship of possessions and power to intelligence was true.  However, there were others who possessed even less than they did: the foragers.  The result was a disdain for the foraging lifestyle and a belief that foragers were inferior in intelligence to those who were not foragers.  Foraging was deemed to be too similar to how animals lived.  Foragers began to be seen by non-foragers as subhuman.  Therefore, as with other animals, foragers could be killed with impunity and their territories taken by the ‘real’ humans to use more ‘productively’.  This continues to happen in the Amazon, the forests of Southeast Asia, and anywhere else foraging populations struggle to survive.

If foragers, who have almost no possessions, are considered subhuman, then the poor, who have hardly more possessions, are themselves considered barely human.  Only true humans can be considered intelligent, so foragers are unintelligent and the poor are at the lowest levels of human intelligence; if they were truly intelligent, they would have many possessions.  Certainly, that is what the Romney supporter mentioned above appears to believe.  We can modify again the relationship to read >power = >possessions = >intelligence = >human.

Perhaps that particular Romney supporter does not consciously think of herself as more human than those who are poorer than she is, but her statements and behavior, and that of those like her, implies that subconsciously, she does believe that those in the lower economic echelons are less human.  Given a belief in the relationship of >power = >possessions =>intelligence = >human, it is not too surprising that those with that mindset do not want to pay more taxes that might go to government programs that would help lower-income individuals and families.  Only true humans, those like themselves, are worthy of support.


NOTE: Read Part 1.5 and Part 2.