Monday, April 20, 2009

white privilege

When Dr. Johnson gave us the assignment of reading the article on white privilege by MacIntosh, and then creating our own list of white privileges at Rhodes, I admit that it proved to be much more difficult than I thought it would be. Perhaps because I found MacIntosh’s list to be so exhaustive, but also partly because our white privilege is so indelibly ingrained in our everyday life that it is hard to disconnect the two.

In light of our class discussion on Thursday, I wanted to write my blog on some of my leftover thoughts from our conversation about white privilege. Somebody brought up the privilege that if they were written about in the campus safety report in the Sou’Wester’ they would have the privilege of not having their race attached. And I thought that was interesting. And it made me think of my grandmother, who lives in a tiny southern Mississippi town of about 3,000 people, and it’s probably 90% white. On countless occasions, my grandmother will tell me something about the “nice black family” at the table next to her in the restaurant, or the “sweet black girl at the grocery store”. And I don’t believe her to mean those descriptions offensively. But to me, they just seemed like unnecessary qualifiers. It didn’t change the story to know that the family was black, just as it wouldn’t have changed it if the father had been tall. So perhaps her descriptions are not racist so much as racial (to borrow terms from Sartre). But to tie this back to the campus safety example, if my grandmother met a nice white family at the grocery store, she would undoubtedly just call them a nice family, and not race them. Because that would be the norm, as we talked about in class.

Are we somehow lessening what we have learned in this class if we use race as just a way to describe people, as my grandmother does? Or what if we “race” things that do not necessarily need to be raced? If my grandmother uses the term black just to distinguish between people, but does not mean to attach any value to it, is it racist? Is it just another white privilege to be able to race everyone around us, because we are the norm and they are not? What would the philosophers that we’ve read this semester say?


  1. Just because it is normal for us to do does not make it morally right. However, in our current society it is normal and almost necessary to be able to "race" someone. Sartre would probably say that removing race would remove their identity thereby destroying that person. It seems that there is no clear cut solution, we cant all just be color blind and we cant continue along this negative path of racism. Cant we all just get along?

  2. Coming from a predominately white high school, I can understand your grandmothers phrasing of the "nice black family." Since her community is white, it is a way to distinguish exactly to whom she is referring. Race in this case, as it often did in my high school was a characteristic that would distinguish them from the group. It should be just another characteristic of a person, such as the blond girl or the very tall man, but "race" holds so much more meaning historically, culturally, and socially. It can not just be another trait. No matter how the person refers to the black family or the jewish child, the phrase implies more than the basic meaning. Its hard to say if this could ever change, but hopefully with time being black or hispanic or jewish will just be another defining personality trait.

  3. I'm not necessarily answering the question you posed, but your post did make me think of something that I have noticed quite often. In being told a story or about an experience by a white person it seems that they are always hesitant to identify the person they are talking about as black when they are talking to a black person. A more specific example, one of my white friends was trying to point someone out in a crowd to me but described everything else about the person they were speaking of but did not say "the black girl"!
    To me describing a person and including their race is not offensive, nor does it signify you as a racist to make that a part of your description of a person. I personally don't want the fact that I am black to be ignored, but at the same time, I don't think that it should be mentioned in a way that makes it seem like my contributions are made because of my race.
    I do not think that the race of a person is a necessary inclusion in a campus safety report. The race of the person is not a signifier of the "crime" or incident that was committed, therefore it is not necessary to the report.
    On the other hand, I dont think that the race of a person has to be completely ignored to avoid being labeled a racist or what have you in all situations.

  4. I agree with Annie, the content of the phrase and the intent are different in both significance and meaning. The intent seems extremely important, but, as we have seen with Sir Anthony Hopkins, this is not always clear. So it seems that while the intent may be pure, it may still carry serious real world, negative consequences, which should not be overlooked. With that said, in the way you described it, I think that it is a fine qualifier, so long as when you say the black girl, you are not carrying racial constructs of society. (For instance, if asking if the kid that got arrested is black there are two possible intents: you want to know if it is the kid you are thinking about in your head, or you want to know so that you can reaffirm or challenge a conception about the types of people who perform such crimes. The jury may see either way, you may not even know why you do things.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. I think that Kara you are right to suggest that part of white privilege is to be able to race others around you. When someone is describing someone to me and I am picturing them in my mind, I assume that they are white unless they specify otherwise. Perhaps this is because I belong to the majority and it is what is "normal" to me. I was the one who brought up the campus safety reports during out discussion of white privilege. I do think that it is part of my privilege that my race will not be documented in the log if I am "behaving suspiciously outside of the BCLC at 3am". I think in the case of the logs race is really an unnecessary addition to them. Unless there was an ax murderer loose on campus and identifying his race along with his various characteristics would be helpful to catch him, race does not need to be included in those reports.

  7. While reading your post it made me question myself on how/why I describe people when talking about them in a situation. I noticed that when telling a story, I describe the race of a person no matter what it is. I think I do this because when I am listening to someone else tell a story, I picture what they are saying, so when I am the one telling the story I like to give the details as I observed them. Like Annie and Walter stated, my motives are not to be disrespectful or racist, but merely to describe.

    In the case of the campus safety reports, I think racing people is quite unneccessary if it is a Rhodes student, but like Olivia said, the person involved was someone not affiliated with the school descriptions would be necessary/helpful.

  8. I can relate to Kara in that so many of my family members make the same "racing" comments. While, I know they don't mean to be racist, the use of race as a distinction between one person and another is many times irrelevant and therefore, gives the "racing" a negative connotation. I agree with trey that even though it is normal for us to make racial distinctions, that does not make it morally acceptable.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.