Is there a global white privilege

The (in) visible norm: what exactly is White Privilege?

ANNE GRAEFER - JULY 22, 2020
White Privilege: For people with white Privileges works White- its like an invisible backpack with many advantages
‘The unquestioned and unearned set of advantages, entitlements, benefits and choices bestowed upon people solely because they are white’ - Peggy McIntosh

The problem with privileges is that they are mostly invisible to people who have them. One of the reasons for this is that many people think of golden spoons and private planes when they hear the word 'privileges'. But that's not the point. Privilege means that I belong to the right (read: dominant) group and therefore in many situations - without my own merit - I have advantages that others do not have.

'Whiteness' or White-being is such a privilege that for White* is invisible. Peggy McIntosh describes White-be therefore as an 'invisible knapsack', as an invisible backpack with many advantages that one can call White * r not perceiving it, but used it anew every day.

For example, the privilege of never having to think about your own skin color: if you don't get a job or an apartment, you don't have to think about whether it was because of the color of your skin. Or when you have been checked by the police. And if you're planning a weekend getaway / vacation, you don't have to worry about where to go to White * r that's for sure. And even with very mundane things, like buying a patch, you can be pretty sure that the product is the color of a person's skin white Similar to privileges.

Because in this system is White-being the norm and the invisible yardstick against which the non-white is shown as a deviation.

The invisible norm

For people who are racially discriminated against is White-being not an invisible norm but a continuous topic. But for people with white Privileges, this norm-setting position is difficult to grasp. It is present and depicted everywhere in this country: in the media, advertising, the chairs, in the Bundestag and in the boardrooms. All of these positions are almost entirely used by individuals white Privileges occupied, which, however, do not notice their own homogeneity.

That is why it is the goal of ‘Critical Whiteness Studies’ (in German: critical whiteness research) white To unmask privileges and to make the privileged aware that their skin color is not invisible, but also has an impact on the life situation as it does with blacks or people of color. With one fundamental difference: some are discriminated against because of their appearance or supposed ethnicity, while others experience privileges.

Cultural scientist Richard Dyer explains the purpose of this visualization in clear words:

‘As long as race is something only applied to non-white people, as long as white people are not racially seen and named, they / we function as a human norm. Other people are raced, we are just people’ (Dyer, 1997: 1)

White-being as a social construct

Contrary to popular belief White-being not anchored in biology or genetics, but a social construct that only began in the 17th century with the entry of the biological concept of race into European science. It was only here that people began to be hierarchized on the basis of phenotypic - i.e. external - characteristics. The invention of the 'race' was seen, especially at the height of colonialism in the 19th century, as a justification for submission, exploitation and enslavement.

In the 20th century, the National Socialists, with their racial ideology, pushed this way of thinking and trading formulated by the European Enlightenment to the extreme.

Developments in genetics, anthropology and biology in the 20th and 21st centuries show that the scientific classification of people based on racial characteristics is untenable. For example, it has been shown that individuals within a group defined as 'race' often have greater genetic differences among themselves than two individuals from different 'races'.

Race - a floating signifer?

From a purely scientific point of view, there are no 'human races'. Then why is there still racism? One of the clearest answers to this can be found in Stuart Hall's much-cited lecture Race, the Floating Signifier ’:

'Differences exist in the world. But what matters are the systems of thought and language we use to make sense of those differences. '

So Hall explains that there are differences in the world. But what role these differences play is not determined by their biology or DNA, but by how we read and evaluate them. In other words: which distinctions become relevant for us, how and in what way, is not a question of biology / genetics, but of our culture, our society and our history.

Our white History and culture conditioned us to make certain things visible or invisible. This is how liberals see in particular white often not, as they reinforce white privilege through their patterns of thought and action. Tupoka Ogette writes about this:

'We grew up in a world that has had racism deep in cooking for over three hundred years. So deep that there is no room in which it cannot be found. And simply by living in this world you became part of the system. The way you learned to talk and think about yourself and about others: through children's books that you have been read to, the digital media that you have consumed since you were a child, your school books ... everything. In short: you have been racially socialized. Like many generations before you, for over three hundred years ‘ (2017: 53)

White Fragility: Or why white reluctant to talk about white privilege

Sociologist Robin DiAngelo describes in an article how difficult it is to work with White to talk to privileged people about white privilege in workshops or seminars. Because:

1. white People are not used to being categorized on the basis of their skin color, but to be perceived as an individual without any characteristic. Discussions about white privilege make them aware that they are not just 'people', they are white People. That is, they are not exempt from social determination by ethnic characteristics. And this provision gives them a special role.

2. The word 'privilege' feels to many whitethat are economically disadvantaged, for example, wrongly. So it is also important to think intersectionally in debates about white privilege: White privilege does not mean that one cannot be structurally disadvantaged in other social categories or that life is free from difficulties. It just means that your skin color isn't the reason you're having trouble.

DiAngelo describes the emotionally charged defense reactions that people share white Showing privileges in debates about racism or one's own privileges as an expression of 'white fragility'. So are white 'Fragile' because in the USA (or Germany) they never experience the stress that racism can trigger.

If you are now 'forced' to become aware of your own racist ways of thinking and acting in a conversation or a seminar, you show white fragility: These reactions are usually expressed in the fact that the people block, become very emotional (often angry or defensive), relativize the racial experiences of blacks or people of color or try to get out of the situation as quickly as possible, which they perceive as unpleasant or unbearable.

These reactions lead people affected by racism to stop sharing their experiences because they feared being attacked for it.

In addition, the emotional reaction leads to a shift in focus: It is no longer about the racist experiences of those affected, but about the feelings of those who are not affected. As Richard Dyer writes in the preface to his book "White":

'Addressing being white has the inherent problem that it gives white people the absolution to do what they love to do best: talk about themselves. "

So that debates about white privilege can bring about changes, it is important not to individualize racism, but to understand it as a social structure that affects people differently.

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*The expression ,white‘Is problematic as he White-being essentialized. I still use it in some places in this blog entry to talk about people with white Privileges and the concrete effects that result from speaking.

**White is in this blog post italic written to illustrate the constructed nature of this term. It is written in lower case because, in contrast to terms like black and people of color, it is not a politically empowering self-designation, but the concrete designation of a privileged position. I'm following Lann Hornscheidt here.
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