Why Privilege Doesn’t Imply Blatant Racism

Prejudice / Discrimination

White privilege is a reality in the United States society. White privilege (based on skin color) sets Caucasians of European ancestry apart from African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Native Americans and other minorities. What are the ramifications of that elite status among the various cultures and subcultures in the U.S. In the article by Peggy McIntosh, she explains that white privilege is not necessarily wide open for everyone to see — as a contrast between races — and understand. Instead, white privilege is a “…invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.”

Privilege Doesn’t Necessarily Imply Blatant Racism

However, when McIntosh takes the extraordinary step of listing twenty-six “conditions” that a white person can establish that perhaps minorities cannot establish, as least not with the same ease as McIntosh does in her essay. She makes an important distinction as she launches into her essay, beginning with the 26 conditions. These conditions have more to do with McIntosh’s skin color — white juxtaposed with a Latino’s brown skin or of an African-American’s darker skin — than contrasts between her socioeconomic situation and that of the other two cultures.

In other words there may be Latinos (or Blacks) in her work environment who have more money saved or who have a nicer house than she does; but nevertheless her white skin confers dominance over other skin colors. McIntosh openly acknowledges that her white skin is an unearned entitlement which offers her an unearned advantage over others of different skin colors. In other words, having white skin is the same as going into a football game a touchdown ahead before the first kickoff.

Racism and Prejudice — Deeper Levels of Discrimination

Prejudice, meanwhile, is a far deeper form of racial differentiation than simply having assumed dominance because of having white skin. Author Jeremy Ossman explains that cognitive levels of prejudice are based on ethnocentrism, which is the belief that one’s particular culture or racial group better than all other groups and hence they are all inferior. When a person is taking action based on his or her ethnocentrism — that means being openly and actively doing things and having feelings that are biased against persons of other races. White settlers from Europe killed thousands of Native Americans because they were “heathen savages” (Chapter 4, p. 82).

Ossman explains that when people are treated brutally by their parents while growing up, later in life they may demonstrate displaced aggression — in other words, they may take out their anger and frustrations (based on “subconscious childhood tensions”) on others of different skin colors in the form of scapegoating (84). The brutalized child now needs to be cruel to someone else to take out his rage and a convenient scapegoat is found in the African-American neighbor who plays rap music in the evenings; the racist hates rap music and hates those who enjoy it.

Another possible reason for racism is when a person isn’t able to reach a “desired goal”; he or she also seeks scapegoats to direct aspersions towards. Additional (86-87) explanations for racism / discrimination: a) the socialization process (if the parents are racists, the child growing up learns to hate certain racial groups); b) economic competition (when security is threatened, prejudice can come into play; Blacks and Czechs in some instances were biased against Vietnamese immigrants because the Vietnamese were supposedly taking jobs away from those already here in the U.S. And in Czechoslovakia).

Ossman presents a number of explanations as to how people that are blatantly biased (prejudged) against others of different skin color show their feelings. a) Stereotyping (an “oversimplified” and unfair generalization; “Mexicans are lazy,” for example); b) ethnophaulisms (expressions that are demeaning, disparaging, meant to hurt; meant to belittle); c) ethnic jokes (clearly intended as negative stereotyping); d) misogyny in rap music (women are “bitches”) (98-99).

Reducing prejudice is the goal of every fair-minded individual no matter what ethnicity he or she belongs to. On page 101 Ossman suggests contact hypothesis is a way in which members of various cultural / ethnic groups can work cooperatively and learn to respect each other. The jigsaw classroom can reduce racial prejudice, as can cooperative learning strategies, but there is the ever-present tendency to use selective perceptions (they accept that particular information which doesn’t threaten their own beliefs).


Confers dominance: suggests one skin color is the more powerful one

Unearned entitlement / unearned advantage: white skin has power / advantage over other skin colors simply because of socially built-in biases

Ethnocentrism: the belief that one’s ethnicity is better than all others displaced aggression: being mistreated as a child and later mistreating others to get even scapegoating: blaming a person of another ethnicity when that person is not to blame prejudice: having a biased view of another person or another ethnicity cognitive levels of prejudice: being aware of one’s biases, thinking racist thoughts socialization process: if a person’s parents were biased against a certain group, chances are the person growing up in that household will pick up the bias through socialization economic competition: when immigrants take jobs that might otherwise go to people that are already in the U.S. It sets up bias based on availability of jobs stereotyping: using unfair generalizations to slap a label on a person or a culture ethnophaulisms: hurtful, mean-spirited words used against persons or cultures contact hypothesis: working together with people of other races or skin colors can improve understanding between people of different backgrounds jigsaw classroom: having several groups in a class each look up part of an assignment and then they come together to share what they have learned with the entire class; it instills a sense of cooperation and peaceful progress selective perceptions: choosing information that the person is comfortable with and ignoring or being biased against information that does not match with what one believes in Works Cited

McIntosh, Peggy. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Race and Racism. 1988.

Ossman, Jeremy. Prejudice. Understanding Race and Ethnic Relations, Chapter 4.

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