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Articles on White Privilege:
Introduction
| Madeline Volek | Barbara Hacker | Nancy B. Linden | Michael Greene

White privilege is a reality. It is the natural consequence of our history where the power and advantage of one group of people over others has existed in institutionalized ways. Even as there have been efforts through legal and policy changes to reduce the "official" nature of it, it still exists through habit, inertia, stereotypes and what seems to be in the nature of people to try to hang on to what they've got in the erroneous belief that letting someone else in on the goodies reduces their own share. It seems that it is very difficult for people in the privileged group to even recognize that it exists while to those in the "outside" groups it is an obvious reality.

I've thought a lot about why it is so hard for white people to come to terms with it. While some are very conscious of their advantage and work to preserve it and just plain don't care about anybody else, I think there is a larger majority who want to be "good" people, who view themselves as unprejudiced and in fact condemn the more obvious and blatant forms of racism. Because they genuinely feel this way they are unwilling to face the fact that they in fact benefit over others in ways that are unfair simply by their membership in the dominant group by accident of birth. Add to this the fact (I believe) that a great many people just don't want to exert themselves to look at anything very deeply, with critical thinking and effort to ascertain the facts and analyze them in any rigorous way. Comfort with the status quo breeds laziness to look at anything that might disrupt it.

Also people belong to multiple "groups" at the same time and there are relative privileges between these groups. It can confuse the issue but also offers hope to solving it. If people can identify with a way in which they have experienced someone else having privilege over them unfairly it may be the stepping stone to being able to perceive how they have something similar over others. Groups include all the various nationalities and ethnic groups, age groups, language groups, sexes, sexual orientations, economic and educational groups, religious groups etc. Personally, I remember an experience when I was a teenager that made me know with very great impact that I was privileged to have been born female. This was at the height of the Viet Nam war. I was very opposed to this war, war in general and the thought of killing anybody was repulsive to the core of my being. As I watched males of my age being drafted and the lack of choice those who thought like me had it was a dramatic exit for me from childhood to adulthood and the reality that "others" could have control over my life and options even though in this case I was personally spared by accident of birth. It was not a very big leap to realize that even among males some had more options than others. White boys with rich and influential daddies might avoid the draft that those of color and /or lack of money and influence might not have. Of course there have been many other incidents in my life when I experienced that the accident of being born female put me in the disadvantaged position in relation to males.

I deeply believe that it is possible in this world for us to overcome all forms of "privilege" though I have no illusions that it can be accomplished easily or even that it ever will become a reality. It necessitates a change within individuals and I think this is the direction of human evolution in the future. Those in positions of privilege need to give up their denial and realize that true freedom is on the other side. When you stop being defensive and trying to "protect" yourself you can be able to see more clearly and connect with others in a healthy way. There seems to be a big obstacle in the tendency of people to personalize things and then react defensively when racism and privilege are pointed out. As a person of European heritage in the United States in the 21st century I do not have to accept personal responsibility for slavery and Jim Crow, genocide of Native Peoples, interment of Japanese Americans, etc. in the sense that I clearly did not create it or participate in it but I do need to accept that it existed and that a legacy of privileges exists to this day from which I benefit. When I can see this reality clearly I am in a position to be able to aid in changing things.

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