September 15 (IPS) – A prestigious private school in Pretoria, South Africa, recently became a place of protest. Black students and parents the accused Cornwall Hill College rejects calls to make its white board more representative of its diverse student body.
Why is racial inequality perceptually so resistant to transformation? Some say it is because they do not recognize and confront white privileges.
Police death of George Floyd in the American city of Minneapolis 2020 ignited a wave of protests around the world and intense discussions about anti-black racism.
From France to Colombia and South Africa, protesters used the term “white privilege” as a way to challenge people to confront the racial differences manifested in their own countries.
In the midst of the demonstrations, a group of international researchers gathered at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University 2020 began discussing whether the concept of “white privilege” is useful for addressing systemic racial differences in national contexts.
Although it is clear that the term has become popular in various contexts, some have argued against it. They say the term “white privilege” reinforces stereotypes, restores conceptualizations of race, discourages potential allies, and creates even greater resistance to change.
As movements for racial justice have become more global in scope, the term has circulated across national borders. However, it does not always translate well into these new contexts.
The term white privilege originated in the United States in the 1980swith reference to both the obvious and the hidden benefits that white people provide through systemic forms of racial injustice. Unlike terms such as “racial justice” and “systemic racial bias”, the idea of privileges concentrates the discussion on individuals.
Focusing the discussion on the individual is particularly effective for anti-racist teaching and advocacy. By unpacking how whiteness works to grant privileges, we can understand how “others” are systematically denied the same rights.
By the mid-2000s, the term white privilege had been adopted by many educators and activists in the United States. They tried to draw attention to the innumerable ways in which whites, regardless of class, benefit from white superiority and are therefore involved in maintaining the system. For whites in the United States, where many live racially homogeneous societies, the concept of white privilege can evoke individual self-reflection and motivate individual political action.
While researchers in some other countries have recently used the term to illustrate systematic patterns of inequality in their own societies, researchers in other countries have been more hesitant about the concept.
In South Africa, white privilege is inherited from apartheid, who subjugated and devalued everyone whose skin color was not white. Despite the political dismantling of apartheid, white privileges remain. Calls for the transformation of racist organizations are seen as threats by white people who correctly hear the demands of racial justice as an end to white privileges.
In France, the term white privilege is relatively new, introduced in the late 2000s by social scientists. The concept is particularly accurate in describing the legacy of slavery and colonial politics. And it captures the experience of structural racism that many residents of France’s social housing have shared.
But with increasing acceptance of the concept, it has also existed resistance. Some explain “white privileges” as creeping Americanization, inappropriate to France’s liberal tradition and universalism.
Others, who echo critics in the United States, argue that a single focus on racial inequality can anchor, rather than repair, racial differences in the country. For example, the use of “white privileges” can backfire when it does not resonate with whites who are disadvantaged by class, gender, or religion. Consequently, the term can sometimes elicit defensive reactions and increased denial of racial differences.
Race as a political category
The constructions of whiteness and its associated privileges are shaped by different – sometimes contradictory – stories of racial discrimination and racist justice activism. This is because the understanding of race and race categories, as socially constructed categories, remains inconsistent and unevenly pronounced over time and space.
For example, a person from North Africa, from the Indian subcontinent or from Oceania can be considered “white” – despite a dark complexion – in many contexts.
Race as a political category is loaded with stories of racial extinction and racist politics in some places and less so in others. In France, “white privileges” can be perceived as provocative because they challenge the French universalist narrative and the modern conception of citizenship and a common will.
Thus, discussions about the material consequences of “race” as a category can take place more openly outside Western Europe, in Africa and America, where indigenous peoples were exterminated, enslaved and subjected to various forms of social and political exclusion.
The question of who counts as “white”, “colored”, “black” or domestic is still deeply debated all over the world. As well as the explanations for the different results and the treatment of people in these socially and sometimes legally constructed categories. Therefore, whiteness, and the privileges associated with membership in such a category, remain contextual defined.
For example, an individual of European descent may be treated differently depending on where they are in the world. But this does not deny the fact that someone of black African descent will often be treated worse than a person of similar status of European descent in many countries. White privilege remains, even if there is no universal definition of “white”.
Towards a goal of racist justice
Privilege is directly dependent on disk franchising, measured in terms of who has and does not have access and opportunity. In countries with a history of white superiority, the importance of white privilege may seem obvious to many. But for others there and in others countriesthe term can lead to new questions and challenges.
Although the concept of “white privilege” has proven to be valuable to people who advocate social change in different national contexts, there is also opposition in many countries to the notion that white people are uniquely “privileged” by their race. Some critics seem reluctant to separate white supremacy while others point to the limitations of “white privilege” to capture the full spectrum of inequalities that shape people’s lives.
A transnational movement for racial justice requires a common commitment to end racial inequality across national borders. It also requires a sensitivity to the specific, local conditions where race and racism affect people’s everyday lives.
The term “white privilege” remains useful when presented in ways that both resonate with individuals and shed light on structural causes of racial inequality. Then it has the potential to motivate them with benefits to fight injustice. However, it can undermine movements for racial justice when it fails to raise awareness of the historical, structural, and political forces that give certain groups advantages over others based on skin color, phenotype, hair structure, and other physical characteristics attributed to race. ‘
What is clear is that “a white privilege” as a tool for advocacy can not be an end but rather a beginning, one of many concepts that can lead individuals to a critique of systemic racism and global anti-blackness.
Nuran Davids, Professor of Educational Philosophy, Stellenbosch University; Karolyn Tyson, Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Kevin Driscoll, Assistant Professor of Media Studies, University of Virginia; Magali Della Sudda, Researcher, Sciences Po Bordeaux; Veronica Terriquez, Teacher, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, and Vivian Zayas, Professor of Psychology, Cornell University
© Inter Press Service (2021) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service