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White Privilege II

The following discussions of "white privilege" took place on WMST-L in
January 2003 (parts 1 and 2) and Sept/October 2005 (part 3), including
announcements of two new books dealing with white privilege. Also included is
one message from May 2009 and one from August 2010.  The January 2003 discussion
focuses specifically on using Peggy McIntosh's work on white privilege in the
classroom and considers also whether the use of such work should be considered
"education" or "indoctrination."  For earlier discussions of McIntosh, see the
WMST-L file entitled 'White Privilege'.

Date: Sun, 12 Jan 2003 23:21:38 -0600
From: Warren Linds <w.linds AT SK.SYMPATICO.CA>
Subject: regarding Peggy Mcintosh article
I am using Peggy McIntosh's article "Unpacking the knapsack of white
privilege' in a class on cross cultural education. This term my class
has a small number of 'non-European/white' background students.

When I teach this article, I generally ask the 'white' students to
discuss the privileges they have and which ones they would not be able
to get rid of and which ones they would be able to give up.

I am wondering what questions I would pose to the 'non-white' students
around the list of privileges McIntosh outlines or the article in
general. Any suggestions or experiences most welcome.

Thanks in advance.

Warren Linds
w.linds  AT
Date: Mon, 13 Jan 2003 09:13:04 -0500
From: silver_ak AT MERCER.EDU
Subject: Re: regarding Peggy Mcintosh article
When I taught this article, I had all students do freewriting on how
their lives would be different if they were a different race.  Both
white students and students of color responded and then I read
selections of the responses out loud.  This worked really well, was
quite eye-opening for the students involved, and generated good

Anya Silver

Dr. Anya Krugovoy Silver
Assistant Professor of English and Interdisciplinary Studies
Mercer University
1400 Coleman Ave.       "A world understood/is a tiny world."
Macon, GA 31207-0001                     Dorothy Barresi
silver_ak  AT
Date: Mon, 13 Jan 2003 09:49:01 -0500
From: Daphne Patai <daphne.patai AT SPANPORT.UMASS.EDU>
Subject: education vs. indoctrination
I wonder if any of you are concerned that  these "exercises" in class are a
form of "experimentation with human subjects" [the similar ones that begin
the semester with  gender-bending make that quite clear, as well]  and thus
might be subject to universities' policies in this area.

In addition, I can't help but point out that a view that divides the world
into white and non-white, and that assumes this designation neatly overlaps
with privileged and non-privileged, is a pretty simple-minded approach to
reality.  What do you do about students who make such a comment (do they
dare?)?  And what about the ensuing competition about who has less privilege
(I assume that's the moral goody they'll be vying for in such a class, as
opposed to what they compete for in the real world)?


daphne.patai  AT
Date: Mon, 13 Jan 2003 09:56:37 -0500
From: "Ertel, Mary (Soc'lgy)" <Ertel AT MAIL.CCSU.EDU>
Subject: Re: regarding Peggy Mcintosh article
Hello, Warren.

While my students tend to react to the article in terms of race (those
are the most obvious oppressions), McIntosh wrote her original study
with gender privilege/oppression in mind; and went on to frame her
article in terms of multiple/overlapping oppressions - race,
nationalities, gender, sexualities, transgender issues, and class.  Of
these, class is the most invisible oppression.  Most of my students
work (some even a 20-30+ hour week); it doesn't take much to have them
understand that while they might be privileged to some extent (they
are, after all, attending college)they are oppressed in others.  The
amount of time they have available for their schoolwork, for example;
the types of restaurants they tend to eat at (fast food; pizza).  The
list is quite long.

The point is: it seems premature to ask them what privileges they
would give up before they have a better sense of the wide sweep of the
system of privilege/oppression they experience everyday.  If you asked
them to dialogue in terms of "friends" as well as their individual
experience, you might additionally get them to examples based on
heterosexism, etc., as well as race.  And maybe more of the
traditional categories, as well.

You refer to "non-European white" students - where do they see
privilege/oppression in their home countries?  What examples can they

I'd also recommend to you an article by Stephen Schacht, regarding
male privilege and violence against women.  It was published in Men
and Masculinities 4:2, 2001; and can as well be accessed at his

Finally: I can't figure where or for whom you are teaching your
course, to get a bettter awareness of your background.  However, as a
Sociologist who has also taught a course in Race/Gender/Class (or,
Race/Gender/Sexualities/Class) I am aware of numerous excellent
readers on the topic.  I would not feel free to highlight one of those
books over another; and, that is not the subject of this List.  I
would recommend, however, that you search out several of these books,
to get complete background to a broader understanding of the McIntosh

Mary L. Ertel, Sociology
Central Connecticut State University
Date: Mon, 13 Jan 2003 09:47:21 -0600
From: Kristi Siegel <siegelkr AT MTMARY.EDU>
Subject: Re: education vs. indoctrination
I think Daphe Patai raises an interesting point. Aside from the many issues
McIntosh's article raises (and Mary Ertel's later post outlines these well),
where is the line between education and indoctrination? Years ago, I taught a
course called "Invitation to Inquiry." I hated teaching the course for two
reasons: the syllabus came pre-planned (there was no modifying it), and I often
felt like an indoctrinator. We had about a day to cover each major issue, e.g.,
prejudice, privilege, peer mediation, safe sex, gender relations, time
management, Myers-Briggs' profiles, college life, etc. There was no time to
delve into any of these topics in depth and--superficially or in-depth--many of
the students resented what they felt was real pressure to change their

I am not, of course, stating that students' "changing their attitudes" is
necessarily a bad thing. I've often thought, though, that many students come to
different attitudes more readily by induction. I've had students come up with
better insights during a literature class, for example, than I observed during
the two semesters I taught the deadly "Inquiry" course. And, many of the
"Inquiry" students were hostile and felt (I can't imagine why) like they were
being force-fed beliefs.

Kristi Siegel
siegelkr  AT
Date: Mon, 13 Jan 2003 10:49:56 -0500
From: Betsy Eudey <BEUDEY AT GW.USCS.EDU>
Subject: Re: regarding Peggy Mcintosh article
Re: Processing of White Privilege article...

After reading  both Marilyn Frye's "Oppression" and the White Privilege
article we usually engage in a general class discussion of overlapping
identities and issues of privilege and oppression.  In class I then have
each student spend a few minutes writing about a time when they believe
they were oppressed or generally denied an opportunity or experience
because of an identity category to which they belong (they get to pick
which one).  I then have them spend a few minutes writing about an
experience where they believed they were the beneficiary of unearned
privilege based upon an identity category.

Students may keep their answers completely private, or they can share
one or both responses with the rest of the class (this is very early in
the semester so it's important to remind students to share within their
comfort level).  We talk about the types of identities that students saw
as tied to issues of privilege and oppression (race, sex, sexual
orientation, age, religion, marital status, etc), and how everyone in
the class could find some way in which an identity both conferred and
denied privilege.  We also talk about how we sometimes count on our
identities to provide unearned privilege (I haven't yet had a class
where a female student hasn't discussed the likelihood of getting out of
a traffic ticket or not having to initiate dating behaviors because of
her femaleness).   We discuss the impact of invoking unearned privilege
and how it effects those who are the "other" in these situations.

Students often mention this class period and these readings as among
the most powerful/meaningful in the semester.  I always look forward to
it.  Betsy

Betsy Eudey, PhD
Director, Center for Women's Studies and Programs
Horace C. Smith Bldg, Room 101
800 University Way,  Spartanburg, SC 29303
beudey  AT
Date: Mon, 13 Jan 2003 10:14:06 -0600
From: "Reddy, Deepa" <Reddy AT CL.UH.EDU>
Subject: Re: education vs. indoctrination
I must say that I agree with Daphne on this, and would like to see greater
discussion of such complexities, not just on this list but in the discourse
in general. I like the McIntosh article myself, and have my students
read/think through it. I am quite aware, however, that such exercises lend
themselves rather too easily to a reading the world as black-and-white (no
pun intended), where everything is neatly categorized, where non-white
students feel uncritically validated and white students are forced towards
guilt & confession, and worst of all, as Daphne points out, the atmosphere
becomes such that students are indeed unlikely to offer their own critiques
of/alternatives to such simple-minded approaches to reality. To my mind, the
exercise then becomes pointless, and even counter-productive -- taking away
from what I believe should be a spirit of critical inquiry in the classroom.

Or has the classroom become the newest site of self-help/therapy, and I need
to get with the program? (sorry, I'm always rather cynical on Monday


Deepa S. Reddy
University of Houston-Clear Lake
reddy  AT

Daphne Patai wrote:
In addition, I can't help but point out that a view that divides the world
into white and non-white, and that assumes this designation neatly overlaps
with privileged and non-privileged, is a pretty simple-minded approach to
reality.  What do you do about students who make such a comment (do they
dare?)?  And what about the ensuing competition about who has less privilege
(I assume that's the moral goody they'll be vying for in such a class, as
opposed to what they compete for in the real world)?
Date: Mon, 13 Jan 2003 10:07:33 -0800
From: pbart <pbart AT UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Re: regarding Peggy Mcintosh article
Depending on where you live it might be useful to mention other groups,
e.g. chicanas  if you have Mexicans, Latinas for South and Central
Americans,  Southeast Asians etc..  It appears as if Asians have fewer
problems than other groups, but that may not  show up in your
classes.  Additionaly it is possible that white immigrant students have
problems that native born whites don't.  My former roomate who was
BUlgarian claimed she was discriminated because of her accent which showed
she was an immigrant. Additionally  in a class that is predominantly
students of color a white person might believe that he or she has fewer
privileges.  I had a student, white, who wanted to take Black Studies.  She
had always received A''s in her courses but did not in that class, and she
believed it was because she was white(I was out of the country or I would
have investigated).
Perhaps I am generalizing from my California experience and  Peggy lives in
the Northeast.  Here Mexicans and Latinas are vastly more numerous than
other people of color, and whites are a minority(statistically) compared
with people of color.
It is no accident that my spellchecker  thinks Chicanas and Latinas are
Pauline Bart  pbart  AT
Date: Mon, 13 Jan 2003 23:24:32 -0600
From: Hannah Miyamoto <hsmiyamoto AT MSN.COM>
Subject: Re: education vs. indoctrination
Apologies for length, but this an important topic, albeit complex.  I looked
over the "White Privilege" in the WMST-L archives, , but I found no
mention of Collin's theories in them, so I think this will be a helpful
addition to this discussion:

1.    On "White Privilege."

    Why not junk the whole idea of studying "race privilege" or "gender
privilege" in isolation and instead first focus on the very concepts of
"privilege," "identification," "domination," and "oppression?"  I think
Patricia Hill Collins's theory of a "Matrix of Domination" over our society
is a brilliantly conceived model of social inequality as it exists in modern
societies.  To borrow a legal metaphor, "racism, sexism and classism are all
bitter fruit of the same evil tree."*  (Miyamoto, 2002)
    I especially like the "Matrix" concept because it explains exactly why
racism, sexism, classism, ableism, and heterosexism persist and flourish in
our republic that is dedicated to "liberty and justice for all."  Only a
tiny minority of people suffer the maximum number of oppressions--the vast
majority of people enjoy some kind of unjust privilege over someone else.
Thus nearly all of us are all masters, just as nearly all of us are slaves.
    Perhaps Collins's theory is too abstract for undergraduates, but we can
teach 10th graders plane geometry, we can teach college students the Matrix
of Domination.  Once we have a concept like this "matrix," we can then look
at the intricate dynamics of each particular kind of hierarchal domination
in our society.  Moreover, students can then examine "privilege," both as
they enjoy it and as they are oppressed by it--certainly EVERY young student
can at least articulate their experience with AGE privilege.  In such an
inquiry, I recommend asking these five key questions:

    Why do individuals accept privilege?
    What structures of privilege exist in society?
    What is the effect of privilege?
    How is privilege maintained?
    How can privilege be dismantled?

    As for teaching material, consider the 2001 film, "People Like Us:
Social Class in America," which gives revealing glimpses into the
African-American bourgeoisie, Southern "rednecks," working class people in
Maine, etc.  This link has additional
information not in the film, plus ordering information for the film, if your
school does not have it.

2.    On Indoctrination vs. Education.

    I can't imagine a more value-laden field of study than law--which I
studied.  Yet in three years of law school, I never felt like I was being
forced to adopt any particular ideology--I only was required to know what
the law IS, as well as what some people think it should be.  Even as a
lawyer, I am not required to love the law, but rather, I am encouraged to
work for "reform of the law" where I believe revision is needed.  Even
Oliver Wendell Holmes once fumed, "It is revolting to have no better reason
for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV!"
(O.W. Holmes, "Path of the Law," 10 Harv.L.Rev. 457, 469 (1897)).
    While turning a political theory class into a moment of compelled
self-examination probably is problematic, if one starts from Collin's idea
that we all live under a matrix of different kinds and levels of domination,
one can conduct such an exercise while avoiding the kind of facile
conclusions (e.g., "all whites are better off than all blacks") that Dr.
Patai decried.  However, Collins's Matrix (sounds like a mathematics
problem) must be drawn to encompass economic privilege to be coherent; even
though criticizing economic privilege requires questioning "capitalism" as
an ideology--and the neoclassical theory that markets are the optimum means
for distributing resources, i.e., shares of the national wealth.

    There remains the question of whether one can teach political theories
without making young and callow students believe they are undergoing
ideological indoctrination.  High schools definitely give students the
impression that they are expected to believe what they are told by
teachers--much due because of well-intentioned people on the Left and Right
who want schools to teach "values."  In contrast, I think teachers
(secondary and post-secondary)should teach students that they can disagree
with anything they are told--as long as they give some kind of logical
argument for why they think some other idea is "more true."  (as the siren
of cultural relativism rears her fetching head)
    The real "Closing of the American Mind" is that people can't argue
anything logically anymore.  Our politics are all opinionated tirades and
fatuous sound-bites--all 'sound and fury, signifying nothing." (and "told by
an idiot") (W. Shakespeare, Macbeth, act V).  If educators do anything to
improve our hearty race, it would be to teach students the lost art that
founded this republic.

Hannah Miyamoto, J.D., B.S.
Social Change and Development, Senior
UW-Green Bay
hsmiyamoto  AT

* "Fruit of the poisonous tree"  -- the doctrine that evidence gathered
following what was learned from other unconstitutionally-gathered evidence
is likewise inadmissible against the defendant.

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