Thursday, April 23, 2009

Understanding White Privilege

Across America in small cities and large white people are being educated about their privilege.  They are learning that just as their whiteness has led to oppression and institutional racism, the flip side is a set of benefits and privileges that only whites share.

“Understanding white privilege is another framework to combating racism.  It’s another tool in the struggle against white supremacy and racism,” explained Tim Wise, an author and lecturer on white privilege also called anti racist teachings to The Final Call.

“It started with the abolitionist struggle, then the anti segregation movement, then nationalism.  White privilege is a way for white to explore how race impacts our lives.  It’s a framework aimed at liberal and progressive white folks.  We have to get white folks to understand how racism affects us too.  Other than that the work we do to combat it is just charity or patronizing.”

He added, “We have to challenge white privilege, challenge white supremacy and what it does

to us as the dominant group.  It has negative affects and consequences for us as well.”

What is White Privilege?

Dr. W. E. B. Dubois is credited with being the first to identify and discuss White Privilege.  In 1935 he wrote of the “Psychological Wages of Whiteness” in his book Black Reconstruction in America.

“It must be remembered that the white group of laborers, while they received a low wage, were compensated in part by a sort of public and psychological wage. They were given public deference and titles of courtesy because they were white. They were admitted freely with all classes of white people to public functions, public parks, and the best schools. The police were drawn from their ranks, and the courts, dependent on their votes, treated them with such leniency as to encourage lawlessness,” he wrote.

“Their vote selected public officials, and while this had small effect upon the economic situation, it had great effect upon their personal treatment and the deference shown them. White schoolhouses were the best in the community, and conspicuously placed, and they cost anywhere from twice to ten times as much per capita as the colored schools. The newspapers specialized on news that flattered the poor whites and almost utterly ignored the Negro except in crime and ridicule.”

The White Privilege Conference

In the 1990’s a young, Black Eddie Moore Jr. was inspired.  “I was always interested in creating a space to have tough conversations like was Jesus Black, should we spank our children and what about burning the American flag.  I was working on my masters when I heard about white privilege.  I felt we needed a larger venue for the conversation,” he told The Final Call.

That larger venue started in 1999 with the first White Privilege Conference.

“It’s about building relationships with people interested in the topic.  I was living in Iowa at the time and white people started attending because of the relationships.  There were 150 at the first one and this year we had 925,” he said.

“The conference has gone beyond conversation to folks making a commitment to be action oriented and to be held accountable.  It’s strong and growing.  We’ve developed relations

hips nationally.  I believe you do the tougher work more effectively when you work with people you love.”

Nearly 1000 mostly white people from around the country gathered in Memphis, city of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, April 1-4, to talk about the challenges of ending oppression and institutional racism at the 10th Annual White Privilege Conference.

 “This conference is about giving people the skills and tools to make change in their lives and in America,” said Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr., now director of diversity for Bush College in Seattle, Washington.

For four days adult and youth participants went to workshops such as Discovering White and Male Privilege: The Surprising Journey, The Joy of Unlearning Racism , We Oppose Racism and Unearned Privilege..So, Now What?, and listened to keynote speakers.

Dr. Frances Kendall, a diversity consultant, gave the opening keynote.  “I spoke to the audience about passing the mantle

and calling forth a new generation of change agents.  There is a great deal of work that needs to be done on changing white privilege and institutional racism,” 

she told The Final Call.

Organizers explain that the WPC examines the challenging concepts of privilege and oppression and offers solutions and team-building strategies to work toward a more equitable world. 


Author Tim Wise shows his book White Like Me at the White Privilege Conference.

Youth attendees at the White Privilege Conference surround Dr. Tim Moore.