The Global Privileges of Whiteness.
June 29, 2001 12:09 PM   Subscribe

The Global Privileges of Whiteness. "The average White American's attitudes about race and racism are a mixture of self-congratulation and defensiveness -- 'Yes, America has had some episodes of racism and racial bias, but that's all clearly in the past.'"
posted by queequeg (13 comments total)
a well-meaning article, but i think it misses the larger point. that the so-called "White Empire" is, in fact, white, is merely luck. the fact is that economics drives most of this article. what the argument of the subsection "Maintenance of Empire" boils down to is this:

A formal apology means nothing when the very idea of reparations is ruled off-limits.

but that's just it. no one wants to pay money to anyone. how much? given out to whom? never mind the logistics: this maintenance of empire is simply the evasion of fiscal responsibility, if they can get away with it. they have been able to thus far.

profit is mentioned with respect to the following column, The Protection of Corporate Profits, but any logical argument is barely introduced. this section is rather a rant about why drug companies don't want to give AIDs medication to many in africa. as if drug companies want to give free drugs to anyone that does not work in a hospital right now.

that said, i will mention that there is a bioethical quandary to be related to here. some drug co's DO in fact give out free medication to those in africa, particularly for AIDs; the drugs, however, are often experimental. is that good or bad for the people there--it can go either way. but certainly taking advantage of an underprivileged population for medical research is a matter of questionable ethics.

the paper goes on to mention the phenomenon of white victimhood, particularly the perceived victimization caused by affirmative action. i'll point out that, i believe in california, a black politician was once in the news for supporting an end to affirmative action. was it brainwashing? or simply an example of an affluent man protecting his interests?

personally, i think most examples or prejudice today are examples of economic bias, or based on assumptions of economic status.
posted by moz at 12:40 PM on June 29, 2001

anyone who thinks racism and racial bias doesn't exist in america anymore needs to pull over the SUV, hang up the cell phone, and walk into a section of town they usually avoid.

i'm so glad i stopped being white.
posted by jcterminal at 12:41 PM on June 29, 2001

moz: since economic divisions happen along racial lines to such a large extent, are they not racial divisions (and thus, racial biases) as well?

as for being fiscally responsible, a whole lot of money and attention is spent on past injustices against white people. that is, a whole lot more money than we'll even consider spending on similar injustices.
posted by queequeg at 12:53 PM on June 29, 2001

i'm so glad i stopped being white

Jcterminal, you sound like you've read Race Traitor, true?

Here is the problem I have with the "stop accepting white privilege" line...the very fact that a white person might have a choice in the matter is itself a product of white privilege. I think its better to accept that certain privileges and obstacles exist for certain people and groups and, if you happen to exist in the privileged group (always a little hard to admit to), then try to find a way to use your privilege to change the system that produces the disparities.

I also think that whites worried about white privilege, racism and prejudice should focus more on changing and challenging whites and white favoring institutions rather than trying to "save" or "help" nonwhite populations. We are the problem, active or complicit. Our silence/inaction keeps things the same.
posted by edlark at 1:02 PM on June 29, 2001

quee, the economic divisions are not racial divisions by necessity, which is my point. i think that racism as we perceive it and as it exists today will never cease until people focus more on eradicating poverty. that's just my opinion
posted by moz at 1:17 PM on June 29, 2001

edlark: no, i haven't. url so i can read up on it?

i'd do a search but... /me rolls eyes.

when i said i stopped being white, i meant i decided to stop following stereotypical white thinking and behaviour.
posted by jcterminal at 1:24 PM on June 29, 2001


You can get the book from Amazon here.

It's an interesting, if (in my opinion) flawed work. Beyond my concerns with its philosophical flaws the self-congratulatory tone began to grate as I worked my way through it.


I agree that racial inequality and economic inequality are not inherently linked, but the linkage between the two is currently very strong. However, I think that addressing economic disparity can lead to a better social environment in which racial disparity can be addressed, and from a practical, political standpoint, focusing on economic disparities is a lot more palatable to most people than a direct focus on race.
posted by edlark at 1:38 PM on June 29, 2001

Unfortunately, poverty will never cease to exist...I believe the U.S. can lessen the gap, but it's going to involve more jobs, education, and corporate investment that is currently available. As for how race is involved, I'd be more in favor of focusing on economic disparities as edlark suggests. The roots of these disparities must be targeted and addressed instead of political actions resembling gentrification...good education across the country is one that comes to mind.
posted by samsara at 2:06 PM on June 29, 2001

i'm hoping for replicators in the near future. (cross fingers)
posted by moz at 2:16 PM on June 29, 2001

The white race is a historically constructed social formation. It consists of all those who partake of the privileges of the white skin in this society. Its most wretched members share a status higher, in certain respects, than that of the most exalted persons excluded from it, in return for which they give their support to a system that degrades them.

The key to solving the social problems of our age is to abolish the white race, which means no more and no less than abolishing the privileges of the white skin. Until that task is accomplished, even partial reform will prove elusive, because white influence permeates every issue, domestic and foreign, in U.S. society.

The existence of the white race depends on the willingness of those assigned to it to place their racial interests above class, gender, or any other interests they hold. The defection of enough of its members to make it unreliable as a predictor of behavior will lead to its collapse.

You can get more information about race traitor at

I find the idea of whites rejecting white privilege fascinating and useful on an individual basis, but I don't think it can work on a broad scale because it depends upon the supposed "tipping point" phenomenon, which, I suspect, is total nonsense.

I have not yet read the original article, but it is crucial to understand that the "white race" is not and has never been an entity existing independent of class, economics, politics, and culture. Which is to say that it is not by luck but by systematic and institutionalized race-based oppression that those who have gained and maintained power in the Western world are those of fair skin.
posted by sudama at 9:13 PM on July 1, 2001

Actually sudama, when it comes down to it, it's just a matter of numbers. Approx. 80% white, 20% black
posted by samsara at 7:05 AM on July 6, 2001

No! Before you can count, you have to decide who is white and who is black.
posted by sudama at 10:55 AM on July 10, 2001

Which is to say that it is not by luck but by systematic and institutionalized race-based oppression that those who have gained and maintained power in the Western world are those of fair skin.

Plenty of other races have held positions of power. Plenty of people see that as holding racial significance. Plenty of people are completely oblivious. I think what you see is very true, but your approach is a little too one-sided and doesn't take into consideration the distribution of those with fair skin in respects to those that are of darker hues. You might also want to rethink what constitutes someone of fair skin...and keep in mind the many immigrants of this skin tone that have not been deeply influenced by american culture.

No! Before you can count, you have to decide who is white and who is black.

I apologize as I'm a bit confused on what that means. Is it that we have to rely on census information to make these determinations? What purpose does it serve other than to show what color U.S. citizens are nowadays? Eligibility for government programs? Grants for education? Data to back up these types of issues? Please clarify if you want.

When I lived around Baltimore, I saw many instances of racial tension fabricating oppression...yet for some reason where I live now, it is not nearly as obvious. I dare say that I'm not looking deeply enough, but with as many people I know of different races, and are close friends with, it's simply not as big of an issue. I do think, however, that many of these perceived notions of institutionalized oppression come from a lack of being able to break free from what is thought to be normal. Both you and I grow up in a world where we take in what's directly in front of us....if it is institutionalized oppression, we see it's not, then we don't believe it exists. So that's where my paradigm ends, because I believe these things only happen if you follow them, recognize, and/or let them happen...the power if individuality against one's stereotype is the ability to break the cycle that is expected from them (for yourself if not anyone else). Perceived racism will *ALWAYS* exist if only for the one fact that humans find people that look different than them threatening at first...we must learn not to take that the wrong way. Blantant racism and racial oppression may see it's end someday, but we need to stop generalizing people before we can target each instance precisely. Otherwise we will always have a Romeo & Juliet family fued when only a few are to blame.

Have you ever seen the movie "American History X?" It's a bit on the dramatic side, but is a good lesson on this type of stereotype seen towards minorities.
posted by samsara at 10:03 AM on July 18, 2001

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