It just so happens that I have been far out of the loop as I have been on hiatus while renovating my parents house – so I have watched all of this from a safe distance.
I was asked last week to write something regarding the issue. After reading every possible link, blog and tweet that I could, I have decided to forego commenting on the events themselves – for reasons contained in this post – and instead put forward a constructive proposal for going forward.
In order to accomplish the desired conversation, I first need to clarify a couple of things:
- Next year I will attempt write a dissertation within the discipline of practical theology which addresses the issue of White privilege.
- This post is only reporting a distinction that I will employ in my work.
- I am not telling anyone else what to do, what words to use – nor am I attempting to limit others or re-define the terms or ground rules for engagement.
Two Fatal Flaws:
The conversation around issues of Race-Gender-Class and Identity Politics usually breaks down and becomes unfruitful due to two fatal flaws in how the conversation is framed.
- The first flaw is the use of either-or binaries and dualism that are too limiting and not nearly complex enough to accurately reflect the reality of the issue that attempting to address.
- The second flaw is the sloppy mixing of words and categories without clear distinction.
Here is an example of each:
I am a person of privilege in almost every category. That privilege allows me to benefit from systems that oppress, hurt, and marginalize people. Does that mean that I am an oppressor? In the current binary configuration, I am not oppressed so I must be an oppressor. We have seen all too well how this line of reasoning goes.
As a white person, I am located in a place of racial privilege. Does that make me a racist? While I benefit from systemic racism, I am not consciously attempting to participate in or reinforce the prevailing racist structures… in fact, I may even be attempting to undermine them and confront them.
I would like to see us move away from either-or options based on limited binaries and make a move toward multiplicity that more accurately reflects the complexity of the situation. This would be done by first adding a third category – then and here is the big one – by distinguishing within each of those at least 2 postures: active and passive.
We would then have
AND each of those would be clarified by a passive or active posture/participation.
You could then have someone who is in a place of racial privilege who is passively (and possibly ignorantly) benefiting from the privilege without 1) being very aware of it 2) actively contributing to the marginalization or oppression of another group – and certainly not being overtly racist.
In this configuration we could distinguish between those who are active and those who are passive in their privilege – active and passive in the racist/sexist structures – and active passive in the marginalization/ oppression that results.
These seem to be important distinctions that prevent the oppressed-oppressor either-or binary that is so prevalent in Identity Politics but which is so alienating and confusing to those who have yet to confront/consider issues of Race-Gender-Class in this way.
I am utilizing concepts from ‘Race, Class, and Gender in the United States’ by Paula S. Rothenberg. The two major distinctions that I am interacting with come from Peggy McIntosh and Beverly Daniels Tatum respectively.
Peggy McIntosh on White privilege:
I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.
This privilege, as Brekke El (@WrdsandFlsh on twitter) points out, “Privilege in America is BUILT on institutions of racism, sexism & oppression”.
Beverly Daniels Tatum distinguishes between active and passive racism:
… All White people, intentionally or unintentionally, do benefit from racism. (A Klan member or the name calling Archie Bunker are) images (that) represent what might be called active racism, blatant, intentional acts of racial bigotry and discrimination. Passive racism is more subtle and can be seen in the collusion of laughing when a racist joke is told, of letting exclusionary hiring practices go unchallenged, of accepting as appropriate the omissions of people of color from the curriculum, and of avoiding difficult race-related issues.
Because racism is so ingrained in the fabric of America institutions, it is easily self-perpetuating. All that is required to maintain it is business as usual.
Here is why I am taking this approach:
These issues are far too important to resign ourselves to the round-and-round in-house binaries of generations past that have not delivered the desired results and have not initiated those in places of power/privilege into constructive examinations of the systems and structures that benefit them.
These issues would seem to be matters that people of faith would be more interested in than the culture as a whole (due to the nature of the material) but which seem to have largely the opposite reaction in a sizable portion of that population.
We need to alter the way in which the conversation is framed if we want to both affect different outcomes than have already been achieved OR if we want to involve ever-increasing amounts of people in expanding rings of influence.
Again, I am not trying to tell anyone else what to do – I am in no place to do so. I am only attempting to share a distinction that I will be utilizing in my future project in the hopes that others might find it equally useful.