Whiteness, Privilege, and Intersectionality

Whiteness, Privilege, and Intersectionality September 21, 2019

I shared something a while back that led to me having a conversation with another white American male, one whose late wife was African-American and who has a child that is thus considered “black” in the American imposition of racist binaries. The conversation was about the idea and the terminology of white privilege. As our conversation proceeded, I very much started to grasp his perspective on what he found problematic about the terminology, in particular that privilege is not something that someone can simply divest themselves of individually. The only way to eliminate privilege is for all to gain what only some now have, at which point privilege of that particular sort is reduced or eliminated.

I’ve found myself thinking a lot about intersectionality because it relates not only to that present-day matter, but also ancient followers of Jesus like Joanna, who may have had significant wealth and status, but was probably despised by some because of her connection with Herod’s household, as well as not having the same opportunities that males of her status and background had. That is the heart of the matter. Privilege doesn’t mean everything is easy. Privilege means that some are disadvantaged in ways that you are not, that you lack a disadvantage others have. If you are white and poor, or rich and hated, it may not feel like privilege. Perhaps we need better terminology. But for the moment, what we need is to help people understand how something like privilege can be multifaceted and complex.

Here are some links related to this topic, interspersed with further thoughts generated by them and/or my conversation.

I Wanted to Know What White Men Thought About Their Privilege. So I Asked.

Pastor Daniel Hill talking about the church and white supremacy

Whiteness, religion, and modernity

Let’s Discuss: Some IM Statements about Culture

Talking about Privilege with Nuance by Elise M. Edwards

Ralph Eubanks, “What Makes Me Black? What Makes You White?”

Kyle Korver on White Privilege

Yaa Gyasi’s article about whether she, a Ghanian immigrant to America, is “black” is worth reading.

Racism is morally toxic even while it is economically advantageous to some. Thinking about this led me to realize that racism doesn’t only harm those who are discriminated against. It actually does not benefit anyone, in at least one important sense. It may benefit specific individuals in specific cases where discrimination occurs, but it is on the whole to the detriment of society and brings negative consequences that impact everyone. Perhaps we should focus more attention on that point than we have tended to?

Is the privilege that comes with whiteness a bad thing that we need to eliminate, or a good thing that we need to spread to others? If all have it, then the term “privilege” ceases to apply.

My conversation partner posed an interesting question, offering me a hypothetical situation in which I can see one of the following two miracles occur in the world – prejudice disappears, or socioeconomic disadvantages that reflect past prejudice disappear. Which would you choose? Which would have the longer-term impact?

A good end point in our conversation was to emphasize something that certain ways of phrasing the matter can fail to convey: the aim is not to take something good away from whites, but to take something bad away from society.

David Fitch, James Cone: Liberation Theology 1

What racism is and how to organize against it

Americans are divided by their views on race

“White Evangelicals Are The Most Fragile Of All White People”

Whiteness as Default in a Majority Minority Nation

Whiteness is not the plumbline

What Is a Racist?

If Mass Poverty is Declining, Why should We Worry about High Inequality?

Evangelical Shift #4

How I Finally Came to Understand My White Privilege


It’s a Wonderful Life: Social Justice Warrior Version

Social Justice and the Gospel

A time of privilege

White privilege in NZ

Privilege and Lies: Some Problematic Myths about Vocation

Why It’s So Hard To Talk About Racism

Carlson calling out white privilege

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  • The privilege we (meaning I and other white people) enjoy comes from the absence of the (overtly) negative impacts of racism. So, yes, I’d agree that everyone should be enjoying that. Because of that, I’d also have to agree that it’s something that must be dealt with systemically.

    But there’s also an individual component that I think is important, and that’s being aware of our privilege, how it effects our perceptions of racism, and even the words we use. Most white people in America aren’t racist in the blatantly overt sense (although many are), which is how most of us think of racism. But we’re unaware of what people of color endure that leaves us relatively untouched, and because of this, we end up supporting racist systems and going along with racist ways of thinking without deliberately intending to.

    • Steven Cunningham

      Yes, Phil, spot on. What I hear you getting at is the essential point that, “without deliberately intending to,” we humans often unwittingly reproduce various forms of cultural violence, which legitimizes, makes seem ok and normal, other forms of structural and direct violence, to use the terminology of Johan Galtung.

  • Steven Cunningham

    Very timely and important post. I just finished reading “Intersectionality” by Collins and Bilge. Your point about individuals not being identified by a single parameter, such as privileged, but also by many others, such as hated, or rich, or poor, or non-White, is an essential one, a nuanced one that is easy to miss, but an essential one for sure!


  • Ron Swaren

    How long have whites had this privilege? Did the starving Irish have it? Did the Scottish highlanders who slept among the rocks in the only clothing they had have it? Did the Northmen, Anglo Saxons, Poles—who were lucky to live to the age of 40– have it?

    Get a grip on yourself, man. Now, with our new technologies, the entire human race has the opportunity to lurch ahead to where it has never been before and you’re complaining?

    • Can you not grasp the concept that the Irish in England and America in the past were discriminated against, and today have privilege compared to people who are of African or Hispanic ancestry?

      • Ron Swaren

        And we have a history of discriminating against the Hispanics how? The ones who lived in areas that the US incorporated didn’t particularly want to live under the unstable and racist government of 19th C. Mexico anyway. Secondly, just as every other industrialized country draws employment seekers from less industrialized areas, so too, our country drew them, and they had the opportunity to make much better money than they had elsewhere. Further the spillover from economically booming cities (Galveston TX, San Diego CA, Phoenix AZ. as examples) produced industries in neighboring areas. This crossborder industrialization and economic opportunity continued for decades. Eventually when many of these industries relocated elsewhere their employees sought out our social safety net.

        Furthermore, when you get on the issue of privilege I can assert that there is a lot of cultural change that goes on under the radar and a lot of the “minorities” do have some real benefits. However I do know that the US inner city areas are extremely poverty stricken (Not only seen lots of it firsthand, I know what there is to know about residential construction issues) but I see very little progress from either the political sphere, or the religious one, in solving things like that. Today, there is a lot of theorizing and not enough practical action, I am sorry to say. My apologies if this is hard to understand.

        One last note: at the UN State of the World Forum in 2000 one main theme was that Third World cultures would adapt communication technology faster than the West, and would “leapfrog” those in the US and Europe. Obviously this doesn’t happen overnight but there is a rapidly growing middle class in many of those countries and gradually increasing opportunity. This assertion was from the Futurist Society at that event. I then followed up much of this via the UN Urban Forum and discussing new building materials with a well known UN official. My family has had missionaries to Africa and the Caribbean.

    • Ocelot Aardvark

      Maybe your reward in the Resurrection will be for you to find yourself as a Black slave … in let’s say,
      1805 Mississippi. Maybe then you’d have a shred of understanding of what systemic racism is.

      Even as free people, African Americans are subjugated to covert racism … as in hiring practices, housing discrimination, racial profiling by police … to name a few.

      As one example of racial profiling by police, may I point you to the treatment Louis Gates, Jr. received from police when his front door was jammed and he was locked out of his own home.

      When he, and the cab driver who drove him home, pushed in the door, the police, as they should, questioned him. Mr. Gates showed the police his state drivers license and Harvard identification … which both showed his address … and even with the cab driver as a witness, it didn’t matter to the police.

      That’s when the full-blown systemic racial-profiling began … and even though Mr. Gates had evidence, and a witness, of who he was, the police still arrested him for “robbery”. Seriously doubt that would have happened to a white man?


      • Ron Swaren

        The police routinely and frequently evict homeless people from encampments, so yes, a lot of abuse does occur to other races. Btw, fundamentalist Christians are also subject to a lot of under the radar discrimination at least in the more “progressive” areas of our country if not in places like the Bible Belt.

        • Ocelot Aardvark

          In the past 60 years, I have not seen even one incident of a Christian being discriminated against. More times than not, it is the pretentious Christians doing the “under the radar” and even out in the open, discrimination.

  • Kyllein MacKellerann “

    Peel off the skins and we’re all the same color, leaky blood red. Privilege based on skin color is based on one eighth of an inch (about 2.5 mm) of leather produced by the dermis (which is whitish-pink in all cases). What sily creatures humans are, to set such store on a thin sheet of colored leather.

  • Christian

    White People have it easy

    Imagine a Racist Black or Asian who managed to get away with killing Tens of Millions of Whige People

    White People don’t know the meaning of true suffering and dehumanization

  • Anjasha Freed

    Oh, white privilege again. We are white and therefore evil, imbued with the original sin of racism and slavery. We can purge ourselves through practices of mortification and self-sacrifice, weeping over our unearned advantages, apologizing for our heritage and humbly adopting an attitude of shame and submission to whatever demands are made on the given day.

    Well, I’m not doing it.

    Here’s my advice to people: Guilt is the tool of manipulators who want power over you. Think carefully before you fall for any attempt to make you feel guilty.

    • I have to wonder if you ever read the post, or have any sense of what “white privilege” means. What you wrote suggests not…

      • Anjasha Freed

        What don’t I understand? There are all sorts of people who have unearned privilege over me.

        Is there a systematic bias against black people? Maybe. There is also a systematic bias regardless of race against ugly people, fat people, sick people, depressed people, congenitally dull people and people who have dysfunctional families.

        If you want to talk about systematic injustice, then I deserve my place at the grievance table complaining that Google won’t hire me because I can’t pass their IQ test, or that the Ford modeling agency says I’m not pretty enough to send out on calls.

        We can talk about the obscene injustice of the descendants of serfs, starving peasants, indentured laborers, sharecroppers, factory slaves, sod farmers and cannon fodder being told they are actually the product of some system of unjust benefit.

        Most American white people are the products of the expendable dregs of underclass Europe. “White privilege” is the weapon being used by the elite against an underclass who dared to aspire to be a middle class.

        • What you don’t understand is white privilege, and the concept of intersectionality. The fact that people with a particular skin color are discriminated against systematically does not mean that everyone who has a fairer complexion has equal advantages…

          • Anjasha Freed

            The argument we are having here has nothing to do with whether I understand “white privilege”.

            The concepts of “intersectionality” and “white privilege” are the vocabulary of a narrative, a big story that explains our society or humanity as a whole.

            The narratives we like most are simple. The good guys are clearly defined. The bad guys are clearly defined. Details that create ambiguity are eliminated because truth is only truth if it suits the narrative.

            Narratives are a good way to change the way people think because they are simple enough for people to latch on to without much thought.

            For instance, intersectionality is easy. You are the sum of all your categories of disadvantage. As I said, there are many possible categories of disadvantage, but a niche-elite of diversity scholars is actually calling the shots. It decides on the valid categories and how much they count in your final score. Therefore, it decides who has the most advantageous intersectionality score.

            That is why an Appalacian man living in dire poverty and eating canned beans is more “privileged” than an upper-class black woman in Atlanta eating a gourmet Wagyu hamburger with truffle-laced french fries.

            All of this is a matter of faith and believing it is like a religion. The people pushing it have a vested interest in doing so and it has nothing to do with caring about black people or women or any other so-called disadvantaged group of people.

          • You are the only one having an argument, with an imaginary conversation partner, based on your assumptions about the meaning of phrases, seemingly without having read my blog post that you are commenting on.

          • Anjasha Freed

            Of course. I don’t understand what I am talking about. I will only understand it if I agree with it.

            Now, where did I hear that before?

            1 Cor 1:18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.

            Oh. It’s just another Christian concept repurposed by the social justice movement..

          • As I suspected, you are clearly just trolling and have no sense of what the post is about or how I approach things.

            Ironic that you would quote Paul while objecting to efforts to combat racism…

          • Anjasha Freed

            White privilege doctrine has nothing to do with combating racism.

            It is a means of suppressing the nascent social and political power of the middle-class, which happens to be mostly white.

            In the good old days, church leaders, journalists, scholars, scientists, the medical establishment and elite politicians did the talking. The rest of us did the listening, whether we liked it or not.

            The Internet has produced a power-shift, in which middle-class people who have not been vetted through the power structure are suddenly capable of stating their opinion more or less freely. This is coupled with a remarkable ability to form associations with like-minded people.

            The traditional opinion-brokers, as listed above, do not like the threat to their uncontested power to enforce opinion.

            Once you realize what is actually happening, the entire racism/intersectionality construct falls apart. It is just a desperate effort to de-legitimize and disenfranchise people who have become difficult to silence.

            Calling me a troll actually proves my point, by the way.

          • Trolls and users of tiresome internet debate tactics always think everything proves their point. Me calling you a troll only indicates the kind of impression you have made here.

            Can you cite anything that would suggest that you aren’t just an example of one of those people using the internet to assert their poorly-informed opinion in precisely the way you mention? Can you link to examples of the kinds of things you have in mind and imagine that you are referring to? Maybe you have indeed come across those things, and so are listening to them rather than experts and mainstream voices?

          • Anjasha Freed

            To sum up: You have not a single thing to say about my opinion of what “white privilege” really is and whether it is actually a tool of power used to manipulate dialogue and control what the general public can express or the ideas they can produce.

            You want to know where a vapid troll like myself saw such ideas and who is responsible for putting heterodox theories into my plebeian little head. It would be far safer if I would listen to “experts and mainstream voices”!

            The answer is that my analysis came from leftist class and race theory which invites us to examine everything from a standpoint of the power differential. We examine not the thing itself, but who benefits and who loses power.

            Rather than look at the “white privilege” concept and its impact on the racial power structure, I am looking at the “white privilege” concept and asking how it impacts class politics, especially for those who want to maintain power and control over the national dialogue.

            The simple question is “Who gets power and control from the wielding of this idea (white privilege)?”

          • Just to clarify, I do not deny that concepts like white privilege can be used as a tool to manipulate. Anything potentially can. The point is not that general one, but whether the issue of racial discrimination in the United States is a real and ongoing one. As long as you try to avoid that central question, you’re just using the accusation of “power, manipulation, and control” in precisely the way you assert that all reference to white privilege is. That is the problem with much such “analysis” – it is stating something that by now is quite obvious, and which is woven throughout all human social interaction. Recognizing that allows us to more helpfully return to the question of whether power is predominantly accumulated in certain pockets, where those are, what the implications are, and how this might be addressed.

          • Anjasha Freed

            Your claim is that because a poor white person has a degree of skin privilege over a poor black person, the poor white person must “own” his advantage. And apologize. And maybe, what, give up his minimum wage job to a black candidate, or do charity work or something? Or constantly check his desire to make his life better? Or go to a reconciliation group with black people and listen to their woes after the graveyard shift at 7-11?

            You apparently cannot see what an obscene manipulation this is. What kind of people (1) pit two groups of underprivileged people against each other on the basis of skin color and why (2)?

            1. Well-paid, well-fed university professors, diversity trainers, the journalistic elite, politicians.

            2. Because people who are blanketed in manufactured shame will not fight for their rights as workers or free citizens.

            Mass immigration from the 3rd world is destructive to the wages of both the black and white underclass of the USA. By shilling white privilege, the elite intimidate the working class from complaining about this. Otherwise they will be branded as “racist”.

            And who benefits?

            Not the black people you claim to be so concerned with. Not the white underclass. Rather it is the elite who can hire cheap labor and undercut the underclass of poor native workers.

            So don’t presume to call me racist or say I don’t understand white privilege. I understand EXACTLY what is happening.

            The rhetoric of white privilege is not only harmful to white people and our society, but it is also extremely damaging in many ways to the black community.

            That is how I know that it has nothing to do with helping black people and everything to do with power.

          • Where did I claim what you claim that I claimed?

          • Anjasha Freed

            You didn’t.

            Was it a strawman?

            I considered it a description of the concept you are promoting.

            Eventually, you have to get into the details of what you are asking from white people, culturally, economically, psychologically, emotionally, socially, educationally, politically.

            Or are you saying you don’t want anything from them and this is just an interesting idea you like to talk about?

            As you know, I think white privilege is power-based and transactional and likely hiding an ulterior aim. Apparently, so do many other white people. They are waiting for all the cards to be laid on the table.