Wednesday, May 25, 2005

White privilege ... a bit from my latest paper take two.

The issue of white privilege examines the things whites in our society take as a given, that minority members do not have. Many members of white society, while willing to agree that the placement of hazardous treatment facilities in communities of color is wrong, are unwilling to admit that they themselves are over-privileged just as minority members are underprivileged. By turning a blind eye to the issue of white privilege white society perpetuates the behaviors and beliefs that allow them to obtain that privilege to begin with. Peggy McIntosh identified approximately 50 privileges held by whites in our society that are not held by most minorities in her essay, “White Privilege: Unpacking the invisible Knapsack.” Some of them are directly applicable to the issues faced by communities victimized by environmental racism.

Ø If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.

Ø I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.

Ø I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race

Ø I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person's voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her race.

Ø I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

Ø I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared.

These privileges are a given for most members of white society. They are the every day interactions we take for granted, and as a result, we do not understand the complaints members of minority groups’ voice with regards to these interactions. There is one additional privilege missing from Ms. McIntosh’s list:

Ø I fell reasonably certain I can purchase a home in a neighborhood where there are no hazardous waste cites and feel secure the neighborhood will remain that way.

The issue of whiteness as property is another uncomfortable area to examine.

Historically, in our society, members of white society have held the majority of the political power, the land, and the military power. With that historical racial success comes an inheritance of privilege. Whiteness as property is not an examination of white society today choosing to disenfranchise minority groups but rather compares the rights and advantages members of white society have inherited from their predecessors with those inherited by minority groups. A NCES study indicates that children of parents who did not attend college are less likely to succeed in college than children whose parents did attend college. This is true even in cases where the first generation college student is given family support and encouragement. “Whether high school graduates enroll in postsecondary education and whether postsecondary students reach their degree goals depend on many factors, but those whose parents have no education beyond high school are considerably less likely to succeed than those whose parents have completed a bachelor's degree. Students who are nonwhite or from low-income families tend to be disproportionately represented among those whose parents have low education. Multivariate analysis confirms that parents' education remains significant for gaining access to postsecondary education and for persistence and bachelor's degree attainment at 4-year institutions even after controlling for other factors such as income, educational expectations, academic preparation, parental involvement, and peer influence." National Center for Education.

Members of white society are more likely to have parents who completed college than minority members. Therefore they themselves are more likely to finish college, as are their children, and their grandchildren, and so on. There are inherent benefits that come from being white and they are the privilege of belonging to a class who has historically held the power.

Few of these issues are considered socially comfortable and frank examination of the majority of them usually angers non-minority society. But despite the fact that many if not most individual whites are not racist and not actively choosing to disadvantage minority classes, our society as a whole chooses to make this small percentage of our members bear the majority of our environmental burdens. As a result, we as a society, and as individuals, have an ethical duty to examine the current system, and effect positive change to better spread the cost of our environmental excesses more evenly across all of our society members.




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