“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.”
― Helen Keller
“I have come to know that if we sell one house to a Negro family, then 90 to 95 percent of our white customers will not buy into the community. That is their attitude, not ours.” (builders had no say over the resale of houses)
“The rock, weighing less than an ounce carried tons of hatred with it.’
(Aug 1957 Quotes from NYT during integration of first suburb in Levittown, PA.)
This past semester, as I do every semester, I confront the unconfrontable of race and racism whether I am teaching ethnomusicology, sociology or a racism course. Being a black woman professor means dealing with race as well as gender politics.
In early December 2012, a Facebook friend named Suzanne Broughel insisted I post a Facebook thread and dialogue on race and privilege about my final weeks teaching two intro to sociology course last semester .
The question reprinted below led to such a great discussion – which yielded so many great resources. Suzanne was so captivated by the conversation that she pulled all the comments from my Facebook wall and archived the resources mentioned for easy use. Thanks Suzanne!! And now I share it with you all here on my blog.
This thread includes sociologists, museum curators,filmmakers, and a host of other folks from different occupations but all who are committed to the transformation of conversations of race and other “differences” just as I am.
December 7th, 2012 – A Crisis of Privilege
On Dec 7th, I asked a question of my social network on Facebook after a long day of teaching. I asking just a week after another colleague ethnomusicologist Joe Schloss, Ph.D. had asked a professional question about teaching and race matters that also solicited a great deal of interaction. So I was following Joe’s lead when I posted the following knowing I’d get a response at least from sociologist David J. Leonard, Ph.D. and historian Mark Naison. Ph.D..
I knew there were a number of scholars and interested intellectuals who might reply. Sometimes being a black woman talking race incurs a shot the messenger phenomenon and my white male colleagues’ voices were useful to bridge a gap I was sensing after an extrememly long day of teaching. Their comments as well as others’ saved me hours of hand-wringing.
Here’s how I led up to my question:
In the last section of my Intro to Sociology course, two white students — one a 20 y/o 2nd gen Russian man and the other a 2nd gen Irish woman whose in her late 50s — voiced their discomfort with the ‘privilege’ part of white privilege as a term. The male student said he could understand that minorities are disadvantaged but he doesn’t like the term ‘privilege’ for whites. How would you handle this educational moment? Would love some suggestions. I have some but I could use some outside insight into how this black woman professor might help them see, feel, and understand what is meant by white privilege. The textbook we used is stellar in discussing it. I already shared a video of Peggy McIntosh. I am sharing this video with them today (EHL: Little Rock Nine – Elizabeth Eckford http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAPOvdOEYE8) but I realize these historic images keep it at a distance for contemporary thinking. Any video suggestions or exercises you use that I might borrow?
How do I get them from the personal view of “privilege” to a sociological view of it? — exercises or websites are welcome.”
That was my plea. I never shared the Eckford video with them because one of the sources below trumped it for me. I showed the episode of the documentary Race: The Power of Illusion titled “The House We Live In” about the history of redlining and housing discrimination in the U.S.. The next day of classes went extremely well AND I learned so much more from the unique demographics of Baruch College when we did the privilege line exercise. More another day on that.
Here’s a short list of resources from the online conversation. But scroll down below this list for the actual comment thread (edited), which Suzanne urged that I blog and she (as I do) strongly recommend reading for a more nuanced view of this challenging topic and more tips on how to approach it.
A CRISIS OF PRIVILEGE RESOURCES:
Article: “Dying While Black” by Dr. Mark Naison, Fordham College
Graphic on Intersectionality: here and the same graphic on another website: http://judge-me-not.weebly.com/fancy-terminology.html
Film: Cracking the Codes: The System of Inequity http://crackingthecodes.org/news/ or http://world-trust.org/mirrors-of-privilege-making-whiteness-visible/
Book: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander http://www.newjimcrow.com
Article: white privilege and definitions http://www.mpassociates.us/pdf/WIWP.pdf
Film: Jane Elliot, The Angry Eye
Film: Documentary “The House We Live In” part of Race: The Power of Illusion
Here’s the Longer Comment Thread from Dec 7th that followed my update (an edited version):
Some of these people I only knew via Facebook. In fact many. I do know Kendra Hamilton from my former days at the University of Virginia, Ali Garrison from grad school at Michigan’s School of Music, and Liz Marley from a conference for global transformation hosted by the Wisdom division of Landmark Education. I recently met David at a speaking engagement in NYC this past year for the first time. So this conversation thread is a mix of people giving freely to help me solve my dilemma.
Kyra: In the last section of my Intro to Sociology course, two white students — one a 20 y/o 2nd gen Russian man and the other a 2nd gen Irish woman whose in her late 50s — voiced their discomfort with the ‘privilege’ part of white privilege as a term. The male student said he could understand that minorities are disadvantaged but he doesn’t like the term ‘privilege’ for whites. How would you handle this educational moment? Would love some suggestions. I have some but I could use some outside insight into how this black woman professor might help them see, feel, and understand what is meant by white privilege. The textbook we used is stellar in discussing it. I already shared a video of Peggy McIntosh. I am sharing this video with them today (EHL: Little Rock Nine – Elizabeth Eckford http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAPOvdOEYE8) but I realize these historic images keep it at a distance for contemporary thinking. Any video suggestions or exercises you use that I might borrow?
How do I get them from the personal view of “privilege” to a sociological view of it? — exercises or websites are welcome.”
Mark Naison: Kyra. See if this short piece I wrote a couple of years back might help http://withabrooklynaccent.blogspot.com/2009/07/dying-while-black.html
Mark Naison I think one of the problems is that not all whites are equally privileged and if you don’t account for class you can get moralistic on them. Nevertheless, white have a huge advantage even when they are working class, even when they have been in trouble with the law. You might want to look at statistics on the black white wealth gap and discuss why it is so great. But this is a very tough subject under the best of circumstances.
David J. Leonard I think any exercise has to account for race, gender, class, geography, sexuality; to echo Mark’s point, statistics are always a good place to start and end with
Kendra Hamilton Try talking about intersectionality–most people don’t like talking about privilege because they feel disadvantaged in one way or another. Talking about interlocking systems of advantage and disadvantage allow them to “add up” the privileges they enjoy vis-a-vis others. I back channeled you the graphic I use on your kyraocity account.
Taleta Jones Perhaps you could assign an “essay” using the simple textbook definitions of the words “Black” & “White”… Perhaps this will induce that “Moment of Clarity” for your students, Professor…
Jackie Peraza Kyra – They have a different map of reality. It’s rare to be able to get someone to expand their map unless you can get them to question their own belief systems. Have you tried asking what ‘white privilege’ might look like to them *if* it existed?
Karyn Beth Berger Discomfort is a part if the learning process….
Shiree Dyson [curator of MOADSF.org] Kyra show them the film Cracking the Codes: The System of Inequity http://crackingthecodes.org/news/ or http://world-trust.org/mirrors-of-privilege-making-whiteness-visible/
Liz Marley [from U.K.] I think the work of Michelle Alexander: The New Jim Crow i.e. the war on drugs / that there are more African-American males in prison now than were ever slaves in 1850. That 34- 36% (I think) African-American) males have permanently lost their right to vote in some states due to ‘convict’ status. This is not even on a ‘white’ radar. And not even knowing it is difficult to get a taxi (until you shared and others since). And when I was 20 or so I had to digest the term ‘white’ and in last the few years ‘white privilege’. I just never had to think of myself as ‘white’ i.e. childhood in NE Enger-land or ‘priviledged’. Period. And get individuals who have experienced extreme abuse not ‘privileged’ (regardless race). Think important TWO WORDS are read together i.e. it’s not privilege as we ‘know it’. May be place to come from. Use if useful. Let me have feedback if anything inaccurate/off the mark. Thanks.
Kyra Gaunt Thanks David, the privilege line exercise is perfect. Karyn, discomfort is already there because as a black woman I don’t always have the privilege of talking about race without it turning back on me (that I am being racist). So there’s discomfort and yes I use it all the time but it’s always a dangerous place for black professors. I had a white student try to sue me after teaching my first racism course. Thankfully we resolved it before the last day of class but for 6 weeks it was hellish.
Kyra Gaunt Great article on white privilege and definitions: http://www.mpassociates.us/pdf/WIWP.pdf
Mark Naison Someone should film a Black woman professor and a White male professor teaching the same subject, with the same material, in demographically similar classes. It would be very interesting to compare student responses.
Natalie D. A. Bennett “white” people aren’t born that way, they become that. You have to show the students how they become white and are assigned privilege. Being 2nd generation Irish and Russian means something; you can’t dismiss it or hide it under “white” or they will not get the message.
William ‘Fridge’ Franklin What helped me understand that I had male privilege while being black was to mull over the notion that all other things being equal, your life will probably be easier as a male of any group than as a female. When you are talking about large numbers of people, that probability becomes a privilege. It doesn’t always work out at the individual level.
Ali Garrison (a white Canadian whose partner and father of her child is a black African) You’ve probably already thought of it, but just in case… for me, the white mother of a black child, a tough but a crucial perspective on the healing and teaching of empathy is the work that Jane Elliot has done. Can you show some of her work to them? She is a ruthless and brilliant warrior for the cause. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=neEVoFODQOE
Kyra Gaunt Thanks to everyone who offered guidance, material and exercises. I used the privilege line that David J. Leonard suggested and a great graphic on intersectionalities the Kendra Hamilton sent me from women’s studies. Used in both of my sections. Learned that focusing simply on the male student’s question was less divisive than tackling all kinds of privileges. As Mark Naison said all whites are not equally privileged – a critical point to highlight as a black professor for students who are triggered by my very presence as the authority. This was a needed insight to have become evident in a highly diverse immigrant and citizen student population at Baruch College. That particular student really appreciated it and others did too. I tackled Eurocentrism, heterosexism, colorism (in one section I gad them line themselves up by color light to dark) and class. We spent alot of time on that and discovered that Asians sre thriving economically in ways I wouldn’t have imagined at at public school. It was quite effective. The exercise also allowed the Jewish immigrants from Russia to share their privilege and lack of it (antisemetism) and an Asian looking student (that’s what “others” see) who wears a Mohawk share his embarrassing times when his mother would speak Spanish in public (Anglocentrism and a great moment of complexifying race/ethnicity) and add in a Latina like him shared how that privilege caused conformity to the norm. They both no longer show their multilingualism in dominant public settings.
Kyra Gaunt I’ve been using Dalton Conley’s untextbook and it does a fabulous job at complexifying the issue of race as one nowadays of white vs. nonwhite rather than white vs black. Highly recommend the text.
Denise J. Hart The documentary “The House We Live In” (part of Race: The Power of Illusion) is superb! Highly recommend it for this discussion. Clear, contemporary in examination with history to support the contemporary contextualization. Good luck!
Aishah Shahidah Simmons Kyra, thank you for this post. While I haven’t had this same exact experience in my classes this semester, it is something that I’ve had to face. There are so many wonderful suggestions. I use the word privilege and I also struggle its use. I believe I struggle with it because it doesn’t always get at the heart of the matter which is white supremacist structures, which marginalizes so many, including disenfranchised white people… Simultaneously there are other structures in which traditionally marginalized people benefit from even in the midst of their marginalization. What I try to do is discuss all of the ways that so many of us most especially in the U.S. occupy many spaces of privilege while simultaneously (possibly inadvertently) marginalizing others. When students (people) are occupying spaces/places of power and are resistant to it, I ask them to interrogate their resistance and explain why/how they don’t think they have power… These are not easy conversations to have at all and yet they are so necessary…. I’m still processing and learning. Again, thank you for this post.
Ali Garrison I think with something as important as empathy, we can try to be academic and intellectual about it, but nothing will teach us to feel what others feel like experiential learning. Hence the efficacy of Jane Elliot’s work. (The Angry Eye).
What a brilliant exchange!!
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