Thursday, December 24, 2015

Study: White people react to evidence of white privilege by claiming greater personal hardships

This Stanford Graduate School of Business study finds that whites claim hardship and deny the existence of inequalities in response to evidence on white privilege.

Since one of my areas of expertise is race and ethnic relations, I can similarly attest to the difficulty of teaching white privilege in the context of contravening ideologies of individualism, individual merit, and white supremacy—as if the right and opportunity to be an individual were equally distributed and as if merit were unmediated by the status of one's racial/ethnic, class, or gender group. Never mind strong and consistent patterning of "merit" (e.g., test scores, educational attainment, income, etc.) indicators along these axes to the contrary.  

Regarding the myth of white superiority, this is not only a U.S. problem, but a global one.  It exists as an ideology—however implicit or explicit—within our majority and minority communities alike.  Even in our own families.  In many families, children that are more fair-skinned than others get more attention or are deemed more attractive than their darker-skinned siblings.  Heck, babies are barely born and parents or relatives are quick to comment on children's skin color.  "Salió muy güerito," they say. "She (or he) came out fair-skinned," they say.  Unfortunately, in some form or fashion, no one on the planet is entirely immune from the ideology of white supremacy.

Central to the very concept of white privilege is to not even have to acknowledge it to begin with.  Were this not the case, we wouldn't be having the offensive conversation in our state right now regarding a "World Geography," McGraw-Hill textbook that eliminates the term "slavery," by referring to slaves as “workers” and then placing them in the section “Patterns of Immigration." You can read about this here.   

McGraw-Hill has backtracked and has corrected the online version.  Yet even this decision fails to get at the depth of white privilege in the curriculum.  For a great, thorough read on the state's politics over its history curriculum written by Texas history professors, read:  Politics and the History Curriculum: The Struggle over Standards in Texas and the Nation (2012) by K. Erekson (Editor) (Note: It's pricey but you can get your local library or university to make sure it is one of their holdings for check out.)

Were this example on slaves an exception, then the claim about white privilege in children's textbooks would indeed be hyperbole. Instead, this is the rule.  That is, our textbooks not only are truly erroneous in instances like these, but they are entirely biased in favor of white histories, stories, accomplishments, and epistemologies (or ways of knowing).

While "micro-aggressions" (discrimination and prejudice) are important to the study of white privilege and minority-majority relations, what should not get lost are the institutional mechanisms for the reproduction of status in society.  Curriculum, in particular, is powerful.  We here in Texas would not be having these contentious battles over curriculum were this not the case.  

Moreover, since curriculum equates to the reproduction of consciousness, systematic exclusion of subaltern histories reinstantiates privilege and ways of knowing and viewing the world in our society and helps account for why so little seems to change.  Fortunately, our children have alternative media for getting a more complete story and many are savvy in this regard. None of this mitigates, however, the power of our state-approved curriculum either to validate (frequently white) teachers' stories or exploit their ignorance.  In my own work, I call this "subtractive schooling."  The alternative is "additive schooling" as a specific antidote.  This is an anti-racist, culturally and linguistically relevant curriculum and pedagogy about which much has been written (e.g., Bartlett and Garcia (2011), Additive Schooling in Subtractive Times).

Educate yourselves.  Read history.  Get involved in textbook and curriculum battles.  Promote equity, inclusion, and honesty.  And not only disavow that the concept of "white privilege" is even a debate, but also acknowledge that our never-ending struggles for inclusion in Texas' textbook selection process is wholly about the ideological agenda of maintaining current arrangements of power that align stubbornly to racial/ethnic, class, and gender divides in our society.

Peace and justice for 2016.
Angela Valenzuela

Study: White people react to evidence of white privilege by claiming greater personal hardship

David Edwards

28 Sep 2015 at 17:10 ET                   
Frustrated man (Shuttershock)
respond to evidence that they are privileged by their race by insisting
that they face greater hardships in life.

In a study published in the November issue of Journal of Experimental Social Psychology,
L. Taylor Phillips and Brian S. Lowery point out that progress on
racial equality is limited by the fact that many whites deny the
existence of inequities.

“Despite this reality, policy makers and power brokers continue to
debate whether racial privilege even exists and whether to address such
inequity,” the researchers noted. “One reason for this inaction might be
an unwillingness among Whites to acknowledge racial privilege —
acknowledgment that may be difficult given that Whites are motivated to
believe that meritocratic systems and personal virtues determine life

“However, claiming personal life hardships may help Whites manage the threatening possibility that they benefit from privilege.”

The researchers argued that understanding the reaction to evidence of
racial inequality was important because whites who did not feel that
they personally benefited from their ethnicity would be less willing to
support policies that were designed to reduce racial inequality.

Subjects in the study were separated into two groups. The group that
was shown evidence of white privilege “claimed more hardships than those
not exposed to evidence of privilege,” the study found.

A second experiment suggested “that people claim more life hardships
in response to evidence of in-group privilege because such information
is threatening to their sense of self.” Researchers observed that whites
who read self-affirming statements before completing the survey claimed
less hardships, and they found that self-affirmations could actually
reverse the denial of white privilege.

“Furthermore, Whites’ claims of life hardships mediated their denials
of personal privilege, supporting our hypothesis that hardship claims
help people deny they personally benefit from privilege — that White
privilege extends to themselves,” Phillips and Lowery wrote.
“Importantly, these denials of personal privilege were in turn
associated with diminished support for affirmative action policies —
policies that could help alleviate racial inequity.”

Researchers recommended that efforts to reduce racial inequalities also 
include the education of advantaged populations.

“Our work suggests that privilege reduction efforts might need to
focus not only on convincing or educating advantaged group members about
privilege, but also on reducing the feelings of self-threat this
information induces,” Phillips and Lowery explained. “The existence of
hardships does not reduce racial privilege, since racial privilege
entails comparison to someone of a different race with equivalent
hardships. People may erroneously think privilege entails complete ease
in life and that the presence of any hardships denotes an absence of

In conclusion, the study postulated that whites may claim hardship
“to maintain not only a positive sense of self, but also the material
benefits associated with racial privilege.”

“Whites’ claims of hardship might also serve to legitimize the racial
advantages they enjoy, and thereby justify a system that benefits their

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