White Privilege: Being Born on Third Base and Thinking You Hit a Triple

Lucy HudsonLucy Hudson, Director, Safe Babies Court Teams Project, ZERO TO THREE

Summary: The author defines and discusses the history of “white privilege.”

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When this country was being developed by European settlers into what they viewed as civilization, the goal was to mold the American colonies in their image. They brought with them a desire for religious tolerance within a tightly constrained view of how religion and society should be structured:

  • Male headed households
  • Voting rights limited to men who owned property
  • The equation of property with rank
  • The acceptance of a master race and sex  (and conversely)
  • The inferiority of anyone who wasn’t like them

Being white was the one and only definition of civilization. That founding presumption continues in force to this day. White members of the middle and upper classes can anticipate deferential treatment in almost every context. “Social privilege is usually something that facilitates the optimal development of an individual, increases access to societal opportunities, or simply makes life easier but is not acquired by virtue of merit or personal effort. It is gained simply by being a member of the group that is privileged… The privileged characteristic is legitimized as the norm and those who stand outside of it are considered deviant, deficient, or defective” (Greene, B., 2003).

Whites are assumed to be competent and deserving of the privileges we have. Our racial stereotypes are primarily positive: inventive, creative, hardworking, sensible, innovative, practical, motivated, ingenious, industrious and noble.

As a white person, I cannot help but admit to the special privileges I enjoy for no better reason than the color of my skin. Unless I decide to speak out, I fit in pretty much wherever I go. I am presumed to be a person of worth. I am a representative of the “master race.” My race has allowed me to pass through life on my own terms pretty much. I have the socially approved (“good”) hair, eyebrows, nose and lips. I grew up in safe neighborhoods where I went to the best public schools. My family members have had long lives and good health. My grandmothers both lived into their 80s, and my parents both lived almost 90 years. My parents and one of my grandparents went to college. My mom got two master’s degrees. Both my sisters have master’s degrees and two of our three husbands have PhDs. Whiteness has given me many advantages that I could count on because of my race and class.

We are all judged for who we are to some extent. White people escape several kinds of judgment that occur before one word is exchanged: no one makes a judgment about our competence or honesty based on skin color. No one follows us around a store because they think we might be stealing things. No one thinks much of a white woman who is assertive about her right to service. African American women who assert their rights are labeled “angry black women.” Women of color who speak out are thought to be “uppity,” a term recently applied to the First Lady by Rush Limbaugh. White people are assumed to be well meaning, friendly and smart. We presume that our disproportionate access to good jobs, high performing schools and safe neighborhoods is a result of our superior abilities and performance, when and if we think about it at all.

It is time for those of us who have had the world handed to us on a silver platter to recognize how that has limited our growth as human beings. Our privileges are purchased by sacrificing the rights of people of color. Gandhi was asked what he thought of western civilization. He replied, “I think it would be a good idea.” (MemorableQuotes.com).

This article is a companion piece to articles in this issue of The Judges’ Page written by Eduardo Duran, Tina Saunooke, Marva Lewis, Ernestine Gray and Dawn Bentley-Johnson.Far more eloquently than I could hope to do, they have provided perspectives on the effect of white privilege on African Americans and Native Americans.

Author biography:

Lucy Hudson has more than 30 years of experience in project management, program implementation and policy development in public and private sector child welfare, child care, mental health and youth-serving organizations. Hudson currently serves as the director for the Safe Babies Court Teams Project at ZERO TO THREE. She has been instrumental in the planning and development of the Court Teams Project and is responsible for the daily operation and oversight of all project activities, project staff and fiscal matters. As the director, she also produces training materials, including a series of DVDs about working with families involved in the child welfare system. For four years, she directed efforts in Massachusetts and nationally to learn about and expand the models of court-based, drop-in child care available to litigants, jurors, witnesses and victims. While at the Center for the Study of Social Policy (1993–1996) Hudson was a member of the team evaluating the District of Columbia’s success in complying with the terms of the LaShawn A. v. Kelly class action suit brought against the District on behalf of children in the child welfare system. Throughout her professional career, Hudson has served as a public speaker on issues affecting the lives of young children. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts at Boston and her master of science degree from Wheelock College.

References:

This article is based in part on “A Legacy of Slavery—White Privilege,” a presentation I made at a conference, Healing from the Historical Trauma of Slavery—An Intervention for Child Welfare Court Teams, on December 2, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Greene, B. (2003). What Difference Does a Difference Make? Societal Privilege, Disadvantage, and Discord in Human Relationships in Diversity in Human Interactions. Robinson, J.D., James, L.C. (ed.) New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.

MemorableQuotes.com. Memorable Quotes and Quotations from Mahatma Ghandi. Retrieved on January 17, 2012 from http://www.memorable-quotes.com/mahatma+gandhi,a46.html

 

 

 

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