White Privilege: What to Do About It?

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For whites, naming white privilege goes beyond accepting that we are guilty of participation. It means facing the possibility that our most deep-seeded beliefs in the goodness of a democratic society and our success as individuals may be based in make-belief. It completely alters one’s perspective. This explains why recent U.S. immigration policies that may seem shocking to some, actually exist. Of course, this kind of racially fueled discrimination is not unlike many incidents in U.S. history such as the rejection of Jewish refugees during the Holocaust or the rejection of thousands of immigrants at Ellis island. To acknowledge white privilege would, for many whites, topple their entire belief system. Most people try to avoid this.

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However, “White privilege exists by virtue of its invisibility” (Tascon, 2008, p. 267). Due to its stealthy, invisible nature, white privilege is only occasionally obvious to whites, as in the case of shocking events, which are usually deemed exceptions to the normal goodness of society. Such events are blamed on individuals, thus preserving the goodness of the society at large. “To name the privilege as white and racial would be to undo its power” (Tascon, 2008, p. 265). Librarians, and indeed, everyone, especially white people, need to name the privilege. The first step to fixing the problem is to acknowledge what the problem is.

To acknowledge that one is usurping more than one’s share of the power is not enough. Change is required. “Whiteness is assumed to be a right rather than a claim to privilege…” (Sefa Dei, Karumanchery, & Karumanchery-Luik, 2004).  That presumption must change in fighting racism, in order to loosen the grips on power over others. “We recognize that the creation of an open and equal opportunity system with effective and positive social outcomes for all groups requires the disrupting of the dominance of Whiteness and White racism… anything short of this goal will serve the status quo.” (Sefa Dei, Karumanchery, & Karumanchery-Luik, 2004). It will not be easy to transform one’s self, one’s organizations, and one’s institutions – but libraries can lead the way, providing education and exploration for all.