Sunday, March 22, 2009

White Privilege?

I found this an interesting read. My thoughts about this are below the essay.

(start essay)


Robert Jensen
School of Journalism
University of Texas
Austin, TX 78712
work: (512) 471-1990

copyright Robert Jensen 1998
first appeared in the Baltimore Sun, July 19, 1998

[This essay builds on the discussion of white privilege from Peggy McIntosh's essay "White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women's Studies."]

by Robert Jensen

Here's what white privilege sounds like:

I am sitting in my University of Texas office, talking to a very bright and very conservative white student about affirmative action in college admissions, which he opposes and I support.

The student says he wants a level playing field with no unearned advantages for anyone. I ask him whether he thinks that in the United States being white has advantages. Have either of us, I ask, ever benefited from being white in a world run mostly by white people? Yes, he concedes, there is something real and tangible we could call white privilege.

So, if we live in a world of white privilege--unearned white privilege--how does that affect your notion of a level playing field? I ask.

He paused for a moment and said, "That really doesn't matter."

That statement, I suggested to him, reveals the ultimate white privilege: the privilege to acknowledge you have unearned privilege but ignore what it means.

That exchange led me to rethink the way I talk about race and racism with students. It drove home to me the importance of confronting the dirty secret that we white people carry around with us everyday: In a world of white privilege, some of what we have is unearned. I think much of both the fear and anger that comes up around discussions of affirmative action has its roots in that secret. So these days, my goal is to talk openly and honestly about white supremacy and white privilege.

White privilege, like any social phenomenon, is complex. In a white supremacist culture, all white people have privilege, whether or not they are overtly racist themselves. There are general patterns, but such privilege plays out differently depending on context and other aspects of one's identity (in my case, being male gives me other kinds of privilege). Rather than try to tell others how white privilege has played out in their lives, I talk about how it has affected me.

I am as white as white gets in this country. I am of northern European heritage and I was raised in North Dakota, one of the whitest states in the country. I grew up in a virtually all-white world surrounded by racism, both personal and institutional. Because I didn't live near a reservation, I didn't even have exposure to the state's only numerically significant non-white population, American Indians.

I have struggled to resist that racist training and the ongoing racism of my culture. I like to think I have changed, even though I routinely trip over the lingering effects of that internalized racism and the institutional racism around me. But no matter how much I "fix" myself, one thing never changes--I walk through the world with white privilege.

What does that mean? Perhaps most importantly, when I seek admission to a university, apply for a job, or hunt for an apartment, I don't look threatening. Almost all of the people evaluating me for those things look like me--they are white. They see in me a reflection of themselves, and in a racist world that is an advantage. I smile. I am white. I am one of them. I am not dangerous. Even when I voice critical opinions, I am cut some slack. After all, I'm white.

My flaws also are more easily forgiven because I am white. Some complain that affirmative action has meant the university is saddled with mediocre minority professors. I have no doubt there are minority faculty who are mediocre, though I don't know very many. As Henry Louis Gates Jr. once pointed out, if affirmative action policies were in place for the next hundred years, it's possible that at the end of that time the university could have as many mediocre minority professors as it has mediocre white professors. That isn't meant as an insult to anyone, but is a simple observation that white privilege has meant that scores of second-rate white professors have slid through the system because their flaws were overlooked out of solidarity based on race, as well as on gender, class and ideology.

Some people resist the assertions that the United States is still a bitterly racist society and that the racism has real effects on real people. But white folks have long cut other white folks a break. I know, because I am one of them.

I am not a genius--as I like to say, I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I have been teaching full-time for six years, and I've published a reasonable amount of scholarship. Some of it is the unexceptional stuff one churns out to get tenure, and some of it, I would argue, actually is worth reading. I work hard, and I like to think that I'm a fairly decent teacher. Every once in awhile, I leave my office at the end of the day feeling like I really accomplished something. When I cash my paycheck, I don't feel guilty.

But, all that said, I know I did not get where I am by merit alone. I benefited from, among other things, white privilege. That doesn't mean that I don't deserve my job, or that if I weren't white I would never have gotten the job. It means simply that all through my life, I have soaked up benefits for being white. I grew up in fertile farm country taken by force from non-white indigenous people. I was educated in a well-funded, virtually all-white public school system in which I learned that white people like me made this country great. There I also was taught a variety of skills, including how to take standardized tests written by and for white people.

All my life I have been hired for jobs by white people. I was accepted for graduate school by white people. And I was hired for a teaching position at the predominantly white University of Texas, which had a white president, in a college headed by a white dean and in a department with a white chairman that at the time had one non-white tenured professor.

There certainly is individual variation in experience. Some white people have had it easier than me, probably because they came from wealthy families that gave them even more privilege. Some white people have had it tougher than me because they came from poorer families. White women face discrimination I will never know. But, in the end, white people all have drawn on white privilege somewhere in their lives.

Like anyone, I have overcome certain hardships in my life. I have worked hard to get where I am, and I work hard to stay there. But to feel good about myself and my work, I do not have to believe that "merit," as defined by white people in a white country, alone got me here. I can acknowledge that in addition to all that hard work, I got a significant boost from white privilege, which continues to protect me every day of my life from certain hardships.

At one time in my life, I would not have been able to say that, because I needed to believe that my success in life was due solely to my individual talent and effort. I saw myself as the heroic American, the rugged individualist. I was so deeply seduced by the culture's mythology that I couldn't see the fear that was binding me to those myths. Like all white Americans, I was living with the fear that maybe I didn't really deserve my success, that maybe luck and privilege had more to do with it than brains and hard work. I was afraid I wasn't heroic or rugged, that I wasn't special.

I let go of some of that fear when I realized that, indeed, I wasn't special, but that I was still me. What I do well, I still can take pride in, even when I know that the rules under which I work in are stacked in my benefit. I believe that until we let go of the fiction that people have complete control over their fate--that we can will ourselves to be anything we choose--then we will live with that fear. Yes, we should all dream big and pursue our dreams and not let anyone or anything stop us. But we all are the product both of what we will ourselves to be and what the society in which we live lets us be.

White privilege is not something I get to decide whether or not I want to keep. Every time I walk into a store at the same time as a black man and the security guard follows him and leaves me alone to shop, I am benefiting from white privilege. There is not space here to list all the ways in which white privilege plays out in our daily lives, but it is clear that I will carry this privilege with me until the day white supremacy is erased from this society.

Frankly, I don't think I will live to see that day; I am realistic about the scope of the task. However, I continue to have hope, to believe in the creative power of human beings to engage the world honestly and act morally. A first step for white people, I think, is to not be afraid to admit that we have benefited from white privilege. It doesn't mean we are frauds who have no claim to our success. It means we face a choice about what we do with our success.

Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism in the University of Texas at Austin. He can be reached at

Retrieved: 19 October 2007.

(end essay)

I found this to be quite interesting. However, in today's world, I wonder how much of this rings true. I also wonder if blacks can, in some way, claim "black privilege".

What I mean by "black privilege" is the advantage that they may receive because of their own race. Sometimes I think that people may actually think, "Oh, I should support/hire/give priority to a black person to combat the racism that I may subconsciously have." I wonder how much of this influenced the 2008 elections and gave support to Obama.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Questioning Your Faith

I found this on one of my friend's Facebook profiles (Megan Fritts, to be exact) and found it quite interesting. She does have a blog (

As most of you know, a couple topics that completely fascinate me are theology and philosophy of religion. One particular subject within these fields that I’m very passionate about is the importance of thinking logically and reasonably about your faith. Now, be honest . . . how many of you, when you read the title of this note, thought that I was going to make a point against questioning your faith, or, at least, tout it as a negative thing? Read on and see if you change your mind . . .

Although I’ve been a Christian all my life, I didn’t understand the importance of intense logical perusal of my faith until this past year, and what I’ve noticed may or may not resonate with you. I’ve learned that the Christian community, in general, seems to be much more interested in helping you experience positive emotions about your faith than they are in exposing the grandeur and all-encompassing truth of it to you. They are more interested in signing you up to volunteer at a pot-luck then they are in showing you why you should believe Christianity in the first place. They seem much more interested in almost anything else than they are in assuring you that you aren’t, essentially, taking an eternal gamble with your soul. And that’s what it is, isn’t it? When you choose your faith the way you would choose a bunch of bananas at the supermarket, you’re putting all of your eggs in one basket, so to speak. Your entire eternity is at risk, completely dependent upon whether or not your religion, rites, and rituals are the correct ones. Clearly such a bet is foolhardy, to say the least. Should we not desire to seek out the Truth, if out of nothing but the basic instinct of self-preservation?

C.S. Lewis, when writing about those who look to Jesus as a great moral teacher, but nothing else, said this,

“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic--on a level with the man who says he’s a poached egg--or else He would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.”

I’m fairly certain that the majority of people who will read this note are Christians, or, at least, claim to be. I charge to you consider the fact that Christianity is not the only religion to have devout followers. Our God is not the only god that people say they can feel. What makes your faith different? Why, out all the bunches of bananas in the supermarket, did you choose this one? Is it because you grew up with family members who believed it? Is it because it’s what everyone else at your school believes? C.S. Lewis, in the above quote, reminds us that apathy is not an option, as far as our faith goes. Jesus was either the greatest being in all of reality, or He was a horribly evil person. Either way, doesn’t it call us to action? We should be willing to jump into action to either show the world brilliant reality, or save them from an enticing lie. Don’t be apathetic about what you believe . . . the bet is far too risky, and the stakes are far too high.

(Now, as a side-note, although I believe it important to question your faith, you must have the right motives for doing so. There’s nothing sillier than a person with a serious case of intellectual wanderlust; in other words, someone who questions things for the amusement of skepticism, and not for the sake of actually finding answers. The rampant post-modern mindset that our culture is soaking up helps to feed this dismal affliction. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid, kids. In another hundred years or so, having a destination will be cool again . . . I promise.)

Monday, March 9, 2009

No School?

It seems like what could be the storm of the century is coming in tomorrow. OK, not the storm of the century, but pretty close. :)

Anyways, it's looking pretty nasty. Here's what the National Weather Service is saying (this is from Pope County's Blizzard Watch):



Yeah...doesn't sound so great. :-P Anyways, let's get on with my predictions.
WARNING: Do not base your actions on these. These are for informational/entertainment purposes only.

Red/Orange: Either no school or school out early

Based on what BBE has done past storms this year, I kinda doubt that they would pull through this nasty one. If BBE doesn't let out by 11 AM, I would be surprised.

Alexandria Technical College:
Yellow: May be closed, may not be.

Saying that ATC would ever close is risky at best, but it's actually possible in this instance. Be prepared!

In other news, BPA state starts Thursday! I'm extremely excited. Watch for blog posts during that.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Many Ways to Heaven?

I found this at and found it quite interesting. It's written by Jeff Jones.

One of the biggest beefs people have with Christianity is the idea that Christianity is the only way to God. “How can you say that? What about all these other world religions? How can you be right and everybody be wrong? And aren’t they all the same anyway?” In reality, when you look at Christianity, it is very different. It’s very unique from any other faith because it’s not based in works, it’s based in grace. Every other religion gives you all these laws and if you do all these things and you’re a really great person and you can reach enlightenment, achieving perfection and somehow deserve Heaven. It’s all based in what you and I do. Christianity is based on what Jesus Christ has already done on the cross when He died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, which we deserved. In Christianity, the way to God is not by what we do; the way to God is by trusting in what Jesus Christ has already done and it’s not exclusive. It’s actually the most inclusive religion anywhere because Jesus says, You don’t have to do anything you just come, as you are. And I’ll accept you and I’ll forgive you and I’ll begin to change you and I’ll begin to transform you and I’ll begin to use you as you are.”

One time I was talking with a group of about five or six non-Christian friends and we were kind of in this little study, about faith. One of my friends said, “You know, I don’t understand why Christians are so bothered by all these other people around the world who seem to be happy, all these other religions. I understand they have their way to God, but what about all these other people? Why can’t they just leave them alone? Why worry about those people?” Another one of my friends was a Buddhist girl from Japan and she had been really quiet the weeks that we met and hadn’t said much at all. She started to cry and said, “Please don’t say we’re happy because we’re not happy. For us, it’s hopeless. It’s like this huge weight on our shoulders; just all these chains, these laws, these rules and these things that you have to do and you’ll never get there anyway.” And she begin to describe what it was like under Buddhism to have thousands and thousands of laws and rules of which she didn’t know all of, and knew that only a few people would ever get there. She said, “Christianity is so wonderful because it says Jesus just takes that weight away and it says quit trying to get to Me because I’ve come for you.” She went on to say, “Please don’t leave us, please don’t think we’re happy without this. Please don’t keep us in the dark. Please let us know how Jesus Christ came for us.”


It should be the third one in (from the left.)