Tuesday, September 18, 2012

White Privilege and the Multiracial Advocacy

 The Bugaboo of White Privilege

I’ve had enough and just can’t keep quiet about this any longer. I’m sick of hearing people infer that if you are white, you are somehow privileged. Mitt Romney is, but that’s just one guy and I know he is because I lived in Michigan when his father was Governor.  

My father kept his 1962 Funk and Wagnalls with him whenever he read, so he could look up words he didn’t know. I inherited the dictionary. When I began to hear and read about “white privilege,” I decided to start at the beginning and looked it up in Dad’s dictionary, but it wasn’t in there. I could find “white” and “privilege” separately, of course, but not together. It’s not that dictionaries don’t have compound phrases: White Matter and White Lie and many others appear.

I could only find a definition in two places: on Wikipedia and in the Urban Dictionary.
Wikipedia: In critical race theory, white privilege is a way of conceptualizing racial inequalities that focuses as much on the advantages that white people accrue from society as on the disadvantages that people of color experience.

Urban Dictionary: 1. The racist idea that simply being white benefits people in some unexplainable way, and that discriminating against white people is not only okay, but enlightened and necessary. The excuse some extremists use to justify pretty much any level of racism, as long as it is coming from people of color. 2. Essentially it’s the claim that being white affords one access to universal, institutional, or systematic advantages…” 3. A term used as a blanket condemnation of any success a white person may have.

Also from Urban Dictionary on white privilege: You cannot measure it, and it has no specific concrete definition to provide a basis for proof of its existence, it has not, and can never be proven to exist, but if you question it, you’re called “ignorant” (in reality you are a skeptic) and the fact that you questioned it in the first place is further proof that you have “White privilege.”

I like the Merriam-Webster’s Student Dictionary definition of plain old privilege the best: “A right or liberty granted as a favor or benefit especially to some and not others.”

So, we all know what is, is not, that it can never be proved, and that I’ll be called “ignorant” for bringing it up.

In the last few months, I began to hear more and more about white privilege in academic writings more and more. Then people would type it in chatrooms on the Internet. I was doing a blog radio interview when I noticed someone in the chat room had made a nasty comment about how my references to “we” meant those of white privilege. I explained that when I say “we,” I’m talking about Project RACE. I am not the spokesperson for an organization called “Project White Privileged People.”

I’m quite used to receiving students’ inquiries about whether I will agree to be interviewed for their middle school paper, masters’ thesis, or PhD. dissertation. Sometimes I can accommodate them, other times I cannot. We also get requests for multiracial candidates for all kinds of studies, which we usually post on our website.

One inquiry came in recently that went to the heart of white privilege. The working title of the dissertation is White Mothers’ Advocacy for their Biracial Sons and Daughters in US Schools: Colliding with White Privilege. Huh? She went on to explain that the study is to explore the ways in which white privilege impacts us white mothers while we are in the school setting with our multiracial kids.

What in the world is this woman talking about? No white mother I ever knew who advocated for her children ever needed strategies to deal with white privilege. It doesn’t matter if we are single, non-single, biological, or adoptive mothers, we are advocating for our multiracial children, not worrying about how white privilege, if there is such a thing, is impacting us. Why is academia going there? Are we supposed to be guilt-laden? For what? And by the way, not all multiracial advocacy moms are white.

Other queries we get are from doctoral students who are looking for very specific types of people for their studies. One I got recently I honestly thought was a joke. The writer explained that she was doing a study on biracial leaders. They have to be exclusively black and white, and have been in a leadership or supervisory role. Reading the long email, I thought she was looking for biracial leaders in the biracial or multiracial movement. Those of us in the movement know that we can count our leadership on one hand. Then I read it again and realized she just wanted black/white biracial leaders in any capacity, at work, church, or school. We don’t keep that kind of information about our members. But what really made me wonder about this one was that these multiracial subjects have to be living in places like Iowa and South Dakota. I wished her the best of luck. At least she didn’t have to worry about getting people who were dealing with white privilege.

I actually found, in my non-academic research for this piece, a “White Privilege Checklist” by Peggy McIntosh, Associate Director of the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women. McIntosh describes white privilege as “an invisible package of unearned assets, which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious.” Whoa, wait a minute. I decided to check into just a few of those items on her checklist to see how it relates to me, a white woman. Here we go:
#6: I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the food I grew up with, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can deal with my hair.
#6 RESPONSE: Music shops and video stores have gone away, unable to compete price-wise with the big chain stores. I can’t find any of the food I grew up with at any local supermarket, and I have to drive an hour to my hairdresser, but he’s worth the drive.

#14: I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk with the “person in charge,” I will be facing a person of my race.
#14 RESPONSE: Most of my business is conducted online or via cell or landline phone. I have no idea what race the person is who I talk to. Some have more ethnic sounding names than others, but I never assume anyone is anything.

#16: I can easily by(sic) posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.
#16 RESPONSE: Why would I want to? Mostly I buy those things that have pictures of my dog’s breed on them. Yes, he’s white and lives a very nice life.

Where you find talk about white privilege, you often also unfortunately find references to white supremacy. I could find a lot of references on the subject, but this is not an academic paper and I don’t have to cite anyone. I will add a few juicy quotes just so all the professors know I really have been paying attention.

Quote #1: Stephanie M. Wildman (in her book Privilege Revealed: How Invisible Preference Undermines America), “Many Americans rely on a social or financial inheritance from previous generations, an inheritance unlikely to be forthcoming if one’s ancestors were slaves.
Quote #1 Response: No way! I can honestly say I do not know one white person who received an inheritance. I do know one black person who did and it was a whopper. It’s ridiculous to think we (white people in this case) get fabulous inheritances from our families.

Quote #2: Thomas Shapiro argues that wealth is passed along from generation to generation, giving whites a better “starting point” in life than other races.
Quote #2 Response: See Quote #1 response plus you wouldn’t believe the number of white babies on WIC.

Quote #3: Deidre A. Royster in Race and the Invisible Hand,” Racialized employment networks can benefit whites at the expense of blacks.”
Quote #3 Response: The reverse is often said about affirmative action and quota systems
for minorities.

Quote #4: Patricia J. Williams wrote in The Alchemy of Race and Rights that “The Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Brotherhood are the major unions among prison guards.”
Quote #4: All this time I was sure it was the drug lords. Who would know something like that, anyway? It’s hardly a Trivial Pursuit question.

Quote #5: Shelby Steele thinks that the effects of white privilege are exaggerated and that irresponsibility is a larger problem for blacks, who may incorrectly blame their personal failures on white oppression.
Quote #5 Response: Oh that Shelby. He was just sayin’….

Quote #6: Michael Davis wrote, “In about 30 years, whites will no longer make up the majority of the American population. Racial Supremacy or racial dominance is a social and systemic phenomenon; and is not based on relative population…So, when some white people begin to classify themselves as a ‘racial minority,’ given the pending demographic shift, we must be ready to have an open and honest dialogue about that topic.”
Quote #6: I hope he’s right.

One of my favorite sayings, and I wish I knew who originally said it, is this: Really, it all comes down to the bugaboo called money.

Academia has tried to discredit advocates for the past 22 years or longer. Are they really so insecure that they have to pick on the activists who get the jobs done so they can write their papers about us? I don’t know why they have to do so much academic posturing, anyway. One such academic was recently given an award for his lifetime of service to the multiracial community. The problem is that his “lifetime of service” consisted of writing one letter to one Congressional subcommittee back in 1993.

Academia ain’t always right. One academician tried to discredit me by publishing in her dissertation/subsequent book that I have a picture of myself with Newt Gingrich in my living room. Wow. For the record, no such picture ever existed in my home and I’m not a Republican—and never have been. 

If the goal of some of the academics is to make us white folks feel discriminated against, maybe it’s working, but that’s different from making us feel guilty for being white. No one will ever make me feel guilty about being a white woman leader in the multiracial advocacy movement.

I think there is room for everyone to make a difference in the lives of multiracial children, but not by putting advocates down. Some people teach and some people do. We need more of those who do both. Come on in. 
-Susan Graham


  1. I understand your frustration with being accused of things that are not true to your character, but to suggest that white privilege is somehow a myth is way off base. I'm not going to get into a debate here, but how can an authentic discussion of multiracial advocacy even begin without a conversation on the realities of white privilege? Perhaps you wrote this on the defensive, but I would seriously reconsider your position on white privilege. You shouldn't feel guilty about being white. But can you still recognize your privilege because you are white? Absolutely. Do I feel guilty for being an American. Nope! But I recognize my privilege which helps me to better understand how I relate to others.

    And maybe you should ask yourself how a non-white person in this country (who daily lives with the realities of white privilege) would feel this piece. Because THIS multiracial woman is very turned off by it.

  2. Thank you for your comments, Alyssa. I think the comments are important in this advocacy, and unlike some other blogs, we do not turn "comments off." We can easily have a discussion of multiracial advocacy without a conversation on white privilege if some academic and academic librarians would let it go.

  3. Actually we can't. If you deny the very thing that causes the need for racial advocacy of any kind, then really...what's the point? I see you've lost blog followers after this post. And unfortunately you've lost one more.

    The fact that you can deny white privilege is actually the most incriminating evidence of the fact that you have it. You may be able to dismiss it, but for racial minorities we live with the realities of white privilege every day.

    I wish you luck in your efforts toward multiracial advocacy. But this multiracial person doesn't need someone who is in denial about a fundamental piece of race relations in this country to speak for her.

  4. I also suggest you read this series on privilege written by a white woman. It's very helpful in deconstructing the word privilege, what it means, and why it's important to recognize http://diannaeanderson.net/?p=1487

    Oh and my mistake, I thought I saw the count for your followers drop but that is not the case.

    1. Alyssa, I did read the article you suggested. No comment on the content, which says much of what my piece did, but in a much different way. I think you will be much happier reading Ms. Anderson's blog. Go in peace.

  5. Susan Graham is the first person with the guts to say it like it is. I think Alyssa is the one with the problem here.

    1. at least alyssa puts a name to her statements

    2. Carl, how gutsy is it to just leave a first name? Come on.

    3. It's actually a first name that links to her own blog. Hell of a lot gutsier than anonymous.

    4. Ms. Graham is certainly not the first person to have this viewpoint, unfortunately.

      And yes -- I actually do have a problem, hence why I wrote a comment. Thank you for your astute observations.

      "Carl, how gutsy is it to just leave a first name? Come on." Ha! Thank you for making my day with insinuating that me comment with my name and a link to my blog and email address is somehow not as "gutsy" as you leaving comments anonymously.

  6. this is an opinion piece, and everyone is entitled to their opinion, but regardless of where this woman stands on the issue, it does not change the fact that Project RACE is a much needed voice, doing things for multiracials that a lot of other opinionated people just talk about.

    1. I understand the "need" for a voice but shouldn't that voice be listening to the people it speaks for?

    2. IzumiBayani, how on earth could Project RACE advocate for people if we were not listening? When was the last time you presented an issue to Susan Graham and were turned down or ignored? When was the last time you offered an idea or a solution to a problem in your community? Are you a member of Project RACE? Have you helped with bone marrow donor drives when multiracial people were dying because a suitable match could not be found? If you want someone to hear you -- you must speak!

  7. Do not get the impression that all white people are privileged. For many white people the only privilege they have is that they are born in America. Susan Graham was born and raised in an unprivileged Jewish neighborhood in Detroit.

    Six million other Jewish people weren’t nearly as privileged. They were born in war torn Europe during the 1930s and the 1940s. The lives of those white people ended in Nazi concentration camps, death camps if you will, simply because they did not look or believe as a maniacal, hateful, racist tyrant thought they should.

    Do you honestly think that Susan Graham has not faced discrimination, bigotry, bias, and hatred especially from people who do not even know her, have never spoken with her, and have never met her? Think again.

    Project RACE is an organization of action. Instead of getting peoples’ focus off what is important and relevant to the multiracial community, we at Project RACE strive to keep our focus on advocating.

  8. Well - I think it is time for me to say a few words. I am the person in academia who wrote to Susan using the words White privilege. Next is the exact content of the email that I sent to Susan. She did not reply to me. I think it is clear in my email that I see Susan as a courageous leader. I have no idea why she referred to me in her blog post above the way she did. I did not ask her for anything - my email was not an inquiry. I was simply thanking her for all the work she has done and I mentioned the work I am doing. That is all.


    I am sure you get many, many letters and emails thanking you for the ground breaking work you began back in the 1990s.

    This is another one of them.

    Thank you also for your courage in speaking with Alicia Castagno who interviewed you for her Bachelor’s Thesis at Wesleyan University.

    I read her Thesis as one of the 100s of source materials in working on my dissertation.

    My dissertation is tentatively titled White Mothers’ Advocacy for their Biracial Sons and Daughters in US Schools: Colliding with White Privilege

    The purpose of my study is to explore the ways in which White privilege impacts White mothers in their advocacy for their biracial sons and daughters in the US in the school setting. The related research questions are:
    • How do these mothers experience White privilege when advocating for their children in the school setting? How do they describe it? What strategies do the employ to deal with it?
    • What are the experiences of single mothers and non-single mothers? What are the experiences of biological mothers? What are the experiences of adoptive mothers?

    All throughout 2013 – I plan to interview mothers across the US. I also plan to interview teachers and school staff. I plan to video the interviews.

    Along with my dissertation, I plan to produce a documentary.

    Again, thank you for all your efforts.

    Jennifer Little
    Oshkosh, WI

    I still wish Susan well.

    Jennifer Little
    Oshkosh, WI

  9. There is clearly a gap between this blog post and Ms. Little’s email message. She appears to be researching a challenging issue of concern for mothers of bi-racial children

  10. As a white woman, I'm going to chime in. I think this piece dismissing "white privilege" is absurd. Of course there is white privilege, and no, I don't mean monetary inheritance. Among many other subtle benefits, it's a long history of coming from well-off families (which I understand is not true across the board, but it's much more likely than in families of other races) who are in position to set their children up for continued success. It's the subtle credibility of solvency that you don't have to prove when you shop.

    Here's an example. I walked into a store last week wanting to return an item that I'd purchased the day before that broke the first time we used it. I had carelessly tossed out the receipt with the packaging. The employees who had sold me the item were not working the day I returned the item. The employee on duty offered to give me store credit. When I asked if I could please just have the credit returned to my credit card, the manager agreed without even looking at my ID.

    Maybe it was coincidence. Maybe they are extremely agreeable to customers of all races. I hope that's true. But the reality for me is that I didn't think twice about trying to return a broken item without a receipt. I have friends of other races/religions, similar (or more successful) to me in economic status who wouldn't even attempt that.

    This is a micro-example, I know. There are far more serious issues at hand for biracial or multiracial people.

    I don't cower in guilt about being white, but I recognize that it does make my life easier in the U.S. That's not right; I advocate to change that; but it is true.

    Speaking up about this issue invites scorn or argument. I applaud Alyssa's clarity of thought and willingness to engage in the difficult discussion.

  11. As both WHITE AND MULTIRACIAL, I know that too often liberal elites (regardless of "race") have used "white privilege" as either an excuse for class discrimination or a hammer to silence dissent on any "racial" issue.


    White Racial Identity, Racial Mixture, and the "One Drop Rule"