REQUIREMENTS for a Just Buddhist White Privilege Narrative

Aug 2, 2015  This is a work in progress.

  1. Recognize and familiarize yourself with a diversity of narratives about white privilege.
  2. Include narratives about shame, white shame,  guilt and responsibility.  Include common psychological definitions of shame and guiltCompare and contrast with your narrative about white privilege.
  3. Recognize that white shame has been used by advocates to compel action.
  4. Include a recognition of issues of identity.  That we may be (and most of us are) strongly attached to feeling good about ourselves and may take unwise action in order to avoid the suffering.
  5. Clearly articulate your goals for raising the issue of white privilege.   What are we hoping will happen in the wake of the exercise that hasn’t been happening before?  Upon what evidence has that hope been founded?   (Indeed this may be the question to raise first.)    [See also: Reasons to be Mindful of White Privilege] 
  6. Observe whether clearly articulating your goal or goals feels subtle or messy.  Would a person asking the question lead you to think they are missing the point.
  7. Recognize that in other contexts students and employees are not asked to recognize their privilege, rather it’s a requirement of the curriculum or employment.
  8. Focus on the personal experience of white privilege in the present.
  9. Be aware that theories of causes, interpretations of history, and the implications for engaged action are the more controversial aspects of the question.  They may not be necessary for understanding.
  10. Actively maintain a welcome and opening for questions such as “so what?”.  These questions may be asked because of differing views, experiences, and beliefs about society —  which is to say, different ideologies / worldviews.  Different ideologies will construct different narratives that make sense of white privilege to them.
  11. Assume that when others appear to be  “in denial” or “they just don’t get it” they may be waiting to hear a narrative that speaks to them.   I believe for nearly everyone there there is a white privilege narrative that they can related to / will speak to them.
  12. Assume that many people have had notions of white privilege thrust upon them in an unskillful, manipulative, demonizing and/or hypocritical manner.  They may therefor be quite understandably wary.  (See the item above about causes, interpretations of history and further implications).
  13. Acknowledge that some narratives of white privilege use “hard sell” techniques, are disrespectful or do not model what they preach.   Say that you want / promise to do.
  14. Remain mindful of the distinction between an honest broker of information and options for action, an advocate, and a stealth advocate.  (Stealth advocacy is probably the most destructive and its quite common in political discourse especial discourse that is partly informed by science.)
  15. Develop your presentation based upon the collective wisdom and experience of a ideologically diverse group.  In particular include persons who self identify as liberal or progressive and conservative while also including moderate Republicans and Democrats, Libertarians and Independents/other parties.
  16. Use the ideologically diverse group to create alternative narratives designed to appeal to different constituencies.  (While involving more work some public policy experts say this process is almost a requirement in order to be an honest broker of information and alternatives and to avoid the stealth advocacy trap.)
  17. Recognize the importance of including a diversity of ideology.   Avoid the trap of privileging your own narrative over others.  I believe many presentations fail to model the diversity, openness, and self awareness and honesty that seems implicit to the topic.
  18. Be cognizant of the presence or absence of diversity of political ideology within your group.  Buddhist sangas often lean toward those who would self identify as progressive or moderately to strongly liberal.  Some conservatives and libertarians may be “in the closet”.  There may also be some self-identified liberals who are sharply critical of some aspects of the orthodoxy.
  19. Be sure that your resources list a diversity of materials reflecting different perspective and narratives.   (Shelby Steele and John McWorter  are two African American professors who are sharply critical of the most common white privilege narratives.  They both are articulate.  Videos and/or written material are available on-line for no cost.  Neither self-identifies as a conservative while acknowledging that many people see them that way because they challenge a certain orthodoxy. I’ll include links to these and others in a latter post.)
  20. Recognize and acknowledge criticisms of white privilege.
  21. Admit that concepts such as social justice are often left poorly defined and articulated.  (Articulated descriptions of social justice have varied considerably in the last 180 years since the phrase first appeared in English.)
  22. Admit that people of good will and compassion have different perceptions of notions such as racism, justice, fairness, compassion and the good society.  They differ especially over how to constructively and operationally define it as well as how to achieve those goals.
  23. Recognize that much of this process recapitulates and illustrates Tatagata’s own process and methods.
  24. Explicitly define what you do and don’t mean by white privilege.
  25. Address alternative constructions such as majority privilege.
  26. Presenters should be familiar with growing literature that documents the systemic privileging of viewpoint in the social sciences, psychology, and various “critical studies’ departments.  This represents a system of power and privilege that arguably biases the public’s and scholarly perception, attitudes and beliefs that are highly relevant to issues of race.

Do to:

  • Argyris Model II – free and informed choice, choice of tests & validation, openness about potentially contradictory information or reasoning

Reasons to be Mindful of White Privilege

A number of reasons for recognizing white privilege have been suggested.  This list includes some ideas I’ve encounter in the literature and discussion found online.  Rational actions are accompanied by a theory of cause and effect, the effect being the goal or purpose of the exercise.

An attempt to identify “the Four Noble Truths” of White Privilege doesn’t get past three.      Many if not most discourses on White Privilege (WP) seem to avoid explicitly stating the purpose, value and expected end result of cultivating such an awareness.  Some critics suggest that either the advocates are uncertain themselves or they don’t want to publicly reveal their purpose and motivations.  Raising the question of “why”, “what for”, and “for whom” seems especially relevant as in the discourse the goal and purpose is rarely made explicit.

A rhetoric that values free and informed choice would offer a explicit theory of cause and effect and statement of desired result.  Not so with White Privilege.

Comments from articles, web sites, and blogs

  1. To urge people into activism against the conditions that afford whites their privilege?
  2.   Is it to face and conquer white shame?
  3. To combat objections to Affirmative Action policies.
  4. It’s merely ‘awareness raising’.
  5. A necessary prelude to change — we need to disseminate this awareness of White Privilege before we can start on the political part of the project.
  6. America is a nation “in denial” about racism past and present.
  7. To encourage a “conversation” on race.
  8. To get more whites to agree to a certain agenda.
  9. It’s more about feelings than actions.
  10. It’s more about mindfulness than actions
  11. Whites want to feel OK about themselves.
  12. “The key to solving the social problems of our age is to abolish the white race, which means no more and no less than abolishing the privileges of the white skin. Until that task is accomplished, even partial reform will prove elusive, because white influence permeates every issue, domestic and foreign, in U.S. society,”
  13. The ultimate aim is not racial harmony but class war that will result in capitalism’s demise and socialism’s ascendancy.
  14. Encourage citizens to “get truly distressed, even outraged, about unearned race advantage and conferred dominance“.
  15. To explode “the myth that democratic choice is equally available to all”.
  16. To weaken systems of unearned advantage.


It’s hard not to notice that amid the White Privilege rhetoric, the activist goal is largely implied. Obviously, no one puts it that way, but as those interested in White Privilege know so well when it comes to racism, what people say is often an approximate reflection of their true feelings and intents. McIntosh’s essay [White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack] refers in passing to something as hypothetical as the “redesign of social systems” at the end of her tome, calling whether we want to seek such a thing “an open question.” The discussion hasn’t changed much since 1988. The White Privilege Conference bills itself as being about “understanding, respecting, and connecting.” Those are all admirable aims but they apply to the White Privilege teach-ins, not about applying the lessons to actually changing society. White Privilege puts a laser focus on the awareness raising. The awareness raising is what it is about. – The Privilege of Checking White Privilege

Although systemic change takes many decades, there are pressing questions for me and, I imagine, for some others like me if we raise our daily consciousness on the perquisites of being light-skinned. What will we do with such knowledge? As we know from watching men, it is an open question whether we will choose to use unearned advantage, and whether we will use any of our arbitrarily awarded power to try to reconstruct power systems on a broader base.   — Peggy McIntosh, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack