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


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