Toward a Just & Skillful Discourse on White Privilege

Aug 2, 2015 This is a work in progress.
I consider this the key page in this blog.

  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 guilt. Compare 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 the 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 resembling white 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
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