How White Privilege is Perpetuated

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By Cheryle Norris

White privilege is not only maintained by the silent witnessess to the treatment of others but also by the oppressed. The white privilege and power is kept in place by the constant direct but also subtle mistreatment of those in a different status than the white, male, heterosexual and non disabled. Sadly, the destruction does not stop with the white word, the silence. The profound pressure to be accepted in the society ruled by white privelge possess not only the oppressed to convince others like themselves to be more white, it also adds pressure in the minds of individual to do whatever it takes to be accepted.

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Racism a part of our culture from the beginning and is a difficult thing to overcome. From the beginning, though trying to escape their own oppression from the old world, settlers of what is currently the United States, began their systematic oppression and destruction of the natives. They created a subjective system of deciding who belonged to this superior white race and who did not. Cowboys were glorified for protecting their land and their people form the vicious Indians (who white man gave a name), whose land was taken from them. Many further endorsed slavery and killed blacks at random. Confederate troops were viewed as heroes. In schools most of this violent and oppressive history, however, is taught from the white person’s point of view and in ways that glorify white man. This in turn perpetuates the teaching of the next generation of white children to internalize feelings of superiority while children of other races internalize their positions in history and presently, therefore perpetuating the continuum of white power and privilege, starting at the youngest ages.

One of the issues that occur today that perpetuates racism is fear. Much of the unintentional racism takes place in this form. This often comes from people from white families, predominately white neighborhoods and who participate in white institutions; therefore they have little real experience with it.  They are aware that there is this thing called racism, but they may have never discussed the topic. They are able to give it a name, but they are also uncomfortable dealing with people from other non-white races, a kind of “closet racism” (Gorski, 2004). They are frequently concerned about how to act around them or what words to say causing them to not seem genuine and send mixed signals to the individuals they are interacting with. Actions based on fear easily breed prejudice.

Mexicans and their families are often the target of discrimination. Much of their history in the United States is that of migrant farm workers. They were cheap labor, and they were willing to move from place to place to follow the crops, riding in trucks from farm to farm. The drivers of the trucks usually wanted husband and wife teams with a lot of children. They were in demand because the children would work the fields as well and didn’t have to be paid. They were illegal immigrants and it was okay for the white owners to use them as they pleased, or face deportation.

The dominant whites who had the money also held the power. A brief description of what it was like being a child in a migrant farm family is told in an interview with Inez Ontiveros, who was born in the United States. When she was a child working the fields she was segregated from the white residents and went to separate schools. They had signs in town on the restaurants that read “No Mexicans or Negros allowed”. When she settled down in Wyoming when she was older, she had many children. She did not want her children to face the same prejudice as she had so she did not teach them Spanish, only had them learn English, to fit in better which further strengthened the power of the privileged white. (Kidston, 2011)

Currently, she regrets not having taught her children her native language, because she realizes the prejudice is still there. The white people are leery of them and they have to constantly prove themselves, no matter how successful they are. They are treated like they are less intelligent when in fact that is just a stereotype that is placed broad scale. She worked her way from the fields to being teacher of the year in Wyoming in 1991 and her and her husband built a thriving sugar beet farm. She does not understand why the discrimination still continues, she feels that given the chance Mexicans can be good and productive citizens. The discrimination continues largely based on a stereotype, and having positioned them on a lower scale on the social strata, that is a daily struggle to overcome (Kidston, 2011)

White male dominated society also continues to reinforce where a woman’s place is. It can be from the derogatory sexual comments men feel they have the right to make, to the assumptions of lesser intelligence. Although improvements have been made over the years, women are still stereotypically seen as the “nurturers” and not tough enough or smart enough to hold the high power jobs. This trend is shown looking at the wages and that continues on to the most common careers men and women hold. Women perpetuate this by not continuing to fight for what they have earned and men perpetuate it because they are comfortable at the top and don’t what that position disturbed.

Some examples of careers women held and wages earned compared to that of men as recent as 2009 are still nowhere near equal. Part of that is because the top jobs that women are involved in are lesser paying jobs to begin with. In 2009 the top jobs that women were employed at were secretaries and administrative services, registered nurses, elementary and middle school teachers, cashiers, nursing-psychiatric and home health care aides (U.S Department of Labor, 2009). The top two were career goals for women in the 1950’s. The top management, executives, doctors have a higher rate of men employed. This is just some indication of the perpetuation of white male power over women in society and most of it is based on stereotypical opinions about women’s abilities which are passed down generation to generation. This is also true of the concept of the most important people in the United States are white, male, heterosexual and nondisabled. How does this continue? It is so inbred into society that it continues to be passed down through the generations.

In an article that was written about the UN Women’s Treaty some of the comments and attitudes were clearly presented by the author of the article, and this is likely the attitude of the many that keeps the status quo. “You don’t dispense with social norms that have been mankind’s default anywhere and everywhere since time immemorial in deference to some psycho-babble theory, Such norms must be viewed as innocent until proven guilty, and the burden of proof must rest with those who would supplant enduring traditions with ephemeral trends” Selwyn Duke (Duke, 2010). He is a writer with an attitude, but likely speaks what many think.

The perpetuation of demeaning attitudes towards gays and lesbians begins first with their inherent lack of civil rights, like the right to get married. The prejudice in society also includes seeing them as deviant due to them not being a part of the societal norm and expectations which is heterosexual. It is also perpetuated by the stereotype that only certain characteristics represent the true definition of masculinity or femininity. People can have both stereotypically female and male characteristics instead of just adhering society’s solid expectations of those characteristics. When they do, they don’t fit into the male/female roles defined by society and are either labeled as homosexual, or are ridiculed for not being typically feminine or typically masculine (Rees, Doyle, Miesch, 2006). The sheer power of society and its expectations often bring fear of condemnation for people being true to who they are and making that known.

Discrimination against the disabled is a daily occurrence, sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes more directly. The subtle ways include talking to them in an infantile way, not looking at them when you speak to them, expecting they need your help just because they are disabled, treating them like they are less intelligent, and talking to the person who they are with instead of them, as if they cannot think for themselves. The more direct ways are by not hiring, not having true accessibility to buildings, shopping areas, paying them less when they are hired, not promoting them and the simple act of not respecting them enough to not park in the handicapped spot. These are daily occurrences in the lives of the disabled, and the rest of society needs to realize that they are inflicting damage when they treat them this way and to foremost recognize that they are doing it in order to make the necessary changes.

In conclusion, though I did not cover all of the areas of discrimination and oppression by any means, the overall point is still clear. Society has set itself in a pattern of oppression that is set so strongly and so unconsciously that without concerted effort to be aware of the problems, no solutions will take place. The social structure has been centered around white male heterosexual nondisabled privilege for so long; it is hidden to the view of most, the invisible but ever-present problem. In order for a problem to be fixed, society needs to realize that there is a problem, admit it truly exists and realize that individuals can play a key role in change. Until then, the problem will continue to recreate itself.


Works Cited

Duke, Selwyn “Dangerous United Nation Women’s Treaty Looms on Horizon “The New American Online Web 13 April 2011

Gorski, Paul “Language of Closet Racism: An Illustration” Critical Multicultural Pavillion, Research Room Web 12 April 2011

Kidston, Martin “Born to Mexican Immigrants, Wyoming couple has built a family

Legacy” The Daily Reporter April 14, 2011, Web 12 April 2011–Migrant-Couple/

Rees, Amy Ph.D, Doyle, Carol Ph.D., Miersh, Jennifer, M.A “.Sexual Orientation, Gender Role Expression, and Stereotyping:  The Intersection Between Sexism and Sexual Prejudice (Homophobia)Vistas 2006 Online Web 12 April 2011

U.S. Department U.S. Department of Labor “Quick stats on women’s worker’s, 2009”

Web 12 April 2011

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