By Dr. Denise R. Ames
The death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer has sent shock waves throughout the United States, and even the world. My point in this blog is to reflect upon what I see as some of the topics or questions that are being ignored or not sufficiently addressed. It is a good time to start to deeply reflect upon what the events mean to us as Americans, and internalize these thoughts and reflections to start the process of rebuilding something different. In a larger sense, the fate of our country depends on our responses.
The following series of blogs offer #9 and #10 of my 12 Reflections:
It irks me to no end when protesters and other social activists use the word demand as they put forth proposals for change. Demand sounds like something a child would shout when not getting his or her own way. Demand also implies that the other side has to do the work, all the demander has to do is sit back and judge if the demandee’s actions meet the proper criteria they set forth. Demand also implies an adversarial relationship, not a cooperative one. If the protesters demand an end to police brutality, what are they going to do to try and end it as well. Now I know why demands are made so often by social activists, it lifts the responsibility from the demander and shifts it to the demandee.
#10 White Privilege
I hear the term white privilege constantly tossed about. However, I do not agree with the concept and I am offering a different perspective of the term. The term is supposed to convey the idea that whites have gained their status at the top of the American social and economic ladder because of their skin color. Since whites founded the country, this privilege has trickled down through the generations. There is truth to this line of reasoning, but it is more complex than this simplistic explanation.
To me white should be removed altogether, since it implies that other people of color do no have privilege, only whites. Also, the word privilege conveys the idea that whites inherit all this privilege without any effort, it just magically falls into their laps. I think a better term is Adopted Behaviors. This means that privilege or reward come to those who adopt certain behaviors. Unlike the term white privilege, which renders non-whites as victims who have no way to escape their oppressive status, adopted behaviors implies that to achieve privilege or rewards, the individual has the opportunity to consciously adopt these behaviors.
People who have inculcated these adopted behaviors, attitudes, and values—work ethic, perseverance, self-discipline, social skills, and competitive/cooperative abilities—are rewarded in American society. These behaviors are transmitted and reinforced by the family, schools, community, religious institutions, and society at large. These behaviors give a person a leg-up in finishing their education, getting a job, having a functional family, and developing into a person who gives back to others.
Many blacks have inculcated these Adopted Behaviors and escaped poverty, and other limiting lifestyles such as crime, violence, and aimlessness, others have not. Same is true with other groups, but one can argue that generally there is a larger percentage of blacks who have not inculcated these values and have found themselves living in poverty or incarcerated.
I would argue that through the years many whites have inculcated these Adopted Behaviors, which has given them advantages in American society. Blacks—because of poverty, family break down, legacy of slavery, and racism—have had more difficulty in internalizing these values. The Gangster culture, mentioned in #6, idealized by many blacks, has hindered adoption of these values by some younger people.
The term white privilege, as mentioned, also lends itself to the idea that people of color are the victims, and it is the whites who have to change to accommodate those they supposedly victimize. Instead of this victim/oppressor dichotomy, I think a realistic discussion of what white privilege really means is needed.
About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames
Dr. Ames’ varied life experiences—scholarly research, teaching, reflections, and extensive travels—have contributed to her balanced and thoughtful perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development trainings, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded the educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness, developing globally-focused books and educational resources. She has written seven books, blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, and teaching units for the non-profit and clients.
Divided: Five Colliding Worldviews and How to Navigate Them has just been released!
Divided addresses the question on the lips of every American: why can’t we get along? The cultural divide is threatening our democracy and destabilizing our country. Divided looks at the deep cultural divide through the lens of five colliding worldviews—indigenous, traditional, progressive, globalized, and transformative. This approach helps us make sense of our deep divisions and suggests ways of bridging them.
It is urgent that we understand and bridge the cultural divide. Bridging the divide is dependent upon first understanding it. Gaining an understanding of the five worldviews enhances our success of arriving at sensible solutions and increasing civil conversations. If not, rancor and intractability ensue.
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