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Critical Article Analysis: White Privilege
A. Article Choice
The level 4-4+ article is a chapter from a book which has been written for a scholarly audience
-it is a complex read.
B. Formatting
*APA style​ (Title page, running head, page numbering, double-spacing,
12 Times Roman -2-3 pages with APA style sub-headings)
​ *Paper Sections (identified by APA style sub-headings)
1. Article Information (APA style citation)
2. Logic and Argument
3. Writing Style
C. Content
Logic and Argument:
1. ​The main argument of this article is:
(Paraphrase as accurately as possible.)
2. ​The most important information in the article is:
(What supporting evidence, facts, experience, or data do the authors provide to support
3. ​The key concept(s) we need to understand in the article are:
(What important ideas do you need to understand in order to understand the authors’
line of
4. ​The main assumption(s) underlying the authors’ thinking is/are:
(What are the authors taking for granted [that might be questioned]?)
5. I​f we take this line of reasoning seriously, the implications are:
(The “so what?” question: Why does this argument matter? Why should we care? What
consequences are likely to follow if people take the authors’ line of reasoning seriously?)
6.​ What are your reactions to this argument? Are you convinced? Why or why
not? ( aviod using I)
7. ​What questions do you have about this article? (​Do you need more information?
Is part of the argument unclear? Is there something the authors haven’t considered?
What would you ask the author(s) if you spoke with him/her/them?)
Writing Style:
8​. How do the authors establish authority?​ ​(Think about whether the authors seem
knowledgeable. Why or why not? What perspectives, biases, or values appear to have
a role in the authors’ argument? Needs citation specific examples.)
9.​ How do the authors get your interest?​ ​(Think about whether the authors try to get
you to identify with them or to care about the subject. Do the authors seem to assume
you have particular interests and/or values and use them as the basis for argument?
How? Cite specific examples)
Peter Lang AG
CHAPTER FOUR: White Power, White Privilege
Author(s): George J. Sefa Dei, Leeno Luke Karumanchery and Nisha Karumanchery-Luik
Source: Counterpoints, Vol. 244, Playing the Race Card: Exposing White Power and
Privilege (2004), pp. 81-99
Published by: Peter Lang AG
Stable URL:
Accessed: 06-05-2019 14:33 UTC
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White Power, White Privilege
…one can speak of the formation of disciplinary society in this movement that
stretches from the enclosed disciplines, a sort of social ‘quarantine’, to an
indefinitely generalizable mechanism of ‘panopticism’. Not because the disciplinar
modality of power has replaced all the others; but because it has infiltrated the
others, sometimes undermining them, but serving as an intermediary between them
linking them together and, above all, making it possible to bring the effects of powe
to the most minute and distant elements.
– Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish 1
The bigot’s responsibility is generally no more than individual. Of far greater
significance is the man in control. He may be sophisticated enough to hide his
personal racism from the world; he may even not experience any. It does not matter
very much whether he does or not. Because he lives in a racist society, social
relations have been structured by him so that the black is not present for him.
Negritude, black history, black social existence, are made not to matter. The man in
control is technically insulated from the racial reality and influenced only by the
capital whose fortunes he must superintend… Later, he will salve his racial
conscience by contributing to the black college of his choice. He might even scold
the White bigots and feel genuinely outraged at them.
– Joel Kovel, White Racism: A Psychohistory1
It is through the privilege of Whiteness that “difference” continues to be both
defined and articulated. Today, while White privilege is continuously
asserted in and through sites of privilege as a justification for racist practice,
claims to White “innocence” and the resulting denial of systemic oppression
serve to leave the mechanisms for racism intact. Whiteness is assumed to be
a right rather than a claim to privilege and, importantly, it is this “privilege of
Whiteness” that we target in anti-racist praxis. As many others have demonstrated, it is important that our articulation of Whiteness is seen as more than
a sum of White privilege, power and identity.3 We must connect Whiteness
with the reality of White racism. We recognize that the creation of an
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82 Chapter Four
open and equal opportunity system wi
comes for all groups requires the disru
of Whiteness and White racism… anyt
the status quo. But how do we procee
issues of power, oppression and social c
concepts and the related problematics
Kovel (1988) so astutely puts forth
dominance are “privileged” in their
downplay the realities of oppression th
ized peoples – those with privilege ”
places that they don’t want to talk
acknowledging these “freedoms” would
responsibility for their participation in
the relational impact that their liber
Again, the abstract nature of priv
character of social control as applied w
carries the potential to “scar without m
fact, one of the peculiar endowments o
obfuscate its relationship to the mec
time, employing those mechanisms in
aspect of our lived reality. In rhetor
oppressive discourses will often man
marked ways:
• The attention to ethnic roots: I understand racism because my parents
have European accents and they’ve experienced racism
• Muting the salience of skin color: My last name sounds foreign and
I’m not Christian so I understand racism
• A hierarchy of oppressions: The real problem isn’t race, it’s class
• The “What If” Excuse: White people would be oppressed if the
Chinese had been the ones to colonize
• Geographic Relativism: Our society isn’t oppressive. Take a look at
Afghanistan. Now that is an oppressive society
We do not presume to mute the Diasporic experience of European
immigration, the validity of gender, class, sexual orientation, etc., as valid
intersections of oppression and we take specific care to recognize the painful
realities of religious persecutions. However, in the context of this work, we
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White Power, White Privilege 83
must still recognize the salience of skin color as our focus.
arguments serve to disavow the normative and privileged nature
ness by claiming some other identity which allows legitimate vic
The purpose: to diffuse the “taboo” implications that accompany
tion of complicity in the continuance of racism.5 “It’s just easier
to blame oppression on historical circumstance and thereby si
own complicity in the continuing cycle of social injustice. It is ea
“over there” to societies that are differently oppressive a
“comparative liberty.” As the axiom asserts: denying a proble
make it disappear.6 Critically addressing White privilege requires a
analysis of how oppression is constructed: How power is access
while denied to others; and how the lack of access to power an
effectively oppresses racially othered peoples. How does the prod
application of White power and privilege directly impact the const
performance of racial oppression? Recognizing White pr
understanding its connections within the larger social relations of
basic step toward understanding racism and other forms of oppre
As discussed, the notion of the “mythical norm”7 is produced th
intersecting and interlocking of oppressions. The discourses of “n
and “cultural paradigm” that arise relative to these dynamics are
of a raced, classed, gendered and sexually oriented archetype agai
all other models are measured and judged as somehow “less t
important to recognize that oppressor and oppressed alike are im
their positionings in these hierarchies. For example, a White m
man’s societal placement, his experiences and his opportuniti
understandable only in relation to the social conditions and oppr
those located outside that locus of privilege.8 This is the com
disabilities through which oppression continues to flourish.
As will be taken up in both Chapters Five and Six, the “realities
oppression” remain obscured to the commonsense gaze precis
any interrogations of those “relations of power” presuppose the
think relationally and in abstract terms. Because White privilege
into the norms of their everyday lives, it becomes a difficu
experience to separate and recognize, let alone implicate. So, for
part, while the racially privileged may recognize the existence of
they often do so without perceiving the relational tissue that ru
that oppression and their power. Importantly, however, we mus
care to remember that the ability to ignore the implications dis
arises directly out of that privilege (i.e. the master never felt the p
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84 Chapter Four
inflicted by his whip).
Whiteness is defined by a privilege t
in many ways places our oppressor out
power and social advantage which t
“That’s just the way it is.” Importantly
arise in these moments precisely becau
our world-view becomes framed throug
de-constructing these engagements w
power and privilege function to sha
effects for some and beneficial effects for others. One such beneficial effect
comes to light in the ability of White people to proceed without a conscious
reading of their own racial positioning – that is, until they place it in relation
to another person’s race. Until those moments of “racial collision,” the
privileged have the luxury of interpreting race as something that other people
have – they do not see it unless they have to. Even though their skin is
infused with meanings and markers, the power that speaks to and through
their banners of Whiteness ensures that they do not have to think about race
or how it positions them in society.9 Such self-reflection in the everyday is
not a necessity of their experience.
Wildman (1996) points out that “the invisibility of privilege strengthens
the power it creates and maintains. The invisible cannot be combated and as
a result privilege is allowed to perpetuate, re-generate and re-create itself.
Privilege is systemic, not an occasional occurrence.”10 If privilege is kept
invisible and not considered real, it can’t be examined, it can’t be diminished
or dismantled. Recognizing that denials of White privilege protect and
prevent awareness about how racism works and how it is upheld, we must be
able to examine the unacknowledged privilege that circumscribes the lives of
White people before we can address the resulting oppressions. Mcintosh
(1992) defines White privilege as an invisible knapsack of unearned assets
which White people can count on cashing in each day, but about which they
are meant to remain oblivious. “White privilege is like an invisible weight-
less knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, code-
books, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear and blank
checks.”11 She identifies numerous daily benefits of this power and privilege
that are available to White people based on the color of their skin. Some of
these include (a) the normalizing effects associated with having one’s race
widely and positively represented in the media, (b) the security of knowing
that one’s race will not hinder or prevent access to resources (e.g., legal,
medical and social service) and that (c) skin color privilege means never hav-
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White Power, White Privilege 85
ing to educate and prepare your children to face/resist/rec
daily physical and mental suffering that is intrinsic to a raciali
While the categories that speak to human differences
constructed and thereby open to change over time, the p
Whiteness has remained, for all intents and purposes, constan
that possible? As asserted previously, if power is neither
repressive, then how is it that racialized power continues t
Western contexts. The relations of racial domination were/are constructed in
very specific ways and within very specific historical contexts. Therefore,
through the functionality of these historically specific “hegemonic effects,”
the ongoing manifestations of racism reflect and re-inscribe the conjunctures
of space and time in/through which contemporary racial oppression arose.
While we agree with Goldberg’s (1993) assertion that different racisms
manifested themselves at different historical moments and contexts,13 it is
important that we refrain from diluting the contemporary issue and problem.
Anti-racism asserts that the oppressed should work with a broad definition of
racism that is inclusive of skin color, language, culture and religion, as
markers for differentiation and unequal treatment. However, it is equally
important to acknowledge the power of White racism as the source from
which other contemporary racist discourses and practices have emerged.14
It is the discourse of Whiteness that prescribes what is (ab)normal,
(unacceptable and (in)valid, so those engaging in racism or racist practices
draw from a historical complex of knowledge that is fully entrenched in the
racial polity of Whiteness. As discussed, many existing works have
undertaken a careful analysis of the historical specificities and contingencies
that have engendered the “reproduction of races” in socially and racially
structured spaces.15 Our purpose here is to establish a firm theoretical
account of White racism that will, in turn, set the groundwork to better
analyze the contemporary ideological, material and social meanings of
racism as put forth so far in this work. We contest conventional arguments
that seek to place racism as relative to all races and cultures. There is a saliency to White racism and we can afford to neither overlook nor downplay.
How often have we heard these questions from our oppressor: I wonder
what would have happened if someone other than the Europeans had
colonized? But I would experience racism if I went somewhere like China,
wouldn’t I? The questions themselves are facetious. There are no answers
required. At best, such questions reflect a fundamental ignorance and/or
denial of the socially constructed nature of race and racism. At worst, they
function to mute White responsibility and complicity in the propagation and
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86 Chapter Four
continuance of racial oppression whi
of our world. As intersecting strat
privilege as mere twists of fate – tha
historical circumstances. The reality
no other group colonized and what w
that are intrinsically tied to the hist
and Whiteness. As suggested by Spiv
about imperialism is its long-term eff
how it has implanted the benevolen
savior into our mass psyche.16 Th
racism in relation to what secures and cements it as well as how we are
disciplined to implicate ourselves in its organizing effects.
History and contexts are important for understanding the analytical and
conceptual “…terms that mythologize our differences and similarities.”17
The privilege of Whiteness is a relational phenomenon that has emerged
from the interplay of complex social, cultural, political and historical forces
and contexts (see also Frankenberg, 1993; Dyer, 1997, Roediger, 1994). 18
Dei (1996) has rightly noted that the notion of race may have been an
essential feature of early social formations, especially as individuals searched
for social explanations about the nature and consequences of human
differences. Still, as Reynolds and Lieberman (1993) assert, the origins of the
race concept may be tied to European philosophy, particularly the European
colonial and imperial expansion in the 17th century.19 So how is it that this
colonial gaze, formulated so long ago, still holds sway over us today? How
do these invisible chains from a long distant era manage to control and
discipline us into oppression in the now? In answering that question, we
come back again to the notion of discipline. Foucault asserts that the chief
function of disciplinary power is training. Through the use of normalizing
judgments and hierarchical observations, those exercising power work to
bend its subjects into a differentiated and analyzable assembly.20 Having
addressed the normalizing effects of discursive relations in the previous
chapters, let us now look at the pointed issue of the mechanisms through
which such disciplinary power functions. To these ends, let us look again to
It ‘trains’ the moving, confused, useless multitudes of bodies and forces into a
multiplicity of individual elements – small, separate cells; organic autonomies;
genetic identities and continuities; combinatory segments. Discipline ‘makes’
individuals; it is the specific technique of a power that regards individuals both as
objects and as instruments of its exercise.
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White Power, White Privilege 87
“Objects to be inspected, instruments to be exercised.” Th
“disciplinary” power, as put forth by Foucault (1977), pre-sup
anism that coerces by means of observation in such a way as t
effects of power and simultaneously demarcate those on whom
applied. These “observatories of human multiplicity” arose
age, parallel to various techniques of subjection and other
exploitation, to create an entirely knowable people, an intrins
object of surveillance and control.22
Historically, these mechanisms arose and manifested thems
a multitude of perspectives, structures and languages. They w
within the structures of power and domination that characte
formations – from the earliest human interactions and perhaps
time that humans learned to grasp “difference” and assign mea
differences. The process of othering was born the moment th
classify and evaluate the phenomena of “difference” base
imagined or perceived dissimilarities. However, these social co
widespread and tactile use with the ideological invention and
the binary divisions between “God and Satan,” “Good and B
and Savage,” “peaceful and violent,” “cerebral and physical,” et
White power and White privilege have been and have become
the fabric of human cognition, understanding and communicat
to these polar opposites.
Through various ideological and discursive forms, this intr
Whiteness has become identified with the “positive” conce
“purity,” “beauty” and “goodness” – in a word, “God.” M …
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