ty College Students
“My (black) Caribbean students, as a whole, tend to perform much better than my African-American students. Well, consider it — over the years, and particularly during slavery, the best and brightest blacks in this country were weeded out. I don’t believe that blacks are naturally inferior to whites, however, American blacks are the unfortunate end product of an enforced breeding process that has left them at a mental disadvantage.”
Racism is often conceived as the summation of prejudice plus power. This does not have to do so much with the number of people in any group, but their access to ideological and material resources (including arms).
In an American university environment, these ‘arms’ may be found in the shape of grades, scholarships and fellowships, the ability of professors to give or withhold positive reinforcement, and the self-images and convictions the students themselves, both white and minority, bring into this setting. The effects of ‘white privilege’, a little-acknowledged theory that whites enjoy “an invisible package of unearned assets,” resonate silently throughout the university system, deployed as subtle psychological hand grenades. White privilege is harmful not only to the minorities it relegates to the sidelines, but damaging to the whites who are either active or passive participants in this ideology.
Here is my classroom. It is a 100 level sociology course. I am one of two white students in a class of mostly African-American and Caribbean-American students.
The other white student and I, and an older African-American woman, are the only students to speak at least once every session. Our professor knows our names and listens attentively when we speak. This (white) professor has made a point of telling the class that she is politically liberal and interested and educated in many minority cultures. Yet, she rolls her eyes at the rough English spoken by one African-American student and glosses over the hesitant comments of others. It would seem, by the students’ tacit and silent acceptance of her behavior, that this is de rigueur, par for the course.
These days, a college degree serves as one of the few tickets into a socially and economically comfortable lifestyle.
College itself, ideally, should vastly increase the knowledge, skills, and capacity for critical thinking in its students. However, in this racially imbalanced society, college is the culmination of a white-weighted education, and often ignores its own participation in long-standing racial injustices and inequities. Minority students are expected to jump headlong into white standards of behavior, without regard for the unique circumstances that render that expectation difficult, if not impossible, to meet.
My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an oppressor, as an unfairly advantaged person, or as a participant in a damaged culture. I was taught to see myself as an individual whose moral state depended on her individual moral will. My schooling followed the pattern my colleague Elizabeth Minnich has pointed out: whites are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, normative, and average, and also ideal, so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work which will allow ‘them’ to be more like ‘us’ (McIntosh, p.
Today, this country prides itself on the great strides it has taken to promote racial equality and harmony. Many universities have incorporated diversity training as part of the curriculum. History and literature courses celebrating non-white cultures are prevalent in schools. Additionally, many affirmative action admission policies and scholarship programs are available to minority students. There is no denying that efforts have been made to minimize the gap between white and minority advantages.
However, amidst these well-intentioned efforts, white privilege continues to shape the experiences of both white and minority students. Consider the following:
Since an individual’s self-concept is based upon his experiences and since American society has gone to great lengths to teach the black that he is inferior, it has commonly been accepted that the black has somehow internalized this prevailing valuation and made it his own. The result, according to this formulation, is that the black experiences a deficiency in self-esteem (Baughman, p. 38).
This “prevailing valuation” has a significant impact on the minority student. Many minority students have experienced, based on their .