This essay, on racism and ‘white privilege’, was my Observer column this week. It was published on 14 June 2020, under the headline ”White privilege’ is a distraction, leaving racism and power untouched’.
The transformation has been bewilderingly swift. Six years ago, most Americans thought that police killings of black suspects were ‘isolated events’. Now, three out of four accept that there exists a systemic problem. Support for Black Lives Matter has risen more in the past two weeks than over the past two years. And far from feeding Donald Trump’s base, the flames consuming US cities have diminished the stature of the president while, so far, not exacerbating the polarisation of the nation.
The attitudes not just of the public but of major institutions, too, have metamorphosed. The NFL, which for the past four years has condemned players ‘taking the knee’ to the national anthem in protest at racist killings, now acknowledges it was wrong. Nascar, that most Trumpian of US sports, has banned Confederate flags. Corporation after corporation has publicly affirmed support for Black Lives Matter.
In Britain, too, the ground has shifted. From nationwide mass protests to a new national conversation about statues and history, from footballers and politicians taking the knee, to Yorkshire Tea telling a critic of Black Lives Matter ‘Please don’t buy our tea again’, public life seems irrevocably changed. When demonstrators toppled the statue of slaver Edward Colston in Bristol, only a minority of Britons supported their actions. A majority, however, thought the statue should be taken down legally, something unimaginable even a few months ago.
From one perspective, the shift in public attitudes expresses something positive: the rejection of racism, the understanding that Black Lives Matter means not ‘only black lives matter’ but ‘black lives matter, too’. Yet, attitudes rarely change as if at the flick of a switch. The speed of the recent transformation reflects also the febrile character of contemporary politics. Volatility and polarisation are expressions of the same phenomenon: the detachment of politics from its traditional social moorings. It’s an issue much discussed in recent years in the context of the rise of populism and of the shifting allegiances of working-class voters. Over the past few weeks, we’ve witnessed one of the unpredictable expressions of the current unpredictability of politics.
As the old moorings have become detached, so politics has become driven as much by cultural or psychological anxieties as by material concerns – witness the influence of identity politics or the reframing of working-class grievances in terms of cultural loss.
Politics has always relied on symbols, rituals and performance. Today, though, it can feel as if politics has been consumed by performance. Consider the way that we now talk more about ‘white privilege’ than about ‘racism’. The problem of racism is primarily social and structural – the laws, practices and institutions that maintain discrimination. The stress on ‘white privilege’ turns a social issue into a matter of personal and group psychology.
‘White people, you are the problem,’ writes the Chicago Tribune columnist Dahleen Glanton. ‘For white people,’ the US-based British writer Laurie Penny insists, ‘acknowledging the reality of racism means acknowledging our own guilt and complicity.’ White people wash the feet of black faith leaders as atonement for their sins and religiously acknowledge their guilt. Such demonstrations of public obsequiousness are performances that make individuals feel better about themselves but also keep the structures of power and discrimination untouched.
Viewing white people – all white people – as ‘guilty and complicit’ distorts political issues and deflects from real causes. In America, black people are, as the Sentencing Project observes, ‘more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, and they are more likely to experience lengthy prison sentences’. And more likely to be killed by the police, too. Yet studies also show that the problems faced by African Americans are not due simply to white people, or even to white police officers, but to a system of justice that is structurally deeply unjust.
Nor is it just African Americans whose lives are devastated by the injustices of the justice system. More than half of those killed by US police are white; and while, proportionately, police killings of African Americans have fallen in recent years, that of white people has sharply risen. Some analyses suggest that the best predictor of police killings is not race but income levels – the poorer you are, the more likely you are to be killed. Other studies have shown that the startlingly high prison numbers in America are better explained by class than by race and that ‘mass incarceration is primarily about the systematic management of the lower classes, regardless of race’. African Americans, disproportionately working class and poor, are also likely to be disproportionately imprisoned and killed. There are, as one report observes, ‘two distinct criminal justice systems: one for wealthy people and another for poor people and people of color’.
In Britain, there are far fewer police killings (292 deaths in custody and 40 fatal shootings over the past 15 years), but here, too, black people are disproportionately the victims – forming 3% of the population but 8% of deaths in custody. The majority of killings are, however, of white people – 249 of the 292 deaths in custody and 26 of the 40 shootings – and probably mainly poor and working class (though these figures are harder to obtain).
Or take Covid-19 deaths. The disproportionate impact of the virus on BAME communities is well documented. But class inequalities are important, too – people living in the most deprived areas in England and Wales have died from coronavirus at twice the rate as those in the least deprived areas.
Race and class are not competitive causal categories to be set against each other. Minorities are an integral part of the working class and they often have similar experiences of state authority. Race and class shape people’s lives in complex ways.
Given the volatility of politics, what feels now as a fundamental transformation of public consciousness may seem less so in a month or in a year. What is certain, though, is that inequalities, whether of race or of class, cannot be reduced to the question of white privilege or challenged by eliciting guilt. Symbolism and rituals are important. But the heart of the problem lies in warped social relations and deformed institutional structures. As we search for new political moorings, we need to think not just of identity and psychology but of the material and the social, too.
The image is by Adrià Fruitós for the Washington Post.
I think a part of that cultural institutional transformation is to move away from the false dichotomy of the people and the state which is variously used by the Liberal or Conservative Establishments to avoid responsibility and shame and blame the other whilst leaving racial and class inequalities untouched.
In reality the people and the state is the entirety of society, #OurSociety, which through the ages has inculcated hierarchies of value, hierarchies of worth, hierarchies of dignity and hierarchies of respect.
Whilst these hierarchies are slowly breaking down, the tendency is for largely privileged levels of the hierarchy to blame another in order to reject and deflect from taking responsibility. This I think is what your piece describes.
Historically, divine monarchy did breed a false dichotomy between the people and the state and this juxtapositioning of the commoner, the merchant and the elite determined the structural fabric of our social infrastructure, Our Society, which invariably created structural inequalities of value, worth, dignity and respect which play out to this day on the basis of class, race, ethnicity, gender and belief.
The ecological reality of Our Society is that yes we all have different roles to play but when there are inequalities of value, worth, dignity and respect then functional and structural injustices will prevail.
This means equalising intrinsic value, worth, dignity and respect between the classes which I think could happen if we set our sights on acknowledging much more deeply the interdependent functionalism between the capital class, the managerial/technical/media class and the producer/constructer/maintenance class.
Our Society needs all three spheres of activity in order to prosper and by better understanding and acknowledging the functional interdependence between the three, we would hope to create a more equalised society based on value, worth, dignity and respect.
In this respect, the aspirational society is not one where we traverse the superiority and inferiority of hierarchical classes but one where we deeply acknowledge each others contribution to the prosperous functioning of Our Society.
Spot on, as usual.
Very helpful article
Hello Kenan, do you believe what some call “white privilege”, namely, the notion that non-whites in the UK or the US face barriers that whites do not face is true? Personally, I would shy away from the language of “white privilege”, because people do not like to be negatively judged, and the phrase does exactly that. However, that, for me, is a far cry from abandoning the belief, borne out by data, that non-whites in the UK or the US face barriers that whites do not face.
I love your work, by the way. As a small token of my appreciation, I have started supporting you on Patreon.
Jide, Many thanks for your support – I very much appreciate it. On your question: Racism certainly exists, and it has a devastating impact on the lives of many. But the idea of ‘white privilege’ is not, in my view, a useful way of thinking about racism. First, many groups deemed ‘white’ are themselves victims of racism – Jews, for instance, or the Irish. One reason that many on the left do not take anti-Semitism seriously is because Jews are considered ‘white’ and ‘privileged’ and therefore not subject to bigotry or discrimination. And that’s not even to consider the fact that there are many non-white Jews. Second, many sections of the white population not only possess little privilege but often have less privilege than many sections of the non-white population. If you look at incarceration rates in America, for instance, it is true that African Americans are imprisoned at vastly disproportionate rates. So are working class people. And studies have shown that the impact of class is more significant than race here. Working class whites are far more likely to be imprisoned than affluent blacks. The major reason why African Americans are disproportionately incarcerated is because they are disproportionately working class and poor. Similar points can be made about, say, police brutality. The experience of blacks and the working class of state authority are actually similar. Finally, the idea of ‘white privilege’ suggests that the cause of racism is to do with whiteness. It turns a social, economic problem into of psychology and identity. That makes it harder to combat racism, and to build social coalitions against it.
Thank you for your response, Kenan. A few things
1. “Working class whites are far more likely to be imprisoned than affluent blacks.” What about working class blacks? The studies that reveal the disparity in treatment of Black people within the criminal justice system, adjust for class, do they not? So a white working class defendant is more likely to receive a lighter sentence than a black working class defendant for the exact same offence. My problem with the way you (and many class reductionist (not that I am accusing you of being a class reductionist)) frame this is not 1:1. For example, you’re comparing working class whites to affluent blacks. Moreover, studies show that even affluent blacks are subject to systemic discrimination that working class whites are not – e.g. “Driving while Black” (We all recall the anecdote of Chris Rock getting stopped multiple times while driving).
2. Another issue I take, since we’re taking issue with terminology (such as “White privilege”) is the terminology “white working class”. I almost never hear “Black working class” or just “working class”. It’s almost always “white working class”. As you’ve pointed out previously ethnic minorities comprise 40% of working class in the US. Yet I would bet that when you say “white working class” to an American, they picture a white man. The danger of this therefore is that when policy is being crafted to alleviate the problems faced by the working class, it may be tailored to the white working class, and thus the cycle of identity politics will begin all over again. (I should state at this point that I don’t agree with your position on – or even your definition of – “identity politics”).
3. “The experience of blacks and the working class of state authority are actually similar.” I am skeptical as to this claim. Again, I would refer to the experiences of affluent blacks of stop-and-frisk, driving while black, Windrush etc.
4. While I agree that the phrase “white privilege” is not particularly helpful, I worry articles like yours encourage class reductionism and economic determinism. I am someone who believes there are multiple axis of oppression – i.e. a black working class woman will experience societal discrimination in a way that a black working class man. This is intersectionality. Indeed, the failure by many on the left to take anti-Semitism seriously is a failure to adopt an intersectional approach: they consider Jews ‘white’ but fail to consider that being ‘Jewishness’ may be an axis of oppression in a way that being ‘white’ is not.
Jide, thanks for this. Let me address your points as you raised them:
1 You ask ‘What about working class blacks?’ If you look at the figures on incarceration, you see that there is a small difference between the incarceration rates of working class blacks and whites, but the different incarceration rates of different classes is of another order. Where racism shows itself more is in the length of sentence – black people are more likely to receive a longer sentence. Remember the question is not ‘Does racism exist in the criminal justice system?’. The answer to that is ‘yes’. The question is: ‘Is it only racism that is significant?’ And the answer to that is ‘no’. Yes, affluent blacks do get stopped by the police. There is an issue of ‘Driving while black’. And that needs challenging. But what about ‘driving while working class’? Or ‘being killed by the police while working class?’ The fact that those questions sound so odd itself shows how rarely they are asked. There are not many studies that look at the systematic impact of class on stop and search or police brutality.
It’s worth adding, too, that ignoring the class dimension is problematic for black people too. African Americans are disproportionately working class and poor. Imagining that the problem of policing or of the criminal justice system is only an issue of racism is to ignore a major dimension of their lives.
Or, take South Africa. Police brutality is South Africa is far worse than police brutality in America. But, as a number of South African writers have recently observed, while South Africans are outraged about police brutality against black people in America, and organize mass protests about it, there is far less outrage about the far greater police brutality against black people at home. That brutality, including police killings of 34 striking miners at Marikana, an act in which the current president Cyril Ramaphosa was complicit, is driven less by racism than by issues of class. But viewing the issue purely in terms of race means it has been largely ignored at home. In fact, there is an extraordinary clip of Trevor Noah laughing off the Marikana murders.
2. You say you take issue with the terminology ‘white working class, and never hear discussion about the ‘“Black working class” or just “working class”’. You’re right to take issue. I’ve written many times about this. But a large part of the reason the debate is skewed in this fashion is because many look upon blacks and other minorities primarily in terms of their ethnicity and rarely in terms of their class. If you want to challenge the common perception of how the working class is constituted, then you have to bring the question of class into discussions about the issues facing blacks and other minorities, rather than dismiss it as ‘class reductionist’.
3. You say that you are ‘skeptical’ of the claim that ‘The experience of blacks and the working class of state authority are actually similar’. That’s a widespread scepticism, and derives at least in part, I think, from people simply having no idea what the lives of working class people, black and white, are really like. Britain’s Runnymede Trust, which no one could accuse of being a ‘class reductionist’ organization, produced a report which looked at the similarities of those experiences, and about which I have written. It is difficult to look at health inequalities, or educational inequalities, or even policing, without making the experiences of the working class a central component.
4 You write that you ‘worry articles like yours encourage class reductionism and economic determinism’. I can’t see what is class reductionist about observing, as I did in the article, that ‘Race and class are not competitive causal categories to be set against each other… Race and class shape people’s lives in complex ways.’ There is a danger, though, of what one might call ‘race reductionism’, of assuming that all disproportionalities that black, or other minorities, face are solely because of racism, and ignoring the class dimension. It’s striking that the moment one brings issues of class into this debate, one is accused of being a ‘class reductionist’ or, at least, of encouraging class reductionism. That, to me, is not very helpful.
Thanks for another detailed response Kenan. I really appreciate it, as I know you probably have other things going on. You’ve given me a lot to think about. I’ll try and keep this brief.
1. “It’s striking that the moment one brings issues of class into this debate, one is accused of being a ‘class reductionist’ or, at least, of encouraging class reductionism.”
I am not accusing you of being class reductionist. I don’t think you are. In fact I think your approach (‘Race and class shape people’s lives in complex ways’) is an intersectional one (the opposite of class reductionism) – and is welcome. But let’s be honest Kenan, there are class reductionists, just as there are ‘race reductionists’. There are disparities that we must acknowledge can only be explained by race. It does not make you a ‘race reductionist’ to acknowledge this. For example, a recent study discussed in the NYT (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/03/19/upshot/race-class-white-and-black-men.html) attests to the notion that some (not all) inequalities can only be explained by race. The study I just cited found that Black boys raised in America, even in the wealthiest families and living in some of the most well-to-do neighborhoods, still earn less in adulthood than white boys with similar backgrounds. If there is a way you can explain the inequality pointed out in this study from a class lens, I’d be very interested to read it.
2. “It is difficult to look at health inequalities…without making the experiences of the working class a central component.”
It’s funny you should mention health inequalities. A study (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3442603/) from 2010 looking at racial disparities in health found that “race reflects multiple dimensions of social inequality and individual and household indicators of SES capture relevant but limited aspects of this phenomenon.”
3. “You say that you are ‘skeptical’ of the claim that ‘The experience of blacks and the working class of state authority are actually similar’. That’s a widespread scepticism, and derives at least in part, I think, from people simply having no idea what the lives of working class people, black and white, are really like”
I hope you’re not suggesting I have no idea what the lives of working class people is like. I am not only working class, I am Black working, who grew up in a single parent household, with a mother who worked three jobs to make our ends meet. So please, please, please, Kenan, do no mistake my scepticism as being borne out of having no idea what the lives of working class people is really like.
4. But what about ‘driving while working class’? Or ‘being killed by the police while working class?’ The fact that those questions sound so odd itself shows how rarely they are asked.
Isn’t the question of “driving while working class” answered by the fact that black people, regardless of SES, are more likely to be stopped while driving, than white people regardless of SES. I’m almost certain if there was a study in “driving while working class” it will find that non-white working class people are more likely to be stopped than white working class people.
Jide, I fear that we are talking past each other here. I have repeatedly said (including in the article), and I will repeat again, that racism is a reality. Having spent a lifetime fighting racism, I’m hardly going to say otherwise. What I am saying is: 1. Racism is a reality and needs to be combated; 2. The inequalities and disproportionalities that minorities suffer cannot all be seen simply as a product of racism; 3. Many of the inequalities and disproportionalities facing minorities can be understood as the consequence of certain minority groups being disproportionately working class and poor; 4. The problem of racism is obscured if we think in terms of ‘white identity’; 5. Given the inequalities facing working class people who happen to be white it makes little sense to talk of ‘white privilege’ in a global sense; 6. Middle class minorities still face racism in a way that many white people don’t. But they also benefit from being middle class, in a way that working class whites do not; 7. There are also many white groups that face racism, from Jews to the Irish to East Europeans to the Roma. It’s not a racism comparable to that faced by, say, black people, but neither is it something we should dismiss; 8. Finally, I am sorry if I offended you by ‘scepticism’ comment, but it is a fact that many sections of the white populations suffer inequalities in a way not recognized more broadly by society – from Case and Deaton’s ‘deaths of despair’ to the poor perfomance of white working class boys in British schools to the falls in life expectancy in deprived, largely white areas such as Middlesborough, to the brutal policing such communities often face. It ill-behoves to ignore that; the idea of ‘white privilege’ encourages many people to do just that.
I wholeheartedly agree that the inequalities and disproportionalities that minorities suffer cannot all be seen simply as a product of racism. I agree that many of the inequalities and disproportionalities facing minorities can be understood as the consequence of certain minority groups being disproportionately working class and poor. As an intersectionalist, it behooves me to agree with those statements.
I agree that given the inequalities facing working class people who happen to be white it makes little sense to talk of ‘white privilege’. However, we must not be led into the error and danger of thinking the phenomenon – namely systemic discrimination – which the term “white privilege” describes does not exist. We must not be led into the error and danger of thinking that if we ended class inequality, racial inequality and disparity will disappear. Also, I am aware that there are many people who talk of ‘white privilege’ in a global sense. Such is folly in my humble opinion. The phenomenon labelled ‘white privilege’ (i.e. the fact that non-whites living in majority white countries face barriers which, regardless of SES, whites do not face) should almost always be spoken in about in a local sense – but it should be spoken about, even if we do not use the term ‘white privilege’.
Lastly, as I think I alluded to, it would difficult to dismiss the racism faced by white groups, such as Jews, Irish, East Europeans, Roma, etc, if we were intersectional in our outlook.
Jide, Kenan. This is an interesting discussion which helps to separate out different types of inequalities.
However, it occurred to me that this and the black lives matter movement generally is coming from a Black Left perspective, so I wondered how reverse and inverted racism is incorporated into intersectionality theory since it is clear that the Intersectional Left is also prone to systemic examples of inverted racism in particular. This also of course applies to the Progressive movement in general with their norms of Inequality being applied in an intersectional way towards people on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, belief and of course class.
Similarly, does the Black Left incorporate over representation, for example in sport and athletics, local authority employment especially within predominantly BAME cities or predominately BAME metropolitan areas. Are proportionalities aggregated so overrepresentation is hidden and is overrepresentation hidden because it brings into play the intersectionalities of ability, skills, aptitudes etc.
Lastly, regarding the Black Left and the White Left versus the Black Right and the White Right, does the intersectionality of race, ethnicity, gender, belief and class still apply or is the fact that Progressive Movements that are hostile to Black Right and the White Right not incorporated into intersectionality theory because the Black Left and the White Left cannot be (reverse and inverted) racists?
If this is the case, how do we expose the discrimination, harassment and victimisation on the basis of the Progressive norms of Inequality if not through the prism of intersectionality, racism and classism.
In common law, there is something called a “wrong turn”, this is where application of judicial precedent goes in the wrong direction because of misunderstanding of precedent. What happens in one court misunderstands the precedent and then subsequent courts apply that court’s misunderstanding and it keeps on going and going and going. No one bothers to actually go the primary source. This actually happened recently in English law in 2015 with the case of Michael v Chief Constable of South Wales Police. Since it was first delivered in 1972, it was assumed that the case of Caparo v Dickman established that a three part test was to applied in every case in other to determine whether a duty of care was owed to prevent someone suffering an injury. The Supreme Court in 2015 decided that if anyone had bothered to read the paragraph purported to have establish this test just for a few lines longer they would have found that the test should only be applied in new situations and not every situation. So for 43 years judges, lawyers, law students, and jurists had misunderstood Caparo v Dickman. I fear the same thing has happened with intersectionality. Many leftists (the group you refer to as “the Intersectional Left”) do not understand intersectionality. Allow me to first explain intersectionality and why, properly understood and applied, it cannot be “prone to systemic examples of inverted racism in particular.”
Intersectionality refers to the fact that one and the same person can belong to several distinct groups, each of whose members are victimized by widespread discrimination.This overlapping membership can generate experiences of discrimination that are very different from those of persons who belong to just one, or the other, of the groups. Discrimination is inflected in different ways depending on the particular combination of social groups to which those persons discriminated against belong. One implication of intersectionality therefore is that the disadvantages suffered by some persons who are discriminated against on account of belonging to a certain group might be offset, partially or fully, by advantages those same persons gain by being discriminated in favor of due to their belonging to other groups. As Kenan notes in his most recent reply to me: “Middle class minorities still face racism in a way that many white people don’t. But they also benefit from being middle class, in a way that working class whites do not”. Put differently, black people who are wealthy are “class-privileged,” even as they are disadvantaged by their race.
Intersectionality as a concept has many flaws. For example, no feasible treatment can take into account all of those identities and the many more socially salient identities that persons have in contemporary societies. However, to say it is “prone to systemic examples of inverted racism in particular” is the result of a misunderstanding of the concept. To be clear, this misunderstanding could be borne out of a “wrong turn”. That is to say, what you think is “prone to systemic examples of inverted racism in particular” is actually many leftists’ misunderstanding of intersectionality.
I’m looking at intersectionality now and it is described as follows…
Intersectionality is a qualitative analytic framework developed in the late 20th century that identifies how interlocking systems of power affect those who are most marginalized in society and takes these relationships into account when working to promote social and political equity. Intersectionality opposes analytical systems that treat each oppressive factor in isolation, as if the discrimination against black women could be explained away as only a simple sum of the discrimination against black men and the discrimination against white women. Intersectionality engages in similar themes as triple oppression, which is the oppression associated with being a poor woman of color.
What I think is noteworthy is ‘interlocking systems of power’ and ‘marginalisation’. Therefore, a poor white working class man marginalised in a sink estate could, I imagine, be oppressed by multiple factors of power on the basis of their SES, colour, class, gender, ethnicity and belief, even though the latter does not appear to be ‘a legitimate’ criteria of intersectionality, presumably because intersectionality is usually understood as a specifically leftwing belief concept.
My point being, that oppressive interlocking systems of power might be expressed as a product of left leaning Liberal Establishment middle class media power which seeks to use media platforms to ostracise and marginalise poor white working class men living in sink estates as ‘far right’. This narrative tool of oppression is clearly a deployment of these interlocking systems of power in order to marginalise further the needs and voices of these marginalised people. This was aptly demonstrated by Jon Snow with his comment, ‘there are so many white (working class) people here’ who then proceeded to seek out the ‘dumbest’ looking white woman he could find.
As such, ‘Liberal’ media platforms clearly constitute oppressive interlocking systems of power which are delineated by the superiority of the middle class, inferiorising perceptions of colour, targeted gender inferiorisation (especially psychological emasculation) and the debasement of ethnicity (white British) and of course the political slur of ‘white nationalism’.
Clearly these interlocking systems of power produces narratives of inferiority that actively seek to ostracise and marginalise people when viewed through the prism of intersectionality.
Obviously then, what is important is the subjective lived experience of the person being analysed by intersectionality and the extent to which real and felt oppression marginalises that person (or ‘being’ if nonhumans are being analysed).
In this respect, it could be argued that those that feel the most intersectional oppression in any one society are the homeless, victims of domestic abuse, the petty criminal underclass and the poverty stricken with the compound effect of race, ethnicity, gender, class and belief making the lived oppression of these situational experiences of marginalisation relatively less or more.
In this respect, it is the situational experience of marginalisation that tests the falsification of intersectionality. Therefore, if an affluent black middle class woman is not experiencing any of these situational experiences of marginalisation then in a relative sense they are not being oppressed and marginalised, no matter how much they claim they are.
This means ‘systemic racism’ does not actually exist because if it did, then the only people experiencing these situational experiences of marginalisation would all be black people for example. As such, the thesis of systemic racism contradicts the theory of intersectionality since in order for systemic racism to be proven, intersectionality would need to show that marginalisation is only ever experienced by blacks. Clearly this is not the case, so one can only summise that the rhetoric of systemic racism is itself a manifestion of power which seeks to oppress and further marginalise the marginalised.
The power narrative of ‘systemic racism’ specifically arises from the Black Left in association with the White Left under the banner of Progressivism which is itself a system of political power which seeks to oppress and marginalise through its norms of Inequality by which basic equal rights are deprived or curtailed through what is known as cancel culture.
When this system of power is interlocked with others, such as parliamentary power and democratic power, then we see the examples of inverted racism I mentioned. For example, BAME Labour MPs seeking to oppress BAME Conservative MPs by applying interlocking systems of power. Obviously in this example, the marginalisation being experienced by these BAMEs within the context of interlocking systems of power is very low compared to the real and felt marginalision of homelessness, domestic abuse, petty crime and absolute and high levels of relative poverty.
The same is clearly the case for Black Left middle class acedemics who are not experiencing these situational effects of marginalision but nevertheless feel they are being oppressed in a much less relative way. The danger here of course is that these Black Left acedemics seek to use interlocking systems of power to superiorise their felt oppression over the lived and felt oppression of the homeless, domestic abuse victims, petty criminals and those in abject poverty. If they are using intersectionality to superiorise their low oppression then clearly what should be an analytic framework is being abused for selfish political gain.
You profoundly misunderstand intersectionality if you think any of SES, colour, class, gender, ethnicity and belief is not a “legitimate criteria” of intersectionality. It is irrelevant whether “intersectionality is usually understood as a specifically leftwing belief concept”. That has nothing to do with anything, anymore than the fact that in climate change is usually understood as a specifically leftwing belief concept in the USA has anything to do with whether or not it is actually happening. Just because “intersectionality is usually understood as a specifically leftwing belief concept” does not mean the social phenomenon it describes – namely that one’s membership several distinct groups can generate experiences of discrimination that are very different from those of persons who belong to just one, or the other, of the groups – is true.
I could not follow the rest of your response. To be blunt, it did not make sense to me. Thus I have not addressed it.
I think all you need to understand is that the starting point for applying the intersectionality framework is the situational experience of homelessness, domestic abuse, petty criminality or abject poverty and then use the analytical framework of intersectionality to understand why those experiencing the above are marginalised within contemporary interlocking systems of power.
In other words, why aren’t people experiencing marginalisation receiving sufficient value, worth, dignity and respect and which systems of power, whether culturally located, socially located, economically located, academically located, media located or politically located are seeking to erode the value, worth, dignity and respect of marginalised people within our society.
In much of your comments, you haven’t specified a single marginalised person or a system of power. Only systemic racism and a black woman.
So if you could actually apply the intersectionality framework and so explain for example why a white British woman living in a poverty stricken town such as Easington in the North East of England is being marginalised, I’d be very grateful. Thanks.
In response to the claim that I “haven’t specified a single marginalised person or a system of power. Only systemic racism and a black woman”, those (i.e. systemic racism and “a black woman”) are examples used to illustrate how intersectionality operates. You could also apply it to class and say a white working class man may be privileged by his race even though he is disadvantaged by his class. The marginalised person in that example is the white working class man and system of power is class.
So applying the intersectional framework to your example of a white British woman living in Easington, she is marginalised in the following ways: 1) she is disadvantaged by her sex (female); 2) she is (probably) disadvantaged by her socioeconomic status/class; and 3) she is disadvantaged by her location (Easington).
I hope that helps.
Jide, three points. First, you write that ‘the phenomenon labelled ‘white privilege’… should almost always be spoken in about in a local sense’. By definition, though, ‘white privilege’ is a global concept. It deems all white people under all circumstances to be ‘privileged’ compared to compared to non-whites.
Second, you write that ‘it would difficult to dismiss the racism faced by white groups, such as Jews, Irish, East Europeans, Roma, etc, if we were intersectional in our outlook.’ What I was pointing to was the way that anti-Semitism is often dismissed by many, including many who would describe themselves are ‘intersectionalists’ (on the left of the Labour Party in this country, for instance), because Jews are seen as white, and therefore privileged.
Finally, you write that ‘we must not be led into the error and danger of thinking the phenomenon – namely systemic discrimination – which the term “white privilege” describes does not exist.’ My point is the need to distinguish between ‘systematic discrimination’ and the concept of ‘white privilege’. As I make clear in the article above, it is precisely because I view ‘The problem of racism [as] primarily social and structural – the laws, practices and institutions that maintain discrimination’ that I reject the idea of ‘white privilege’.
Kenan, I’ve always thought of ‘white privilege’ as a localised thing – i.e. context and situation specific. But you’re right: there are those who deem white people under all circumstances to be ‘privileged’ compared to compared to non-whites, which to me, is somewhat foolish.
Sadly, I am all too familiar with the type of Labour and leftist activists who would dismiss anti-semitism because the targets are seen as white. These people profoundly misunderstand intersectionality, notwithstanding the fact that they describe themselves as such. I’m sure you would agree that just because one describes oneself by a particular principle does not necessarily means one lives by that principle (e.g. antifa, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, National Socialism).
“My point is the need to distinguish between ‘systematic discrimination’ and the concept of ‘white privilege’.” – If we are speaking locally, as I am and as I do, then I don’t see how it is possible to distinguish between the two. What ‘white privilege’ denotes is systematic/systemic discrimination. They are one and the same. If you want to debate the utility of the phrase ‘white privilege’, then I would concede to you that it is not a useful phrase. However, I don’t think it is possible to distinguish between ‘white privilege’ and ‘systemic discrimination’. After all, all ‘white privilege’ posits is that generally speaking (and I don’t mean globally) non-whites face barriers that whites do not face.
On a side note: If there was global study that looked at the conditions of different ethnic groups and found that white people, globally, have better living standards (better education, better job prospects, longer life spans etc) compared to non-whites, especially Blacks, would it be legitimate to speak of ‘white privilege’ in the global sense? If you say that the reason is because whites are more likely to have better SES, then I would say isn’t that very fact itself ‘white privilege’? After all, what this would reveal is that if you are born into a white family you are more likely to be born into a better class than someone born into a Black family.
Jide, you say that ‘there are those who deem white people under all circumstances to be ‘privileged’ compared to compared to non-whites, which to me, is somewhat foolish’. The trouble is, that not a few people foolishly suggesting that. That is how ‘white privilege’ is defined, and that is how most people understand and use it. That is also one of the reasons I reject it.
You say ‘I don’t see how it is possible to distinguish between’ ‘systematic discrimination’ and the concept of ‘white privilege’. ‘Systematic discrimination’ does not derive from white privilege. It derives from the laws, practices and institutions that maintain discrimination. As I wrote in article, ‘The stress on ‘white privilege’ turns a social issue into a matter of personal and group psychology.’
Finally, you ask ‘If there was global study that looked at the conditions of different ethnic groups and found that white people, globally, have better living standards (better education, better job prospects, longer life spans etc) compared to non-whites, especially Blacks, would it be legitimate to speak of ‘white privilege’ in the global sense?’. No, because the assumption of such a study – that there is a valid category ‘white people’ into which we can legitimately cleaners and bankers, landowners and the unemployed, miners and the Royal Family – makes no sense.