White Privilege in Discussions of Racism

White people’s lack of experience of racism is a privilege of whiteness. Yet this inexperience does not override people of colour’s accounts of racism and academic studies on race.

Too often on social media, when a person of colour discuses issues of race and racism, White people feel compelled to share personal opinions and feelings, thereby centring their experience as a White person. This is draining for people of colour, as it shifts the focus from insitutional discrimination and reproduces racism. Continue reading White Privilege in Discussions of Racism

Allyship and Intersectionality

Intersectionality is a term describing how gender inequality is impacted by racism and other forms of exclusion, leading to real-world consequences, such as multiple forms of discrimination in the workplace. Intersectionality is a framework for critical thinking; that means we use this as a lens to understand how individual experiences of disadvantage are impacted by social policies, social institutions, and other structural forces.

White women, including those who belong to minority groups, often leave out the race dimension from their use of intersectionality, and do not turn that critical thinking on themselves. For intersectionality to achieve change, all of us must be willing to be self-reflexive about the interconnections and impact of gender, race and other identities. Continue reading Allyship and Intersectionality

The Gender Pay Gap and Race

Actress Natalie Portman is the latest White woman celebrity to talk about the gender pay gap in ways that demonstrate tunnel vision on the intersections between racism and gender inequity. From Patricia Arquette’s highly misguided attempt to discuss the wage disparity during her 2015 Oscars speech, to Jennifer Lawrence’s essay calling for equal pay, White actresses have a very skewed view of the inequities faced by “women” in the entertainment industry and in everyday life.

What does the gender pay gap look like when viewed through the intersections of gender, race and other social categories? What do we learn about mainstream feminism’s vision for equal pay, when we become more conscious of Whiteness and White privilege?

Continue reading The Gender Pay Gap and Race

White Privilege

‘The term “white privilege” is misleading. A privilege is special treatment that goes beyond a right. It’s not so much that being White confers privilege but that not being White means being without rights in many cases. Not fearing that the police will kill your child for no reason isn’t a privilege. It’s a right. But I think that is what “white privilege” is meant to convey, that Whites don’t have many of the worries nonwhites, especially Blacks, do. I was talking to a white friend of mine earlier today. He has always lived in the New York City area. He couldn’t see how the Michael Brown case had anything to do with him. I guess that would be an example of white privilege.

‘Other examples of white privilege include all of the ways that whites are unlikely to end up in prison for some of the same things blacks do, not having to worry about skin-color bias, not having to worry about being pulled over by the police while driving or stopped and frisked while walking in predominantly white neighborhoods, having more family wealth because your parents and other forebears were not subject to Jim Crow and slavery. Probably all of the ways in which whites are better off than blacks in our society are forms of white privilege. In the normal course of events, in the fullness of time, these differences will even out. But the sudden killings of innocent, unarmed youth bring it all to a head.” – George Yancy and Naomi Zack on The New York Times.

Peggy McIntosh
“White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions…” – Peggy McIntosh

Educator Peggy McInotsh introduced the idea of white privilege, the special benefits, protections and access to power conferred onto White people, which allows them to advance in life without conscious awareness of racial discrimination. She came to this concept as she reflected on her feminist practices. She noticed that even when male colleagues were willing to support women’s efforts to increase gender equity, they were not willing to give up their own status and power. Having tried to include women of colour in her feminist activities with little successful engagement, she came to see how she, as a White woman, had also been reticent to give up her own benefits to make feminism truly inclusive of racial minorities. She notes that educated White people like herself are raised to notice the “bad” aspects of racism, but not the benefits that make her life easier.

She came to realise that Whiteness was like an invisible knapsack she carried around with her, which protects her from noticing the advantages of race. Noticing her racial privileges, she understood the myth of meritocracy, for in the bag of Whiteness, she finds the key to open many doors that women of colour cannot access.  Her skin colour was “an asset” that helped her secure a better education; it made it easy to take for granted that she belonged to the broader culture that facilitated her success, despite the gender inequalities she fought.

I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious… 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 began to recognise that “privilege confers dominance.” She came to see that her feminism was oppressive, even though she wasn’t conscious of the benefits of her race; but this is the point: by not being aware of race, she was contributing to inequity. She had failed to notice how the benefits she enjoys are part of a system that disadvantages people of colour. Just as patriarchy positions men as the universal norm, requiring women to adjust their behaviour and expectations to the needs and interests of men, McIntosh recognises how Whiteness pushes her to view the world through a racial lens. She’s encouraged to leave undisturbed the norm that Others should be more like White people, instead of challenging the system.

Read more on White privilege and related concepts on my resource, Sociology of Race.

Rethinking the Narrative of Mars Colonisation

Rethinking the Narrative of Mars ColonisationBiologist Dr D. N. Lee has been doing an amazing job educating on how enthusiastic narratives of “colonising” Mars are problematic. On her Twitter, Lee notes that the dominant ways of talking about colonisation add to the marginalisation of under-represented minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). If we want to make science more inclusive, we need to better understand how the stories we tell about STEM may exclude and damage under-represented groups we are trying to support.

Continue reading Rethinking the Narrative of Mars Colonisation

Transgender Women’s Experiences of Gender Inequality at Work

Sociologists Candace West and Don Zimmerman popularised the theory of “doing gender.” This theory sees that gender identity is something we do – it is a performance and an achievement that people put a lot of work into, rather than some innate biological state of being. People do gender by the way they dress, the way they talk, the way they move their bodies, the types of leisure activities they engage in their spare time, through their division of labour at home, at work and in every other context. Doing gender takes work: you need to learn what’s expected of you as a “man” or as a “woman.”

Early knowledge on doing gender comes from childhood socialisation. Subsequent life experiences teach us, often through trial and error, what the norms and expectations are for masculinity and femininity in different social settings, such as at work.

West and Zimmerman argued that, since gender is something we learn to do, and doing gender leads to inequality, it is possible to undo gender inequality, by doing gender in alternative ways that do not punish femininities. The doing/undoing of gender has been an ongoing focus of gender studies, most recently focused on transgender people. I will discuss recent scholarship about how transgender people do gender at work, with a focus on the experiences of transgender women. Social scientists are preoccupied with the idea that transgender people are in a special position to “undo” gender. I want to explore why viewing transgender experiences in this way contributes to the Othering of transgender people, by amplifying their difference as a solution to gender inequality. Society can absolutely undo gender, but part of this means addressing the inequalities transgender people experience. This is something that mainstream feminism has yet to fully embrace.

Transgender Women's Experiences of Gender Inequality
Transgender Women’s Experiences of Gender Inequality. Photo: Purple Sherbet, CC 2.0, via Flickr. Adapted by The Other Sociologist

Continue reading Transgender Women’s Experiences of Gender Inequality at Work

Taylor Swift Having Fun With White Privilege: Racism and Sexism in Pop Culture

While people rush to defend Taylor Swift’s racist appropriation of Black female bodies in her latest video, Shake it Off, because it’s presented as “fun,” it’s worth remembering that “satire” is no excuse for whitewashing of racism. First, satire requires cultural context to be clever; it matters who is delivering the joke to whom, when, and for what purpose. Second, racism is not simply about interpersonal insults. Racism describes a system of domination where White people benefit directly and indirectly from the status quo.

Taylor Swift has positioned herself publicly as a feminist, though her enactment of these ideals was already not without problems. This video shows she has little understanding of the history of feminism and the cultural struggles faced by women of colour. Not coincidentally, White feminism is still largely resistant to racial issues. As sociologist Jessie Daniels notes, it matters that White women are at the centre of both pop culture and the feminist movement:

White feminism, without attention to racial justice, makes an easy partnership with White supremacy.

From Miley Cyrus to Iggy Azalea who profit from brandishing certain aspects of Black culture, to Lily Allen who similarly used Black women in a video to critique White women pop stars, Swift has added her name to an ever-growing list of rich White women in pop music who use the exploitation of women of colour to make “feminist” statements. This stands in contrast, but along a similar continuum, of White pop stars such as Gwen Stefani, Katy Perry, Avril Lavigne who commodify the culture and sexuality of “Asian” women. Asian femininity is sexy in a “cute,” clean and submissive way; while Black and Brown women’s sexuality is dangerous, dirty and untamed. Either way, White women’s cultural appropriation of minority cultures conforms to familiar tropes where White champions dominate the uncivilised Other.

The fact that White celebrities do not set out to be “intentionally racist” is beside the point. Racism does not require your intent, as racial bias often goes unexamined. In fact, the way Whiteness works is to place White people at the centre of culture so that they are protected from the everyday consequences of race relations. (And no, there is no such thing as reverse racism.) Not recognising how racism works, such as failing to understand how and why cultural appropriation and stereotypes are damaging, is an outcome of White privilege.

Taylor Swift Racism and Sexism
That racialised fear of black female hyper-sexuality also transfers onto the sexualised white female body and the criminalized black male body. – Prof. Janell Hobson.

Continue reading Taylor Swift Having Fun With White Privilege: Racism and Sexism in Pop Culture

The K-Index: Gender Morality and Social Media Use by Scientists

A new, already highly controversial, article by Professor of Chemistry, Neil Hall, proposes a “satiric” measure that maps the popularity of scientists on Twitter versus their impact factor (the number of publications in prestigious academic journals). He calls this the “K-Index,” named after a woman celebrity, Kim Kardashian. Why Kardashian? This index is meant to show that social media is as shallow as Hall deems this woman celebrity. Published in the renowned peer-reviewed journal Genome Biology, and unsurprisingly given his premise, Hall finds that scientists with a high impact factor score have a low value on the K-Index. This is mean to be a good thing, according to Hall, who sees scientific communication as being too important to be left to social media.

My post is inspired by Dr Buddhini Samarasinge who critiqued Hall’s conclusions. She discusses how and why scientists use social media, as well as age dynamics. Scientists who have a high publication record have had longer careers, established under a different, and better funded system. They have published more by virtue of the longevity of their careers and the opportunities that come with tenure (long-term and secure academic employment). They are often older and, as I will show, more reticent to use social media. The fact that they have a low K-factor should be a surprise to no one. Early career academics are more likely to be using social media because it is part of their everyday lives. They do not neglect publishing in peer reviewed journals; they do both, but, being more likely to still be studying, or being employed in the early stages, they will not have racked up as many publications. Buddhini argues that scientific publishing and social media do not have to be discreet activities. One does not invalidate the other. Instead they are complimentary to the public communication of science.

It is clear that Hall’s K-Index attempts to demean the outreach work of scientists by pitting academic publishing against social media. I want to focus on the hidden narrative of gender and science morality in Hall’s article.

Science should never be an old boy's club. Diversity matters
Science should never be an old boy’s club. Diversity matters. Photo adapted from Flickr

Continue reading The K-Index: Gender Morality and Social Media Use by Scientists

Sexism on Wikipedia: Why the #YesAllWomen Edits Matter

#YesAllWomen
#YesAllWomen

The Wikipedia page for #YesAllWomen, a record of an anti-sexism online protest movement, is being edited to make it “less misandrist.” This Wiki page documents the Twitter hashtag that is being used internationally by women to share their experiences of sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination following the Isla Vista mass shooting in America. Some men are using this tag to listen and support women, but predictably, others are abusing it to hurt women and argue that the hashtag is “sexist against men.” The Wiki edits matter because Wikipedia has a massive problem with sexism. These edits reflect the very issues of gender violence, intimidation and power that the #YesAllWomen hashtag is trying to address. Continue reading Sexism on Wikipedia: Why the #YesAllWomen Edits Matter

Sexual Racism and Fetishisation

The above chart summarises a survey using data from the dating app Are You Interested. The survey includes 2.4 million responses from heterosexual people. The data show that most men are looking to date outside their group. Most heterosexual women are drawn to heterosexual White men (with the notable exception of Black women), while most heterosexual men gravitate towards Asian women. Also noteworthy is that Black people are less likely to receive responses than the other groups.

The data suggest that sexual fetishes are facilitated by technology, because people can sort through physical descriptors, thus practising sexual exclusion through their potential partner choices. Continue reading Sexual Racism and Fetishisation