This is us: Why White distancing from undesired Whites won’t help

In the aftermath of Charlottesville and other public displays of hate, many people are crying out that the hate must stop. This is not us! This is not the U.S. I love! People are crying and tweeting, most notably Lady Gaga.

I’m not picking on Lady Gaga, specifically, but she sure represents the archetypal well-intentioned white person, even following up that tweet with a question posed to people of color asking how white people can be better and more supportive (a full explanation of why this is misguided and burdensome are for another post), but I digress.

Mostly, this is shouted by well-intentioned white people. I appreciate the sentiment. Most don’t want this to be us. But the truth is that this hate and violence ARE us and have been from our country’s very beginnings, and they take many many forms (this article has some great examples of more subtle forms like redlining). This hate and violence and, of course, racism are regularly reinvented in new forms: school to prison pipeline, police shootings of black men, voter ID laws, etc. I could go on. Some of these are less explicitly violent than others, but the general sentiment is there with the same result—holding up white people while oppressing people of color.

You see, this is us. And I’m not the first white person to talk about it—see here or here, just for starters. I don’t want to be the last one to talk about it, either. This is America. But many (most, I’d argue) of us white people don’t have to think or even learn about this version of America or haven’t had to in recent history. We preach “colorblindness” (detrimental in its own right because of its implied color = bad—check out what I mean here) and brush under the rug all those nasty “outliers” of inequity, hatred, prejudice, and white supremacy. Or we shift the blame to the victim (see numerous examples about Emmett Till, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin here). We hold up Obama as a shield of progress, blocking out all other evidence that indicates the contrary.

Million March NYC

From Google Image

And finally, we distance ourselves from the “bad white people:” the KKK, Nazis, other white nationalists. White people are especially good at this one, this distancing not-me-I’m a good-white-person. I wouldn’t do/say/express that, etc. I’m guilty of doing this myself. This distancing is a well-documented phenomenon with research suggesting that members of an in-group (for example, white people) do this most often when they don’t want to be associated with bad outcomes or behavior of someone else in the in-group (1) (2). In other words, “good” white people are quick to point out or condemn the actions of “bad” white people. We becomes they.

This is understandable. Who wants to be associated with explicitly racist people? It’s also tricky. As white people, we all should be explicitly and LOUDLY condemning white supremacy in all its forms, even though we benefit from its more covert forms every single day. The difference is that we must publicly condemn and then take action. That means many things and offers many options for action. Some of the more subtle ways of standing against white supremacy include not saying “yes, but…” when hearing accounts of racism by people of color or “there was fault on many sides” in reference to Charlottesville or “I’m shocked that this could happen.” This last example is a punch in the gut to many people of color who are not shocked because they have not had the luxury of being protected from such hatred until now, like most white people.

Furthermore, we must not condemn merely for the purpose of making ourselves look better or more woke. The consequences of doing so are not acceptable. Because those “bad white people” are left unaccountable. And according to former neo-nazis, ignoring people with hateful ideologies like the KKK does not effectively reduce their power or discourage them. And also, because we are like those bad white people in many ways, and they are like us.

From Google Image

Take away the torches (and the MAGA hat), and these are preppy “regular” white guys you’d see around town

White people, we gotta grab our people. They’re ours whether we want them or not. People of color have been saying this for decades and decades—I’m not proposing an original idea, nor am I the first white person to proclaim this, but maybe my white skin will convince someone else with white skin to listen.

I’m not suggesting you face an armed Nazi at a protest (though if that’s your thing, rock on), but do speak up against coded language that’s racist and hateful. Here are some tools specific to combating harmful narratives of Charlottesville I’ve found to be helpful. Reading Kate Schatz’s essay “What I Mean” in Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times is another great step in learning about white people’s complicity in perpetuating systemic racism even when you’re not “actively” racist. And also, listen listen listen to people of color. Trust them. Believe them. They’ve been telling us what America is, but we’re not listening. The ability to not listen is a privilege in itself.

This is us. Only by owning it, by owning our fellow white people and holding them accountable can we be and do better.


(1) Cialdini, R. B., et al. (1976). Basking in reflected glory: Three (football) field studies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34, 366-375.

(2) Boen, F., et al. (2002). Politics and basking-in-reflected-glory: A field study in Flanders. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 24, 205-214.

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Black Votes Matter: Whitewashing the Election

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Image from the ACLU

As this election reaches the lowest depths of hell, I, like many Americans, find myself sucked into the black hole of election coverage. Last night, I was researching an obviously false internet claim from a #stillbernie bro about Bernie winning as many votes as Hillary in the primaries, and I found this statistic from Pew Research Center:

“While Bernie Sanders (50 percent) edged out Hillary Clinton (48 percent) among white voters overall, 77 percent of black Democratic primary voters chose Clinton.”

From a social psychology perspective, this explains so much to me about what I’ve been seeing on my own social media feeds for months. Bernie did win more votes than Hillary…among white people. Many white people see that a lot of their white friends voted for Bernie and he didn’t win, so obviously something is up. In general, people are prone to the false-consensus bias, which leads them to believe that their opinions, values and actions are largely shared and approved of by others.1 And it doesn’t help that we largely surround ourselves with people who are similar to us and share our beliefs anyway.2 But the electorate is not just made up of white people. Clinton crushed Bernie among African-Americans with 77% of the vote. That’s a resounding defeat. An unequivocal statement. Black Americans clearly chose Clinton. This isn’t a history blog, so we won’t deep dive into America’s ugly track record with civil rights, stretching back to slavery and the Three-Fifths Compromise, up to present day as 5 states have active law suits alleging minority voter intimidation and suppression by the Republican party during this very election (Arizona, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina). But, suffice it to say, attempting to downplay the legitimacy of the black vote is not a good look, and, you know, is fundamentally opposed to the ideals of our democracy. White people claiming their voices are being systematically stifled in an American election is laughable at best, and downright insulting at worst.

Which white people on my news feeds have been as passionate about the ongoing voter suppression of black citizens as they were about Bernie’s defeat in the “rigged” primaries? I have yet to see one. I haven’t really seen much among white people in general, because white people associate with other white people, at work, on the internet, at their polling places. They don’t necessarily have significant exposure to issues facing marginalized groups, and therefore they don’t have significant exposure to those groups’ opinions about said issues. The fact is, white people often grow up in predominantly white neighborhoods and go to predominantly white schools. They rarely, if ever, experience race-related discrimination, and the absence of that discrimination creates a space to deny its very existence. For many white Americans, black suffering is not that visible. There are 1,080,000 Google search results for “black voter suppression” and 475,000 Google search results for “Bernie Sanders voter suppression.” One of these issues began in 1619, the other began 9 months ago. Talk about unbalanced media coverage.

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Image from the New York Times

Bernie supporters were quick to point to his past as a civil rights protestor and Hillary’s support for the 1994 Crime Bill as reasons that black Americans should vote for Bernie. Yet, black citizens overwhelmingly supported Clinton over Bernie, making it obvious that white democratic voters may be out of touch with what matters to democrats as a group. Such divides even spawned articles telling people to stop Bernie-splaining to black Americans. Gordan Allport’s Contact Hypothesis suggests that the best way to reduce intergroup prejudice and encourage understanding is for people from both groups to have contact with one another.3 The groups have to have positive contact, work toward a common goal, have equal status, cooperate with one another, have the support of the community at large and actually spend a good amount of time getting to know one another for it to actually work. Why don’t a lot of protest-voting white Americans see that many others have a great deal at stake under a Trump presidency? A lot of it may come down to who they have contact with. Without meaningful intergroup contact, it may be impossible for us to understand the experiences of people outside of our own circles.

Yes, Hillary Clinton barely lost the white vote in the primaries, but to ignore the fact that she garnered the majority of the minority vote among African and Hispanic or Latino Americans is to ignore that Clinton definitively won the primary among American democrats as a whole. She just didn’t win among white democrats. But elections are decided by who shows up to cast their ballot, not whichever race has traditionally held power in a country. When elections don’t go our way, it doesn’t mean that they are rigged. To assume that the average white voter reflects the larger concerns of the American electorate is to assume too much in the 21st century. Black Americans have told us in no uncertain terms that they back Clinton, and they always have. And black votes matter.

  1. Ross, L., Greene, D., & House, P. (1977). The “false consensus effect”: An egocentric bias in social perception and attribution processes. Journal of experimental social psychology13(3), 279-301.
  2. Byrne, D. (1961). Interpersonal attraction and attitude similarity. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology62(3), 713.
  3. Pettigrew, T. F., & Tropp, L. R. (2005). Allport’s intergroup contact hypothesis: Its history and influence. On the nature of prejudice50, 262-277.

White Privilege at the voting booth: How pervasive is white privilege?

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Image from Quote Addicts

In 1988, Peggy McIntosh wrote a famous piece called, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”1 In the essay, she discusses how belonging to advantaged groups, like white people or men, contributes to the ways that we navigate and perceive our worlds. She makes a stirring point about how easy it is to recognize racism, but that we often have a difficult time seeing how we may be advantaged due to the existence of that racism. You don’t not need to be engaging in racist behavior, using racial epithets or endorsing the bigotries of others in order to be advantaged by societal attitudes. The sad thing, McIntosh points out, is that people who are oppressive in their societal roles are often unaware that they are occupying roles at all.

For instance, people don’t readily recognize that they are more likely to hire white people over people of color, but research shows that this is indeed the case.2 When researchers sent out identical resumes, but with black or white sounding names, people with white sounding names received 50% more interview requests.2 White people are often convinced that anti-white sentiment is actually becoming a bigger problem than anti-black bias, and that attempts to decrease racism are a “zero-sum game” that increases bias towards whites.3 And that’s pretty damn troubling, y’all. As Jen pointed out last week, implicit bias against black people, and black men in particular, results in a larger number of escalated police encounters. While white people are becoming increasingly concerned about being blamed for the problems of minorities, black people are literally worried about being killed in the middle of the day during a routine traffic stop.

As per usual, arguments that equate racism and “reverse racism”* present a false equivalence: there is no systematic disadvantage to being white. White people are armed with our invisible knapsack of privilege. We dominate accounts of history, we see images that look like ourselves everywhere and we can be assured that when things don’t go our way, it is likely not because we’re white. Peggy McIntosh so eloquently hits on the subtlety of privilege in her essay, so I will borrow some of her words. “I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed,” “When I am told about our national heritage or about ‘civilization,’ I am shown that people of my color made it what it is,” “I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group,” “I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children’s magazines featuring people of my race,” and  “I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.”

What McIntosh is tapping into here is how unrecognizable the receipt of privilege is. We are not aware that it is happening unless we attempt to be aware of it. We enjoy these invisible privileges, and resent others for suggesting that we have such privileges at all. Even within the context of our presidential election, we have one candidate who is recognizing the disadvantages that black citizens are experiencing on all levels of the legal system, and we have another suggesting that a racist, unconstitutional policy should be widely implemented in order to restore “law and order” to our cities.

For some, the solution is this simple. Black neighborhoods are more violent, therefore black people are more violent, therefore we need to police them with more vigor. For others, there is recognition that the problems in black neighborhoods have much to do with the lack of white privilege. Lack of access to quality education, lack of exposure to suitable role models, lack of mentorship from non-family members, lack of networking contacts in hiring positions, lack of parental free-time to help with home education…You could go on for days. The fact is that there is a flip side to implicit bias, and it’s this kind of implicit inflation. There’s a famous saying, “He was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.” Sometimes, we simply can’t take credit for everything that we have. We didn’t pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Sometimes, we received some of those things simply because we are white, or we at least had easier access to them because we have racial privilege. And make no mistake, there are plenty of kinds of privilege. Class, male, and heterosexual privilege all exist as well. People who are advantaged in one domain are not necessarily advantaged in all domains.

In election years in particular, it’s important to recognize where our thinking may suggest that we have a narrow perspective on the issue. Barack and Michelle Obama have recently talked about how third-party votes in this election are votes for Donald Trump. People who disagree have taken to online forums declaring that they are simply voting their conscience, and not violating their own sense of integrity. Well, the next president will choose at least 2 Supreme Court justices, will have access to the nuclear codes and has the ability to set women’s, minority and LGBT rights back by several years. But at least you can tuck your integrity into your invisible knapsack.

*In quotes, because it doesn’t exist. Anti-white bias, prejudice or discrimination, sure, but not racism, due to a lack of systematic disadvantage due to being white.

  1. McIntosh, P. (1988). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. Race, class, and gender in the United States: An integrated study4, 165-169.
  2. Bertrand, M., & Mullainathan, S. (2004). Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A field experiment on labor market discrimination. The American Economic Review94(4), 991-1013.
  3. Norton, M. I., & Sommers, S. R. (2011). Whites see racism as a zero-sum game that they are now losing. Perspectives on Psychological Science6(3), 215-218.

 

Papa Don’t Preach: Josh Duggar and the Psychological Consequences of Christian Patriarchy (Part 3)

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Image from TVGuide.com

Last night’s Kelly File interview with the Duggars confirmed many of the details about the Duggar scandal. Namely, Josh Duggar informed his parents of his behavior after he had victimized two of his sisters, and the Duggars did not remove him from their home until there were two additional incidents, involving three more girls. The interview was very Josh-focused, and when Kelly asked how Jim Bob felt about his daughters being molested, specifically as the father of those girls, again he brought it back to Josh immediately, saying, “I was so thankful though…that Josh came and told us.” That brings me to some of the most difficult issues associated with Christian Patriarchy: Sexism and Privilege. (You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here).

5) Sexism- It is impossible to discuss these extreme religious movements without noting the marginalization of women. From constant pregnancy to assertions that men are more moral than women, many of the practices of the Christian Patriarchy movement are meant to keep women “in their place.” It’s also clear that women have little say in what happens to them in these male-dominated environments. The Duggars allowed Josh to live in the same home as several of his victims and rather than offering him psychological counseling, they sent him to Little Rock to remodel someone’s house. Living in a culture of sexism can be incredibly damaging to the psyche of young women, causing them to have lower levels of achievement, which is related to a lot of negative consequences, including poor mental and physical health.1,2

Benevolent sexism is one culprit for the position of women in Christian Patriarchy. Benevolent sexism is the belief that women need to be offered protection from men, and women often come to endorse this chivalrous ideology as well.3 This type of sexism endorses gender inequality and traditional gender roles.3 Hostile sexism on the other hand, refers to overtly antagonistic feelings about women, including views that women try to influence men with their sexuality.3 Both amounts of benevolent and hostile sexism predict women’s position in society across cultures.4 Since Christian Patriarchy affirms that women can “defraud” men with revealing clothing, and asserts that men must take care of women, combining both hostile and benevolent sexism, it results in something called ambivalent sexism.3 There’s also evidence that benevolent sexism increases system justification, or endorsement of the status quo, regardless of fairness.5 The type of socialization in Christian Patriarchy that focuses on very specific sex-roles for their children is known to contribute to issues related to sexism.6 In fact, there is evidence that men who are sexist are more likely to stereotype women, essentially seeing women in traditional roles as Madonnas and women in non-traditional roles as whores.7

In addition, the evidence is overwhelming that men are not more virtuous than women. The FBI estimated that over 12.4 million arrests were made in the US in 2011, and that 74.1% of those arrested were men. According to the DOJ, 95% of those arrested for sexual offenses are male. In fact, sometimes men make worse choices than women and act less responsibly. For instance, men are far more likely to die in fatal car crashes than women, with men accounting for about 70% of motor vehicle-related deaths. None of this is to say that women are better decision makers than men, but I think we can all agree that men and women both bring something to the head of the table.

6) Privilege- The Christian Patriarchy movement is predictably full of male privilege. Codifying a system where men reign supreme allows men to justify their superior position. While men often acknowledge that women are at a disadvantage, they are far less likely to admit that they are benefiting from male privilege.8 Part of the issue surrounding privilege is that people who are privileged are meant to remain unaware of the nature of that privilege, and how it affects others.8 Educating people about privilege has been shown to improve attitudes and decrease prejudice toward women.9 Which is good, since male privilege can be so powerful that it often introduces itself as an issue in family therapy.10 Since it is such an issue in families that don’t practice Christian Patriarchy, it’s obvious that these issues may be even more magnified when this privilege is purposely afforded to men.

Male privilege is bad for women, plain and simple. Some researchers assert that male privilege is the reason that crimes that affect mainly women, like stalking or sexual harassment, are still under acknowledged in society.11 Male privilege also often leads to favorable legal outcomes for men in domestic violence situations, downplaying violence against women while people go to jail for far lesser crimes.12 This legal advantage only serves to solidify and extend male privilege. We even see female athletes often delegated to second-class, as professional sports have traditionally been dominated by men.13 There are many ways in which being male affords one advantages that females don’t have.

However, people can be privileged in some ways and disadvantaged in others. For instance, many people fail to acknowledge their white privilege because they also have an unprivileged status, due to gender, sexual orientation, wealth or status. For instance, I may not have male privilege, but I still enjoy white privilege, something that minority women cannot claim. Similarly, black men enjoy some aspects of male privilege, but they are disadvantaged by white privilege.

Privilege is incredibly complex, but it is important to acknowledge how privilege puts us in certain positions or grants us certain advantages. Specifically, in the Duggar’s case, male privilege allowed Josh Duggar to feel that he could violate young girl’s bodies and allowed Jim Bob Duggar to believe that instituting his own “safeguards” would end the behavior, and white privilege allowed the Duggars to avoid any legal consequences of these actions. Even now, the Duggars have not been charged with obstructing justice or visited by Child and Protective Services, and Josh Duggar has never been charged with any sex crimes. The fact that Josh Duggar has used his position to marginalize others, especially the gay community, shows that he is largely unaware of how his privilege has helped him to avoid legal consequences, and has helped him retain some support in the court of public opinion. It is hard to imagine the same legal and public response to the same transgressions in a minority family.

We have explored various psychological findings that may have been behind Josh Duggar’s actions. The constant refrain of “it’s more common than you think” and “the girls didn’t even know” from the Duggar camp goes to show how marginalized women are in Christian Patriarchy. Going forward, it would help to focus less on Josh Duggar’s specific actions, and more on the culture that molded him into someone who felt that he could violate women’s bodies, as long as he told his dad after.

NOTE: Jen wrote a great article on privilege and the Fundamental Attribution Error last year that you can read here. Also, Peggy McIntosh wrote a very famous piece about unpacking the backpack of privilege that everyone should read, especially those who are confused about ways in which they are privileged.

  1. Sadker, M., & Sadker, D. (1986). Sexism in the classroom: From grade school to graduate school. Phi Delta Kappan, 512-515.
  1. Willis, S., & Kenway, J. (1986). On overcoming sexism in schooling: To marginalize or mainstream. Australian Journal of Education, 30(2), 132-149.
  1. Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (2001). An ambivalent alliance: Hostile and benevolent sexism as complementary justifications for gender inequality. American Psychologist, 56(2), 109.
  1. Glick, P., Fiske, S. T., Mladinic, A., Saiz, J. L., Abrams, D., Masser, B., … & López, W. L. (2000). Beyond prejudice as simple antipathy: hostile and benevolent sexism across cultures. Journal of personality and social psychology, 79(5), 763.
  1. Jost, J. T., & Kay, A. C. (2005). Exposure to benevolent sexism and complementary gender stereotypes: consequences for specific and diffuse forms of system justification. Journal of personality and social psychology, 88(3), 498.
  1. O’Neil, J. M. (1981). Male sex role conflicts, sexism, and masculinity: Psychological implications for men, women, and the counseling psychologist. The Counseling Psychologist.
  1. Glick, P., Diebold, J., Bailey-Werner, B., & Zhu, L. (1997). The two faces of Adam: Ambivalent sexism and polarized attitudes toward women. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(12), 1323-1334.
  1. McIntosh, P. (2003). White privilege and male privilege. Privilege: A reader, 147-160.
  1. Case, K. A. (2007). Raising male privilege awareness and reducing sexism: An evaluation of diversity courses. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 31(4), 426-435.
  1. Vecchio, D. D. (1998). Dismantaling White male privilege within family therapy.
  1. Wildman, S. M. (2000). Ending Male Privilege: Beyond the Reasonable Woman.
  1. Johnson, J. R. (2002). Privileged Justice Under Law: Reinforcement of Male Privilege by the Federal Judiciary Through the Lens of the Violence Against Women Act and US v. Morrison. Santa Clara L. Rev., 43, 1399.
  1. Messner, M. A. (1988). Sports and male domination: The female athlete as contested ideological terrain. Sociology of sport journal, 5(3), 197-211.