Whiteness as Privilege: A Quest For Inclusion

In reading American Citizenship: The Quest for Inclusion by Judith Shklar, I couldn’t help but think about another Political Science Course and how we discussed the quest of inclusion of former black slaves.  Shklar believed that citizenship was not equal to participation but citizenship is equal to standing.  So what does Shklar mean by standing? As presented in lecture, there is a circle of people, white property-holding males, who have full inclusion of rights.  The people outside this circle were obviously slaves, women, non-property holding white males etc.  When I think about inclusion versus exclusion I would like to consider how the limitation of rights has excluded people as a whole in particular minority citizens.

In my Political Science 319 discussion, we talked about Plessy v. Ferguson and how Tourgee, Homer Plessy’s attorney, argued the idea of “Whiteness as property.”  We were asked to discuss if “whiteness as property” has transformed into “whiteness as privilege” in today’s society.  In relation to Shklar, I would like to discuss how this sphere of inclusion versus exclusion is still relevant to today in respects to economics.   Considering the ideology on working in the United States, the “addiction to work” and the “passion for money” has been embedded into American Society.  Working allows the American citizen the opportunity of self-improvement or advancement.  It is interesting that this country was founded on the basis of freedom and equality of rights when still and institution of slavery had previously existed and racism remained.  In recent decades, affirmative action has become a part of American society in attempts to equal the playing field and give not only descendants of former slaves but women as well with certain opportunities.  Much like citizenship and having full rights of citizenship, earning and self- advancement of the individual strongly rests on standing.  Shklar says that “Even if slavery was limited to black people, the institution as such remained threatening.”  The toil associated with slavery and views on white supremacy thus remained threatening towards black citizens and thus disenfranchisement of blacks has widely been spread across the black community.  People in favor of affirmative action feel like it is necessary to give minorities a chance to catch up in societal standing in attempts to help them self-improve.

Historically one could argue then “whiteness” is a “privilege.”  On the other hand one could argue that in today’s society, non-whiteness would be considered a privilege as well.  One thing to consider when thinking about non-whiteness as a privilege is why isn’t affirmative action class based instead of racially being based.  There are many poor whites that feel that their “whiteness” as a limitation of their rights feeling like they have been forgotten based on their race.    We can look at the Supreme Court Case Grutter v. Bollinger as an example.  Grutter of course involved the University of Michigan and the issue of rights given by the Fourteenth Amendment.  Being denied admission into the Law School, Grutter argued that she was being discriminated against on the basis of race and affirmative action was being used as a source to allow minorities with lower GPAs and test scores admission.

To think of a more relevant issue, we can look to the cupcake incident at USC Berkley.  Shawn Lewis of the College Republicans at Berkley states that “We agree that the event is inherently racist, but that is the point . . .  It is no more racist than giving an individual an advantage in college admissions based solely on their race (or) gender.”  One would argue that earning gives one the opportunity to improve themselves instead of being handed advantages based on race or gender.  According to the USC Student Coalition for Asian Pacific Empowerment, “Until America’s (primarily) “white” population comes to terms with the indisputable fact that it is a privileged majority, race will remain the elephant in the room of every political conversation. The suggestion that consideration of race gives marginalized people an unfair advantage ignores the fact that whites in America are born into a preferred social class.”  Based on that analysis how can one expect that just earning alone can provide social standing.  Simple answer, it cannot.  At this point in today’s society other resources must be provided to allow minorities to claim the social ladder so one day earning will the basis of standing in the United States.

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One Response to Whiteness as Privilege: A Quest For Inclusion

  1. erikamir says:

    This is a re-post. I originally posted this comment on October 10, 2011. Please email me if you posted on this comment orginally; I may have your comment.

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