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Privilege, Power & Difference Allan G. Johnson

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Privilege, Power & Difference Allan G. Johnson. Chapter 9 Getting off the Hook. Denial and Resistance. No one likes to see themselves as connected to someone else’s misery, no matter how remote the link. So their first response is to find a way to get themselves off the hook.

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denial and resistance
Denial and Resistance
  • No one likes to see themselves as connected to someone else’s misery, no matter how remote the link.
  • So their first response is to find a way to get themselves off the hook.
  • But we are all on the hook [ 117]
deny and minimize
Deny and Minimize
  • “Racism and sexism used to be problems, but they aren’t anymore.”
  • “The American Dream is alive and well and available to everyone.”
  • There are no gays or lesbians where I work, so sexual orientation isn’t an issue here.”
  • “Affirmative action has turned the tables…”
  • Acknowledge that it exists but doesn’t amount to much i.e.
    • Women & minorities “whine”
    • “just get on with it!”

Denying the reality of oppression also denies the reality of the privilege that underlies it, which is just what it takes to GET OFF THE HOOK!


blame the victim
Blame the Victim
  • One can acknowledge that privilege and oppression exist and even that they have terrible consequences for people and still get off the hook by blaming it all on them!
    • “If blacks were smarter or worked harder or got an education, they’d be okay.”
    • “Some women are hypersensitive”
    • “They had no business being there.”
    • “They were asking for it.”
blaming the victim
Blaming the Victim
  • The result of such thinking is that oppression is blamed on the people who suffer most from it, while privilege and those who benefit remain invisible and relatively untouched. And off the hook.
call it something else
Call it something else
  • A more subtle way to deny oppression and privilege:
    • “battle of the sexes”
    • “Women are from Venus and Men are from Mars” p.120, 121
    • This is most highly developed in relation to gender inequality because women and men depend on one another in ways that other groups do not.
it s better this way
It’s Better This Way
  • Blacks prefer to “live among other blacks”.
  • But really it’s whites who want to “live with their own kind”.
  • Economics is used to justify segregation when it is really racism.
  • Our patriarchal culture promotes this kind of privilege. [122
it doesn t count if you don t mean it
It doesn’t count if you don’t mean it.
  • We use an individual-guilt model to explain just about everything that goes wrong so it’s easy to confuse intention with consequences. [123]
  • If your intentions are good, then nothing bad can happen from them.
  • Women object to consequences they don’t like and men defend against conscious intentions they didn’t feel they had.
meaning comes from culture
Meaning comes from Culture
  • Men can think they’re just being nice guys without realizing the patriarchal system they are promoting.
  • Men may not consciously intend to put women down, and what men do often does put women down.
  • We need to ask ourselves what we mean whenever we say “I didn’t mean it”.[127]
i m one of the good ones
I’m one of the good ones
  • Bad things happen because of bad people
  • But the truth is that our silence, inaction and especially our passive acceptance of the everyday privilege that goes along with group membership are all it takes to make us just as much a part of the problem as any member of the Klan.
  • [130-1]
sick and tired
Sick and Tired
  • The feeling of being annoyed by something, put upon. Thus it can seem as though it’s everywhere…
  • This discussion disturbs the “luxury of obliviousness” that comes with privilege.
  • Life is hard for everyone, “don’t bring us your troubles, we got troubles of our own”
  • [133] Sick & Tired is a defense [134]
getting off the hook by getting on
Getting off the hook by getting on
  • On the hook also means being “committed, obliged and involved” [135]
  • Off the hook is to live in illusion and denial as if one can choose whether to be involved in the life of our society and the consequences it produces.
what can we do
What Can We Do?
  • The challenge we face is to:
    • Change patterns of exclusion, rejection, privilege, harassment, discrimination and violence
    • These have existed for hundreds (or thousands) of years.
    • Think about the trouble in new and more productive ways.
silence invisibility allow trouble to continue
Silence & invisibility allow trouble to continue!
  • Removing what silences them and stands in their way can tap an enormous potential of energy for change.[137]
  • We have to reclaim some difficult language that names what’s gong on. Language that has been so misused and maligned that it generates more heat than light – racism, sexism and privilege.
the core reality
The Core Reality
  • The problem is privilege and the power that maintains it.
  • “Privilege exists when one group has something that is systematically denied to others not because of who they are or what they’ve done or not done, but because of the social category they belong to.” [138]
what are the tools we have
What are the ‘Tools’ we have?
  • Reclaim the language
  • Understanding the social system
  • Get used to the paradox of “privileged and unprivileged at the same time”
  • Matrix of domination (or matrix of privilege)
  • Know the forms of oppression (avoidance, exclusion, rejection, unequal access to resources and rewards, and violence.
more tools
More Tools
  • This trouble affects everybody
  • This trouble affects entire social systems
  • Being aware of this gives everyone a reason to include themselves in the solution, how the trouble operates in the world and what we can do about it.
  • Privilege and oppression are not a thing of the past, it’s happening right now.
tools cont
Tools (cont.)
  • Organizations’ approach to change
    • “Tin cup” approach
    • “business case” argument”
    • Third choice: Think about the trouble as everyone’s responsibility – everybody’s “hook”- and nobody’s fault. (This is especially difficult for members of privileged groups who have a hard time seeing themselves in relation to privilege without feeling guilty.)
tools cont1
Tools (cont.)
  • We tend to use the individualistic model that reduces everything to individual intentions or goodness and badness [141]
  • We have to look at what we’re participating in and how we choose to participate in relation to “paths of least resistance”.
  • Understand the reality of privilege [142]
myth 1 it s always been this way and it always will
Myth 1: “It’s Always Been this way and it always will”
  • Nothing has always been this way or any other [143]
  • Society, and systems happen only as people participate in it, it can’t help being a dynamic process of creation and re-creation from one moment to the next.
  • [143]
myth 2 gandhi s paradox and the myth of no effect
Myth 2: Gandhi’s Paradox and the Myth of no Effect
  • If we are going to be part of the solution, we have to let go of the idea that change doesn’t happen unless we’re around to see it happen.
  • We need “time constancy”[146]
  • We must live with the paradox of mattering and not mattering.
  • We must travel without knowing where we are going.
We may cling to the belief that there is nothing we can do precisely because we subconsciously know how much power we do have and are afraid to use it because people may not like it.
  • When we openly pass up a path of least resistance, we increase resistance for other people around that path …[148]
what can we do1
What can we do?
  • Acknowledge that the Trouble exists
    • Change how we think [154]
    • Maintaining a critical consciousness takes commitment and work; awareness is something we either maintain in the moment or we don’t.
    • The only way to hang on to an awareness of systems of privilege is to make it an ongoing part of our lives.
pay attention
Pay Attention
  • Read and make reading about privilege a part of your life.
  • What we think we know is, if not wrong, so deeply shaped by systems of privilege that it misses most of the truth.
  • Look at yourself and the world to see if you can identify what you’re reading about
little risks do something
Little Risks: Do Something
  • Make noise, be seen – Break the silence
  • Find little ways to withdraw support from paths of least resistance and people’s choices to follow them, starting with yourself. Interrupt “business as usual”
  • Dare to make people feel uncomfortable, beginning with yourself.
things we can do
Things we can do
  • Openly choose and model alternative paths
  • Actively promote change in how systems are organized around privilege [162]
  • Support the right of women and men to love whomever they choose.
  • Pay attention to how different forms of oppression interact with one another.
what we can do
What we can do
  • Work with other people [164]
  • Understand what people of color need from white allies: respect, find out about us, don’t take over, provide information, etc. [165]
  • Talk to other white people [166]
  • Don’t keep it to yourself.
  • Don’t let others set the standard for you.
what s in it for me
What’s in it for me?
  • When white people make a commitment to participate in change, to be more than part of the problem, they free themselves to live in the world without feeling open to guilt simply for being white.
  • Acting with courage empowers in ways that can extend to every corner of our lives
what s in it for me1
What’s in it for me?
  • With each strand of the knot of privilege that we help to work loose and unravel, we don’t act simply for ourselves, we join a process of creative resistance to oppression, unfolding for 1,000 of years
  • Dare to make a difference – to look at things as they are, to imagine something better, and to plant seeds of change in yourself, in others and in the world.