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Privilege Revealed: How Invisible Preference Undermines America

Stephanie M. Wildman
Margalynne Armstrong
Adrienne D. Davis
Trina Grillo
Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 252
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  • Book Info
    Privilege Revealed
    Book Description:

    Affirmative action remains a hotly contested issue on our political landscape, yet the institutionalized systems of privilege which uphold the status quo remain unchallenged. Many Americans who advocate a merit-based, race-free worldview do not acknowledge the systems of privilege which benefit them. For example, many Americans rely on a social and sometimes even financial inheritance from previous generations. This inheritance, unlikely to be forthcoming if one's ancestors were slaves, privileges whiteness, maleness, and heterosexuality. In this important volume, scholars positioned differently with respect to white privilege examine how privilege of all forms manifests itself and how we can, and must, be aware of invisible privilege in our daily lives. Individual chapters focus on language, the workplace, the implications of comparing racism and sexism, race-based housing privilege, the dream of diversity and the cycle of exclusion, the rule of law and invisible systems of privilege, and the power of law to transform society.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-7894-9
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. A Note about Systems of Privilege
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Stephanie M. Wildman
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)
    Stephanie M. Wildman

    A colleague of mine once had a dream in which I appeared.¹ My colleague, who is African American, was struggling in this dream to be himself in the presence of a monolithic white maleness that wanted to oppress him and deny his intellect, his humanity, and his right to belong in our community. In his dream, I, a white woman, attempted to speak on his behalf, but the white man and I spoke as if my friend were not there.

    This portrayal disturbed me, because I know my friend can speak for himself. Recognizing this fact, he described my discomfort...

  6. Chapter 1 Making Systems of Privilege Visible
    (pp. 7-24)
    Stephanie M. Wildman and Adrienne D. Davis

    According to Stephen Hawking, the “goal of science is to provide a single theory that describes the whole universe.”¹ Because a unified theory has proven so difficult to devise, however, scientists have broken “the problem up into bits and invented] a number of partial theories. Each of these partial theories describes and predicts a certain limited class of observations, neglecting the effects of other[s].”² Hawking explains that the general theory of relativity and quantum this century,” are two such partial theories.³ “Unfortunately,” he elaborates, “these two theories are known to be inconsistent with eachother—they cannot both be correct, and...

  7. Chapter 2 Privilege in the Workplace: The Missing Element in Antidiscrimination Law
    (pp. 25-42)
    Stephanie M. Wildman

    The workplace presents an example of how supposedly neutral language—the very words we use to describe work and what occurs there—masks systems of privilege. The invisibility of privilege in the workplace perpetuates the systemic nature of disadvantage. With Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, federal law aimed at ending workplace segregation by focusing on discrimination in employment. However, antidiscrimination doctrine developed under this statute has ignored privilege, ensuring the replication of systems of subordination. The resulting denial of access to jobs and promotions serves to maintain existing economic disparity that income would alleviate.

    Envision the heretofore...

  8. Chapter 3 Privilege in Residential Housing
    (pp. 43-66)
    Margalynne Armstrong

    Few things feel more personal than the choice of where we live and whom we live with. And few things are more devastating than being denied that choice because of race discrimination. Okainer Christian Dark describes the experience of housing discrimination (she was excluded from renting an apartment because she is African American) as “someone taking a piece of paper with everything on it that describes you—more than a resume, because it includes your essence—and crumpling it up because the reader didn’t like the color.” She says she is still trying to smooth out the paper, but it...

  9. Chapter 4 Privilege and the Media: Treatment of Sex and Race in the Hill-Thomas Hearings Create a Legacy of Doubt
    (pp. 67-84)
    Adrienne D. Davis and Stephanie M. Wildman

    Clarence Thomas has been sworn in as the 106th Supreme Court justice. He is the second African American justice. After weeks of televised confirmation hearings, extensive public debate among citizens and in the media, and the final Senate vote, questions still remain whether justice has been served.

    Television added a different dimension to the process, which became a human drama when Professor Anita Hill’s sexual harassment claim and Thomas’s denial were aired. The nation watched mesmerized, waiting for a Perry Mason to rise and announce who had lied, but no Perry Mason appeared. We have only ourselves to assess credibility...

  10. Chapter 5 Obscuring the Importance of Race: The Implication of Making Comparisons between Racism and Sexism (or Other Isms)
    (pp. 85-102)
    Trina Grillo and Stephanie M. Wildman

    Between the time this chapter was first solicited and its initial publication, one of the authors, Trina Grillo, who is of Afro-Cuban and Italian descent, was diagnosed as having Hodgkin’s disease (a form of cancer) and has undergone radiation therapy. In talking about this experience she said that “cancer had become the first filter through which I see the world. It used to be race, but now it is cancer. My neighbor just became pregnant, and all I could think was 'How could she get pregnant? What if she gets cancer?’“

    Stephanie Wildman, the coauthor, who is Jewish and white,...

  11. Chapter 6 The Dream of Diversity and the Cycle of Exclusion
    (pp. 103-138)
    Stephanie M. Wildman

    The racial transformation of society envisioned in Martin Luther King’s dream has been an emotional and powerful ideal. That vision has gone through its own transformation: it was first described as “integration” then “affirmative action,” and then “diversity” and “multiculturalism.” As each of these phrases acquired negative connotation from reactionary, conservative backlashes, a new phrase has had to be invented to carry forward that transformative vision. Yet the cycle of exclusion that privileges the dominant cultural status One place, close to home, where the dream of integration has not been fulfilled is the cloister of legal academia. This chapter singles...

  12. Chapter 7 The Quest for Justice: Tne Rule of Law and Invisible Systems of Privilege
    (pp. 139-160)
    Stephanie M. Wildman

    In the administration and teaching of law today, the role of justice remains highly ambiguous. If a judge cites justice in support of her opinion, lawyers and litigants (especially those who do not like the result) accuse her of rationalization or—worse—groping for a reason for the outcome. Those critics suggest that more objective standards such as statutes, case law, or economic doctrine should determine outcomes. Law students, even law teachers, see law school as having relegated consideration of justice to the back burner, compartmentalizing it into intellectual courses about jurisprudence. In a commencement speech last year, one of...

  13. Chapter 8 Teaching and Learning toward Transformation: The Role of the Classroom in Noticing Privilege
    (pp. 161-176)
    Stephanie M. Wildman

    Lani Guinier begins her book about democracy with a story about children at play. She was reading theSesame Street Magazinewith her four-year-old son, Nikolas. The magazine pictured four children raising their hands to play tag, and two children voting to play hide and-seek. As Guinier explains,

    The magazine asked its readers to count the number of children whose hands were raised and then decide what game the children would play. Nikolas quite realistically replied, “They will play both. First they will play tag. Then they will play hide-and seek.” Despite the magazine’s “rules,” he was right. To children,...

  14. Concluding Thoughts on Noticing Privilege
    (pp. 177-180)
    Stephanie M. Wildman and Margalynne Armstrong

    It is old news that white Americans inhabit a different reality from people of color, particularly African Americans. Yet the shock of white Americans at the news during the trial of O.J. Simpson that police planted evidence or made racist remarks suggests that old news is still invisible to many white people.

    Following the not guilty verdict, the media constructed reactions to the verdict along a racial divide and portrayed the mostly female, African American jury as emotional and incompetent. Implicit in this portrayal was the privileging of white reaction to the verdict as rational, objective, and nonbiased. Once again...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 181-216)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 217-228)
  17. Index
    (pp. 229-240)