Dear Habermas Logo A Jeanne Site

Annotations to Readings on White Privilege

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: February 11, 2000
E-Mail Curran or Takata.

Could Privilege Explain Why We have So Much Difficulty
Explaining the Prevalence of Cheating?

On February 23, Norma wrote:

White Privilege plays an integral role on human behavior. It has caused much oppression, but to it's advantage, [whites] have known how to play the game. I believe other races are now joining the band-wagon, although racism is something that will continue.

On February 23, jeanne answered:

I think you may not be quite clear on the concept of white privilege. Privilege is the process by which we assume that our perspective is "right," the only way to see the picture, or, at least, the best way. In the process of assuming that we are "right", we assume that our factual perception of the context is "right." But contexts depend upon social construction, so that some of our underlying factual assumptions will not coincide with the context others are experiencing. In privileging our own subjectivity, we fail to consider the validity claims of those who do not meet our underlying factual assumptions.

So privilege really isn't about playing the game well; it's about refusing to listen in good faith to those whose experiences make them different from us, causing our underlying assumptions not to apply to them.

Let me try to explain with an example. Some teachers, because they took their studies very seriously, studied in a quiet room, with no distractions, for long periods of time. In their lives at that time, many hours of quiet for study was normal. But when they apply expectations based on their experiences to those of you today who must juggle jobs, family, and school, along with freeway traffic, several hours of quiet study per class, may have become a creature nearly as extinct as the dinosaur. Most of us now fight off many competing and valid claims on our attention for a few hours of concentrated study.

When teachers base their expectations on their own patterns from prior years, they are failing to hear in good faith your validity claims that life today doesn't afford discretionary time without encountering many conflicts. Another way to say that is that teachers are privileging their own subjectivity.

When that happens, some people, caught in the conflict of trying to satisfy competing interests, resort to cheating as a means of survival. Many of you have written to say just that. That doesn't make cheating moral. It does say that perhaps we need to redefine both cheating and alternatives that would work best given the context of the lives we are essentially forced to live today, lives that are fast-track, many-faceted, and stressful. I think that might be easier to do, if we think of cheating as a magical potion designed to reduce the stress and let us cope with conflicting demands. Some magic potions are relatively harmless. Others ruin lives. We need to deal with this as an issue of public discourse in the academy.

On February 23, Renee Beck, of UWP, wrote:


I thought this exercise was a fun way for students to view cheating. The closest answer that I chose was answer A, but I wish you would have had another answer that said "cheating does represent a moral dificiency".  This would have been the ultimate answer that I would have chosen. 

On February 23, jeanne answered:

Hi, Renee. Susan got this through to me.

I fully understand your perspective that cheating does represent a moral deficiency, except for the fact that to see it in only that respect prevents our understanding why some people seem so ready to abandon moral deficiency. Access to alternatives can block success without the student's understanding of the complex context in which this is occurring. By looking at cheating from the perspective of magic, we are actually listening in good faith to those who are presenting a validity claim that they do not understand the moral alternatives, that those alternatives do not seem to them to be available, and yet they want to achieve the goals before them.

This is a complex issue because whenever alternatives and access are blocked you can be pretty sure there is some privileging of subjectivity involved. It's real easy to miss the privileging, because we have not been taught to see it. (Peggy McIntosh's article)