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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: December 30, 1998
Latest Update: March 24, 2001
E-Mail Icon jeannecurran@habermas.org

Color as a Barrier to Forum Access, Forum Control


Review by jeanne

Not all my students are using Images of Color, Images of Crime as a required text. Thus, this file will offer a brief review, in case buying the text is out of the question just now.

Privilege

Mann and Zatz recognized the need to position people of color in the tremendous diversity they represent. The world is not made up of "whites" and "people of color." Minow decries the simplicity of such categorical thinking in the law, and in the social world so affected by the law. An excellent chapter 18 explains in autobiographical detail what is meant by "privilege." Peggy McIntosh says it clearly, and she conveys with it the dismay of making yourself conscious of a privilege you never saw, never dreamed others did not have, never asked for, and never understood, as was intended by the infrastructure within which we live. All of my classes will create their own lists of privilege, as McIntosh suggests.

I Am NOT Them

In the Foreword to Images of Color, Derrick Bell says that if black people had not existed, white people would have had to invent them. An important concept, told in literature by Ernest Gaines' Three Men, and recorded in the daily experiences of Peggy McIntosh in her study of privilege. To define oneself requires for most of the sum of all our experiences. Hard work to process all that we have done, learned, had done to us, over time and space. Easier just to look at someone who is not what we want to be and say, like little Jack Horner, "What a good boy am I!" for I am not like "X", who has not been "a good boy," or girl, or whatever. What a terrible age in which to have to decide whether you have been naughty or nice!How much easier to settle for "I have been better than X." For such a simple way out of the self and ethics and accountability and acceptance of an active role in who and what we are, there must be an "Other," an "X," whom we can be generically "better than." Hockenberry suggests that every group has a code of expectations, not shared with outsiders, and against which outsiders are judged in their interactions with group members. These codes essentially define group members as "not Outsiders." And that promotes stereotyping and discrimination.

Thus, we can see that "whites" invention of "blacks" would provide the Outsider group that one can be NOT. Then I never have to ask who I am. This interdependence of my definition of self with groups to which I belong and do NOT belong is essential to the understanding of privilege and the role it plays in social justice. Compare this to Gaines' "Three Men". Who I am depends on what I believe I am AND on what they believe I am. Therein lies the interdependence. This reflects Habermas' description of the basic tension between the individual and the community.

Providing a Forum

Also important in Images of Color is that the editors have carefully asked people of color to speak for themselves. This provides a forum that has often been unavailable. The forums have been co-opted and dominated by professionals with privilege, by Hollywood, by the general public fed stereotypical images throughout history. These authors do not speak for "people of color", as though such a category could represent a homogeneous group. That would be like a woman explaining "what women want." But they do speak from within a personalized experience of what it means to be treated as a member of a group of color. Within each group there are as many perceptions of how that feels as there are members. But it behooves the privileged white majority to recognize that it cannot SPEAK FOR people of color. For such is the assumption of privilege.



Book Search

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for more information on Mann and Zatz'
Images of Color, Images of Crime.

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for more information on William Oliver's
The Violent Social World of Black Men