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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Anthropology and White Privilege

Maria Lutgarda Glorioso

Maria Lutgarda Glorioso

Maria Lutgarda Glorioso

Over the last few weeks, my team and advisor have talked about white privilege at Santa Clara University. Sometime in March, one of the university dorms displayed a poster titled “S-know your white privilege.” A student was upset and contacted a right wing online magazine about the poster. The first line of the article states, “A California college featured a bulletin board Tuesday, ‘S-Know Your Whiteness,’ suggesting race has ‘no scientific basis’ and claiming ‘whiteness’ is ‘about power.’ As an anthropology major I cannot help but think of Franz Boas (1858-1942), the father of American Anthropology, who fought popular scientific belief that there was a unilinear trajectory of human evolution. His contemporaries believed that societies could be divided up between savage, barbarian, and civilized. Boas argued that the reason for all of humans’ differences isn’t based on some genetic predisposition to be civilized or savage but based on cultural histories. For example, the Mongolians under the direction of Genghis Khan once were at the height of their civilization but then reverted to a lesser degree thereby disproving the unilinear trajectory model. Students of Boas such as Margaret Mead, Zora Neale Hurston, and Ashley Montagu would similarly oppose popular beliefs that there are scientifically-based grounds for racism. The controversy around Boas’ belief in culture, not racism, was best exemplified when he was listed at number twelve on the 1997 American Renaissance Magazine top 16 list of “Americans who have damaged white interests” ranked beneath Lyndon B. Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., and Abraham Lincoln. It’s amazing that he is hated after 100 years of his school of cultural relativism. Furthermore, it is amazing that about 120 years after his breakthrough on culture that we still have people taking issue with white privilege.

After reading the entire article, I was more interested on how the article had very little to do about the actual poster and the evidence-based points it was making but more about inflammatory remarks and sentiments that could only be extrapolated with the intent of skewing the original intent of the white privilege poster. This rhetoric is commonly used to deflect the realities of the situation. I did some googling and found Peggy McIntosh’s 1989 article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” McIntosh, a feminist scholar, discusses the issues around male privilege and their unwillingness to recognize it. She then reflects on white privilege and her positionality as a white woman. McIntosh recognizes similarities in both men and white people struggling, and often refusing, to acknowledge privilege and what it means in this context.

White Privilege: The Leftist Agenda

During one of our team discussions it was brought to my attention that talking about white privilege seems to serve a left-wing liberal agenda. I thought to myself, why does thinking reflectively about the color of your skin and your experience in your lived skin have to be seen as a leftist ideology and sentiment? At what point do we engage in this discourse without attracting conservative magazines and putting the responsibility, or blame, on liberal agendas? How can we talk about white privilege without having to resort to smearing the ideology at a conservative magazine? Should we talk about white privilege? Why is it relevant today? Let’s talk about it.

Apr 23, 2018

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