Priming Students for Seeing White Privilege

Here’s a trick I use—which seems to work—in order to prime students to be predisposed to looking for rather than dismissing white privilege when I talk about race in my REL 101 course.

I introduce the topic by pointing out that scholars who study privilege almost universally find that those who have privilege are often the ones who have the most difficulty in seeing privilege, and then I ask students to speculate on why that might be the case. They usually give decent answers: for them it’s not “privilege” it’s just normal; they don’t have anything to contrast it with; etc.

By having this discussion about why people can’t see privilege at the outset, I think a number of the students unconsciously say to themselves: “I’m not going to be one of those suckers who don’t see it—I’m totally gonna look for it!”

My experience is that when I start the section of the course on race with this little discussion, the students turn out to be more open to what follows.

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2 Responses to Priming Students for Seeing White Privilege

  1. Sabio Lantz says:

    Being White (but having lived around the planet and been in and out of privilege) I totally get this — but what I get is my own blindness. Go strategy!
    I find women don’t see their own privilege arenas too — privilege comes in domains and is not pervasive.
    Likewise, Christians are often blind to Christian privilege in America.
    I did a cartoon today pushing Christians’ images of Jesus: Jesus Heels
    I wonder if such images help shake the blinders

  2. Randi Warne says:

    Peggy McIntosh’s old article “Unpacking the Invisible Backpack” used to be a staple in WS courses, and has the advantage of having a questionnaire that pinpoints specific elements of race privilege in everyday life. (e.g., “If I am talking with my mouth full, I can generally be assured that my behaviour will not be attributed to my race”). (the article is from the late 1980s, if I recall correctly).

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