In late June, residents gathered with Black Lives Matter AC to gain greater insight on the various factors contributing to White Privilege and the underlying influences aiding its survival. Several questions were considered, including the definition of privilege, why it exists, who it impacts, and how it can be dismantled.
Michael Cluff, who has a background in Cognitive Psychology, tapped into the “science of privilege” with hopes of revealing elements that may help to dismantle its existence. He discussed how we essentially have two brains—one automatic, one reflective—that process our social environments. He showed how our automatic brain makes shortcuts, which lead to “brain bugs” like racial bias. Because these biases are unconscious, people respond with denial and anger when they are revealed.
As 75-year-old White Pleasantville resident David Bowman crucially reminded us, White Privilege is embedded in the foundation of the U.S. and continues to survive structurally and institutionally. He reflected on his years growing up and how his school, neighborhood, and city were mostly White. Consequently, he was unable to critically reflect on how his racial identity brought about a particular experience since there lacked a comparison. Whiteness is a social construct, but with real social advantages. It survives through ideology and its privilege through systemic means.
During the event, residents participated in several reflexive activities to understand their individual privileges. Reverend Cynthia Cain led almost thirty individuals (three-fourths White) through a “privilege exercise,” highlighting the various ways each person is impacted by their racial and class identities. Participants were first asked to stand in a straight line, side by side, with their eyes closed. Then, Reverend Cain recited various statements related to the benefits and costs of being White, African American, Latino, Native American, and Asian. Respondents were asked to step either forward or backward symbolizing the privilege or disadvantage experienced. Once the exercise was completed, they were told to open their eyes, look around them and notice the various positions that each person stood. The neat line where everyone originally “began” now looked like a scattered bunch with no clear distinction.
Although struggles including depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, reliance on food stamps, Medicaid, welfare, inadequate formal education, and housing were issues that participants of various races faced, a racial division was still visible with most residents of color at the back of the exercise. Each of these struggles stood as an extension of injustices that have failed to support not just people of color, but even those who hold the “privilege” of being White.
An informative clip of social activist Tim Wise discussing the “trickery” behind Whiteness was shown. Wise argued that the White race was created as a way to divide people and prevent rebellion from seeking economic justice. In other words, Whiteness was developed as a way to grant people of lighter skin a false sense of authority, superiority, and privilege. It cannot exist without oppression and divides communities, preventing us from striving toward greater equality even for those who hold the “advantaged” status.
At the end of the meeting, participants gathered into groups to tackle the remaining question—how can we “dismantle” White Privilege? We need to recognize the different and shared oppression that each of us faces. Only then can we make longstanding, systemic changes that benefit all and injure none. Residents further established a need for greater action through campaigning, school curricula, and acknowledging economic disparity as common ground. Join the next BLM AC meeting entitled “The Fallacy of Black on Black Violence” on Saturday, July 16th at 2pm at Asbury United Methodist Community Development Center, 1213 Pacific Ave, Atlantic City, NJ.
About the Author:
Maha Bayan grew up in Prospect Park, NJ and is a senior at Stockton University majoring in Sociology and Anthropology. Her research interests include urban studies, community engagement, and racial, social and economic injustice. Maha currently assists Dr. Christina Jackson, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Stockton University, with her work on Atlantic City and the Black Lives Matter forums.
About Black Lives Matter AC:
Black Lives Matter AC was organized by a coalition of community organizations in and around Atlantic City that meets monthly at Asbury United Methodist Church in Atlantic City to bring together people across lines of race, religion, age, gender, economic & educational levels, in order to learn and listen to one another. We honor the future through our youth, creating space for arts, culture, and local ministry to guide youth away from gangs and toward the arts. Various speakers present on topics, so we better understand the underlying systems of oppressions which people of color have inherited and which white Euro-Americans have often taken for granted. Since November, we have covered areas such as domestic violence, the prison industrial complex, housing, the current state takeover of Atlantic City, and more. We provide safe and facilitated space for people to begin listening to one another’s stories, to build trust, and to foster relationships that lead to organizing and building projects for change. Our goal is to create relationships where none existed, and then to allow the process of creativity and cooperation to flourish for good, so that the future of Atlantic City and Atlantic County is enhanced for as many people as possible, starting with our children. Our next forum is on Portrayal of Black in the Media, and is on August 20, 2016, 2-4PM.