Thanks for this excellent essay.
The field of education is extremely important, as you point out.
I've noticed another issue that comes up repeatedly in the corporate world where I've (mostly) worked for decades: the issue of merit AND the issue of what I call 'racist over there.'
Two factors seem to support white liberal denial and thus their continued support of WS:
1. A distorted view of merit which allows for self-serving attribution; and
2. A 'Racism without Racists' stance: that is, white liberals think of racists as other white, usually poor, people, but never themselves.
I believe that, in addition to perceiving this issues as institutional (for example, the way Robin DiAngelo does), we can also ask that individual white people consider the above factors in their daily lives.
My stance includes this assumption: people tend to credit themselves for 'wins' and outside forces for failures, and tend to do the opposite with others: that is, if somebody else wins, they must have had luck, but if that other person loses, they must have not worked hard enough. Psychologists call this human tendency 'self serving attribution;' in summary, we give ourselves more benefit of the doubt than we give others.
By the nature of power, those with it will have more privilege and thus LESS of what they have 'earned' will actually be theirs. So, white people--because they have privilege--will be more likely to 'earn' something on this extrinsic basis. As a result, POC's will have to exert more effort and illustrate higher levels of performance in order to compete, to compensate for the privilege that white people get. This is only necessary because, at that individual level--not just at the institutional level--that white person just gave him/her/themself the benefit of the doubt inappropriately.
Here is what my set of 5 WOCS (admittedly, anecdotal sample!) have told our 2 previous white female members of our group (to much defensiveness; we’re all professionals): when you as an individual receives a reward at work, ASSUME WHITE PRIVILEGE. That is, DO THE ACTIVE, HARD WORK of overcoming the human tendency to self-serving attribution.
We all have this tendency, but only white people have this privilege. Thus, white people should be doing this active work: default to PRIVILEGE, not intrinsic success. The INDIVIDUAL white person’s tendency to assume internal success where there is truly mostly external privilege should be overcome, no matter how uncomfortable it feels.
For us (WOCs), this conclusion is the result of aggregate decades of professional experience watching a whole lot of white people get promotions, awards, bonuses etc which should have been going to a wide range of POC"s representing over fifty countries. After watching this for decades, it has become obvious to us that, in addition to extreme WS institutionalization there are also INDIVIDUAL responses that cater to WS. This is when white people allow themselves to get the promotion without asking first if it came to them because they are white and looking around to see who actually performed at that level, often a POC.
The white majority is being maintained, in my opinion, overtly by conservatives and overt WS but covertly by white liberals who choose self-serving attribution as individuals instead of defaulting to privilege and then asking if a POC should have received the promotion, etc. This is in addition to the institutionalization that also supports them as a group.
This was received by these two women as an attack. They proved our point when they asserted, right off the bat, that 'WE ARE NOT THE REAL RACISTS.' Once again, this proves our other point: white people who think the racist is 'over there' will never ask what she is taking from others through her unacknowledged privilege.
I urge this as the next step for true white anti-racists: assume privilege in personal life. Institutionalization of WS is extremely important, but so is individual responsibility of acknowledging one's privilege on a daily basis, even if it means that one's perception of oneself is not as exalted.
Thanks again for this great article!