Thursday, September 6, 2007

Power, Privilege, and Difference

In his book titled Power, Privilege and Difference Allan Johnson explains the affects that privilege has on our society and the way that we live. In his opening paragraph Johnson states “The trouble that surrounds difference is really about privilege and power—the existence of privilege and the lopsided distribution of power that keeps it going” (12). The thesis the Johnson presents in this chapter is that privilege is not something that we are necessarily born with, it has been socially construed and it affects our lives more than most people are aware of.
Johnson starts off by stating that difference is not the problem. Some people believe that if we were to ignore privilege as the problem, it would make it seem as though difference was the problem when in fact it is not. Johnson states that it is a myth that people are afraid of things that are different from them, and he states that it’s not what we don’t know that frightens us, but what we think we know (13). He then further supports this idea by stating that young children are not afraid of the unknown and are often curious, this is because they don’t have an idea in their mind as to how those unfamiliar things are said to be. Johnson also states that we have socially constructed differences in our culture. If we live in a culture that does not recognize differences as significant, they are socially irrelevant (18). For example, if a woman lived in a predominately black society and had not experienced white privilege, she would consider herself a woman, not a black woman. Also, when someone is not part of a privilege class, we often label them strictly by their lowest identity, such as if a person is blind, we refer to them as a blind person, not a white, or male. This in part is because as humans, we have socially construed these labels to have those meanings. Finally, Johnson talks specifically about privilege. Privilege exists when one group has something of value that is denied to others simply because of the groups they belong to, rather than because of anything they have done or failed to do (21). Oftentimes people do not realize that they have such privileges because they are so strong and so socially “normal” that they can go on day-to-day and not even realize the privileges they are granted. Such privileges age white privilege, male privilege, or heterosexual privilege often go unnoticed by those who belong to those groups because they are so dominant, but one little change of any of those characteristics could severely alter their lifestyles.
So are these privileges still present and practiced in our society today? Absolutely. Whites are still experiencing white privilege everyday, whether it is in the shopping mall, workforce, or even jail. Also, males are experiencing male privilege still today by receiving the higher paying jobs in the workforce and holding the leadership positions of our nation. Women experience the ‘glass ceiling’ in many different occupations still today. The ‘glass ceiling’ is a term that refers to the fact that women can only get so high in the business world and they find them selves being held back by the ‘glass ceiling’ while they watch the males continue to climb up the ladder.
Overall, I found this article very interesting. Johnson was very right when stating that we often go on with our daily lives without realizing the privileges that we have over other socially construed groups. I really enjoyed the part that Johnson went through and listed the privileges that whites, males, heterosexuals, and non-disabled people experience in our society. It truly was an eye opener. In conclusion, I believe that privilege really is socially construed but that it will still continue to be that way.

No comments: