1. Readings and Resources (Overview & Definitions)

White privilege is about the concrete benefits of access to resources and social rewards and the power to shape the norms and values of society that whites receive, unconsciously or consciously, by virtue of their skin color in a racist society. There are unearned entitlements – things that all people should have – such as feeling safe in public spaces, free speech, and the ability to work in a place where we feel we can do our best work and being valued for what we can contribute.  When unearned entitlement is restricted to certain groups, however, it becomes the form of privilege that Peggy McIntosh calls “unearned advantage.”  Unearned advantage gives whites a competitive edge we are reluctant to even acknowledge, much less give up.  The other type of privilege is “conferred dominance,” which is giving one group (whites) power over another resulting in the unequal distribution of resources and rewards.

White Supremacy – “… A political, economic and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources, conscious and unconscious ideas of white superiority and entitlement are widespread, and relations of white dominance and non-white subordination are daily reenacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings (Gillborn, D., 2006).”


  • In U.S. society there is an unexamined “white experience” of privilege that is intimately connected to the oppression of People of Color, historically and presently, and has its historical roots in the origins of the economic, political, educational, and legal institutions of the U.S.
  • The “white experience” with its associated ideology and discourses that perpetuates and maintains racial inequity.
  • The ideology and discourse of the “white experience” is embedded in a global history of colonization and slavery.
  • Racial inequality in the U.S. results from economic, political, educational, and legal systems that privilege White people as a group and block and alienate People of Color from participating in the same systems.

White Fragility is a response to race-based stress. White people are often insulated from racial stress which lowers their ability to tolerate racial stress. People who are white may respond to racial incidents or conversations about race through defensive emotional expressions such as fear, guilt, or anger. They may also respond behaviorally through withdrawal, silence, or argumentation. The outcome of white fragility is to reinforce racial hierarchy. White fragility must be addressed as it is a significant roadblock to understanding issues of oppression and marginalization (DiAngelo, R. 2011).

Perils of a Color-blind Perspective – Members of the dominant group may adhere to a color-blind perspective which minimizes the contextual conditions of historical and current racist practices (Bell, 2008; Delgado and Stefancic, 2012).


Links to short video by Derald Wing Sue.  Definition: Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults towards people of color. Those who inflict racial microaggressions are often unaware that they have done anything to harm another person.

Cultural competency – Cultural competency, or ethnic sensitive practice, highlights the importance of the awareness of values and their impact on worldview; the impact of structural racism; and the responsibility for social workers to develop competence in working with racial minorities and those from multiple ethnic groups (Abrams & Moio, 2009).

Critical Race Theory (CRT). There are five primary components of CRT: (a) the acknowledgment that racism exists in the daily experiences of people of color and is not unusual but normative; (b) the idea that race is a social construction or result of thought and behavior rather than attributable to physical or biological factors; (c) a color-blind perspective minimizes the contextual conditions of historical and current racist practices, makes subtle forms of discrimination more difficult to combat, and perpetuates racialization to advance the interests of the dominant group; (d) the concept of intersectionality, or the idea that human beings have multiple identities that cover a wide range of race, gender, class, ethnicity or other frames of reference; (e) and CRT embraces the importance of personal narrative (Bell, 2008; Delgado and Stefancic, 2012). People of color experience oppression and this lived experience presumes competence to speak about race and racism from a unique perspective that those from dominant groups cannot fully understand (Delgado & Stefancic, 2012; Kolivoski, Weaver, & ConstanceHiggins, 2014).

Allies – Allies are described as people who acknowledge privilege, take responsibility for ongoing learning, and demonstrate a willingness to take risks, face confrontation, change behavior and commit to action despite personal risk or negative consequences (Adams, et al., 2007).

Cultural Humility Hook, Davis, Owen, Worthington and Utsey (2013) conceptualize cultural humility as the “ability to maintain an interpersonal stance that is other-oriented (or open to the other) in relation to aspects of cultural identity that are most important to the [person]” (p. 2).

Three factors guide a sojourner toward cultural humility.

  1. The first aspect is a lifelong commitment to self-evaluation and self-critique(Tervalon & Murray-Garcia, 1998). Underlying this piece is the knowledge that we are never finished — we never arrive at a point where we are done learning. Therefore, we must be humble and flexible, bold enough to look at ourselves critically and desire to learn more. When we do not know something, are we able to say that we do not know? Willingness to act on the acknowledgement that we have not and will not arrive at a finish line is integral to this aspect of cultural humility as well. Understanding is only as powerful as the action that follows.
  2. The second feature of cultural humility is a desire to fix power imbalanceswhere none ought to exist (Tervalon & Murray-Garcia, 1998). Recognizing that each person brings something different to the proverbial table of life helps us see the value of each person. When practitioners interview clients, the client is the expert on his or her own life, symptoms and strengths. The practitioner holds a body of knowledge that the client does not; however, the client also has understanding outside the scope of the practitioner. Both people must collaborate and learn from each other for the best outcomes. One holds power in scientific knowledge, the other holds power in personal history and preferences.
  3. Finally, cultural humility includes aspiring to develop partnerships with people and groups who advocate for others (Tervalon & Murray-Garcia, 1998). Though individuals can create positive change, communities and groups can also have a profound impact on systems. We cannot individually commit to self-evaluation and fixing power imbalances without advocating within the larger organizations in which we participate. Cultural humility, by definition, is larger than our individual selves — we must advocate for it systemically.

Key terms for understanding racial inequity

Bias – prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair. Unconscious or implicit bias refers to biases that we carry without awareness. To learn more about implicit bias and to take an implicit association test online, visit Project Implicit at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit

Culture – sum total of ways of living, including: values, beliefs, aesthetic standards, linguistic expression, patterns of thinking, behavioral norms, and styles of communication which a group of people has developed to assure its survival in a particular environment. We are socialized through “cultural conditioning” to adopt ways of thinking related to societal grouping.

Discrimination – the behavioral manifestation of prejudice involving the limitation of opportunities and options based on particular criterion (i.e. race, sex, age, class).

Identity – the feeling of being included in a group or culture.

Internalized Oppression – the internalization of conscious or unconscious attitudes regarding inferiority or differences by the victims of systematic oppression.

“ISMS” – a way of describing any attitude, action or institutional structure which subordinates (oppresses) a person because of their membership in target group or an entire group: examples – color (racism), gender (sexism), economic status (classism), older age (ageism), youth (adultism), religion (i.e. anti-Semitism, islamophobism, sexual orientation (heterosexism), language/immigrant status (xenophobism), transsexual (transphobism), beautify people (beautyism), ability (ableism).

Oppression – the systematic mistreatment of the powerless by the powerful, resulting in a targeting of certain groups within the society for less of its benefits – involves a subtle devaluing or non-acceptance of the powerless group – may be economic, political, social, and/or psychological. Oppression also includes the belief of superiority or “righteousness” of the group in power.

Prejudice – a negative attitude toward a person or group, based on pre-judgment and evaluation, often using one’s own or one’s own group standards as the “right” and “only” way.

Racism – the systematic oppression of people of color; occurs at the individual internalized, interpersonal, institutional, and/or cultural levels: may be overt or covert, intentional or unintentional.

Structural Racism – The word “racism” is commonly understood to refer to instances in which one individual intentionally or unintentionally targets others for negative treatment because of their skin color or other group-based physical characteristics. This individualistic conceptualization is too limited. Racialized outcomes do not require racist actors. Structural racism refers to a system of social structures that produces cumulative, durable, race-based inequalities. It is also a method of analysis that is used to examine how historical legacies, individuals, structures, and institutions work interactively to distribute material and symbolic advantages and disadvantages along racial lines.


Terms without citations come from the World Trust: Social Impact through Film and Dialogue (https://world-trust.org/)

Other definitions derived from White, Amy Lary, “Supporting the Development of Racial Identity and Cultural Humility in Higher Education” (2017). Doctor of Social Work Banded Dissertations. 17. http://sophia.stkate.edu/dsw/17

Adams, M., Bell, L.A., & Griffin, P. (2007). Teaching for diversity and social justice: A sourcebook (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Abrams, L S., & Moio, J.A. (2009). Critical race theory and the cultural competence dilemma in social work education. Journal of Social Work Education, 45(2), 245-261. doi:10.5175/JSWE.2009.2007.00109

Bell, D. (2008). Race, racism and American law (6th ed.). New York, NY: Aspen Publishers.

Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J. (2012). Critical race theory: An introduction (2nd ed.). New York, NY: University Press.

DiAngelo, R. (2011). International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 3(3), p 54-70.

Gillborn, D. (2006). Rethinking white supremacy: Who counts in “white world” Ethnicities, 6:318-340.

Hook, J. N., Davis, D. E., Owen, J., Worthington Jr., E. L., & Utsey, S. O. (2013). Cultural humility: Measuring openness to culturally diverse clients. Journal of Counseling Psychology®. doi:10.1037/a0032595

Jones, N. A., & Bullock, J. (2012) The two or more races population: 2010 (PDF, 2.23MB). 2010 Census Briefs. http://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-13.pdf

Kolivoski, K.M., Weaver, A., & Constance-Huggins, M. (2014). Critical race theory: Opportunities for application in social work practice and theory. Families in Society 95(4), 269-276. doi:10.1606/1044-3894.2014.95.36

Tervalon, M., & Murray-Garcia, J. (1998). Cultural humility versus cultural competence: A critical distinction in defining physician training outcomes in multicultural education. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Undeserved, 9, 117-125.




  1. White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women Studies. Peggy McIntosh. 1988.
  2. Transforming White Privilege: A 21st Century Leadership Capacity, CAPD, MP Associates, World Trust Educational Services, 2012.
  3. Flipping the Script: White Privilege and Community Building
    Maggie Potapchuk, MP Associates, Inc.; Sally Leiderman, Center for Assessment and Policy Development; Contributing Writers Donna Bivens; Women’s Theological Center; Barbara Major, St. Thomas Health Clinic. All materials were copied from Chapter 6 What is White Privilege
  4. The Kirwan Institute – http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/ – and @World Trust 2012 – http://world-trust.org/


Introduction | Readings | Activity | Committment