Radical Pedagogy (2016)
Volume 13 Issue 1
Don’t Feel White Privilege? It Might Be Political
Women’s and Gender Studies
Northeastern Illinois University, USA
Teaching about white supremacy and racism, especially at a diverse urban working-class university, is fraught with struggle. Every semester I teach McIntosh’s White Privilege, Male Privilege (1988) or White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (1990) and at least one student clearly articulates why she does not experience white privilege as described in the article. When I unravel and investigate previous experiences teaching this article, I am always reminded of the stories white students tell about not feeling privileged. I find the middle-class and academic foundation of McIntosh’s argument (1988) presents a significant barrier to some white immigrant students, even when bolstered with an intersectional analysis of how race, class, and gender create a matrix of oppression. The white students who shared their stories didn’t feel privileged, and didn’t experience privilege in many of the ways McIntosh described.
I argue that employing a combination of affect theory, which recognizes the impact of feelings as political, and assemblage, where “categories — race, gender, sexuality — are considered as events, actions, and encounters between bodies, rather than as simply entities and attributes of subjects” (Puar, 2008), reinterprets students’ feelings as data. The question and answer, “Don’t feel privileged? It might be political” reframes personal feelings as information to examine and then use to resist the socialization of white supremacy, to unpack student responses, and imagine interventions that don’t re-center the advantaged in anti-oppression work.
Keywords: whiteness, privilege, affect, assemblage, working-class, pedagogy