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American Privilege

Posted by on Jul. 2, 2013 at 5:18 AM
  • 43 Replies

The Costs of American Privilege

by MICHAEL SCHWALBE

When it comes to knowledge of the U.S. government, foreign students often put American students to shame. Many of the American students in my classes don1t know how Congress is organized, what cabinet members do, or how governmental powers are divided among the executive, judicial, and legislative branches. The foreign students who have shown up in my classrooms over the years tend to know about these matters and more.

The gap is even wider with regard to knowledge of U.S. behavior around the globe. When foreign students refer to exploitive U.S. trade policies, military interventions abroad, and support for repressive dictatorships?as if any educated person would of course know about such things?American students are often stunned. Foreign students are equally amazed when their remarks are greeted with blank stares.

But this level of ignorance is not so amazing, really. It1s a predictable consequence of privilege. Like white privilege and male privilege in our society, American privilege brings with it the luxury of obliviousness.

Privilege comes from membership in a dominant group and is typically invisible to those who have it. Many whites do not see themselves as enjoying 3white privilege,2 yet as Peggy McIntosh has pointed out, there are dozens of ways that whites are privileged in U.S. society.

For example, whites can live anywhere they can afford to, without being limited by racial segregation; whites can assume that race won1t be used to decide whether they will fit in at work; whites who complain usually end up speaking to the white person in charge; whites can choose to ignore their racial identity and think of themselves as human beings; and, in most situations, whites can expect to be treated as individuals, not as members of a category.

Men likewise enjoy privileges as members of the dominant gender group. For example, men can walk the streets without being sexually harassed; men can make mistakes without those mistakes being attributed to their gender; men can count on their gender to enhance their credibility; men can expect to find powerful sponsors with whom they can bond as men; and, even in female-dominated occupations, men benefit from being seen as better suited to higher-paying, administrative jobs.

Whites and men tend not to see these privileges because they are taken to be normal, unremarkable entitlements. This is how things appear to members of a dominant group. What1s missing is an awareness that life is different for others. Not having to think about the experiences of people in subordinate groups is another form of privilege.

In contrast, women and people of color usually see that those above them in the social hierarchy receive unearned benefits. At the least, they must, for their own protection, pay attention to what members of more powerful groups think and do. This is why women often know more about men than men know about themselves, and why blacks know more about whites than whites know about themselves.

It is no surprise, then, that foreign students, especially those from Third World countries, often know more about the U.S. than most American students do. People in those countries must, as a matter of survival, pay attention to what the U.S. does. There is no equally compelling need for Americans to study what happens in the provinces. And so again the irony: people in Third World countries often know more about the U.S. than many Americans do.

We can thus put these at the top of the list of American privileges: not having to bother, unless one chooses, to learn about other countries; and not having to bother, unless one chooses, to learn about how U.S. foreign policy affects people in other countries. A corollary privilege is to imagine that if people in other countries study us, it1s merely out of admiration for our way of life.

The list of American privileges can be extended. For example, Americans can buy cheap goods made by superexploited workers in Third World countries; Americans can take a glib attitude toward war, since it1s likely to be a high-tech affair affecting distant strangers; and Americans can enjoy freedom at home, because U.S. capitalists are able to wring extraordinary profits out of Third World workers and therefore don1t need to repress U.S. workers as harshly.

But privileges are not without costs. Most obviously there is the cost of ignorance about others. This carries with it the cost of ignorance about ourselves.

One thing we don1t learn, when we refuse to learn about or from others, is how they see us. We then lose a mirror with which to view ourselves. Combined with power, the result can be worse than innocent ignorance. It can be smug self-delusion, belief in the myth of one1s own superiority, and a presumed right to dictate morality to others.

We also bear the cost of limiting our own humanity. To be human is to be able to extend compassion to others, to empathize with them, and to reflect honestly on how they are affected by our actions. Privilege keeps us from doing these things and thereby stunts our growth as human beings.

The ignorance that stems from privilege makes Americans easy to mislead when it comes to war. Being told that they are 3fighting for freedom,2 and knowing no better, thousands of American sons and daughters will dutifully kill and die. The ugly truth that they are fighting for the freedom of U.S. capitalists to exploit the natural resources and labor of weaker countries is rarely perceived through the vacuum of knowledge created by American privilege.

But of course it is the people in those weaker countries who bear the greatest costs of American privilege. In war, they will suffer and die in far greater numbers. In peace, or times of less-violent exploitation, their suffering will continue and once again become invisible to citizens living at the core of the empire.

There are positive aspects of American privilege, and from these we can take hope. Most of us enjoy freedom from repression in our daily lives, and we value our rights to associate and to speak out. Perhaps, then, we can appreciate the anger created when U.S. foreign policy denies other people these same rights. Perhaps, too, we can use our freedoms to more fully fight such injustices. If so, then our privileges as Americans will be put to noble and humane use.

If Americans are often afflicted with ignorance and moral blindness when it comes to the rest of the world, this is not a failing of individuals. These problems result from a system of domination that confers privilege. And so we can1t make things right simply by declining privilege. In the long run, we have to dismantle the system that gives it to us.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2002/10/04/the-costs-of-american-privilege/

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.

by on Jul. 2, 2013 at 5:18 AM
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Replies (1-10):
rgba
by Bronze Member on Jul. 2, 2013 at 5:23 AM
Bump. Too tired to finish but the first half is interesting
Posted on CafeMom Mobile
stormcris
by Christy on Jul. 2, 2013 at 6:47 AM

Yes, there is American privilege. However it has nothing to do with the poor state of our education system which is commented on in the first few paragraphs. Further more it only applies to certain sections of society. Also I feel it is necessary to mention those cheap goods do not always come from other countries we have sweat shops here and slavery and pretty much everything people think goes on only in other countries. 

Now that being said real empathy only extends so far. There is a lot of fake empathy based on some moral prescription that society has. Yet, for a person to emphasize with others they must have a personal connection. War has little to do with that fact and it is in all nations to wage war. It is in all nations to have brutality and killing because it is a part of human nature. Survival of the fittest is not merely some arbitrary thought. There is no such thing as moral blindness because morals are subjective. They are all over the world and what one side views as amoral another will view as righteous. 

Be careful what you dismantle you may not like what comes up in its place.

Clairwil
by Ruby Member on Jul. 2, 2013 at 6:54 AM
2 moms liked this
Quoting Aestas:

The Costs of American Privilege

The gap is even wider with regard to knowledge of U.S. behavior around the globe. When foreign students refer to exploitive U.S. trade policies, military interventions abroad, and support for repressive dictatorships?as if any educated person would of course know about such things?American students are often stunned. Foreign students are equally amazed when their remarks are greeted with blank stares.

We can thus put these at the top of the list of American privileges: not having to bother, unless one chooses, to learn about other countries; and not having to bother, unless one chooses, to learn about how U.S. foreign policy affects people in other countries. A corollary privilege is to imagine that if people in other countries study us, it1s merely out of admiration for our way of life.

The list of American privileges can be extended. For example, Americans can buy cheap goods made by superexploited workers in Third World countries; Americans can take a glib attitude toward war, since it1s likely to be a high-tech affair affecting distant strangers; and Americans can enjoy freedom at home, because U.S. capitalists are able to wring extraordinary profits out of Third World workers and therefore don1t need to repress U.S. workers as harshly.

I noted, on CafeMom, that much of the discussion about the costs of the Iraq war mentioned the lives of American soldiers, and the financial cost to America.   Some mentioned the oil supply, the effect upon America's reputation, and the profits to be gained by Halliburton.

Fewer mentioned the vast number of Iraqis who died and hardly any mentioned how many soldiers from Americas allies died.

Without looking it up, how many of you know whether the number of British soldiers and support staff injured in Iraq during the invasion and occupation is closest to:

  • 1
  • 10
  • 100
  • 1,000
  • 10,000
  • 100,000

?

Clairwil
by Ruby Member on Jul. 2, 2013 at 7:07 AM
2 moms liked this
Quoting Clairwil:

Without looking it up, how many of you know whether the number of British soldiers and support staff injured in Iraq during the invasion and occupation is closest to:

  • 1
  • 10
  • 100
  • 1,000
  • 10,000
  • 100,000

?

By the way, if anyone is interested, the answer was: 10,000   (source)

But that's not the point.  The point was whether you knew the answer, or even a ball park figure.  Or had even thought to ask yourself the question.

stormcris
by Christy on Jul. 2, 2013 at 7:16 AM

Does that really include all injuries I thought it was much higher.

Quoting Clairwil:

Quoting Clairwil:

Without looking it up, how many of you know whether the number of British soldiers and support staff injured in Iraq during the invasion and occupation is closest to:

  • 1
  • 10
  • 100
  • 1,000
  • 10,000
  • 100,000

?

By the way, if anyone is interested, the answer was: 10,000   (source)

But that's not the point.  The point was whether you knew the answer, or even a ball park figure.  Or had even thought to ask yourself the question.


lga1965
by Ruby Member on Jul. 2, 2013 at 7:19 AM
1 mom liked this
yes, I asked the question. This is why I'm so anti-war. It's not just because we lose sp many military but because allies and so called enemies die also while we wage wars that are not to defend our country but to gain power and control......flag waving Patriotism brainwashes Americans and makes people forget that we're killing humans all over the world who did nothing to us . We're using men and women i. America.....and they are oblivious to why.
Quoting Clairwil:


Quoting Clairwil:

Without looking it up, how many of you know whether the number of British soldiers and support staff injured in Iraq during the invasion and occupation is closest to:

  • 1
  • 10
  • 100
  • 1,000
  • 10,000
  • 100,000

?


By the way, if anyone is interested, the answer was: 10,000   (source)

But that's not the point.  The point was whether you knew the answer, or even a ball park figure.  Or had even thought to ask yourself the question.


Posted on CafeMom Mobile
Clairwil
by Ruby Member on Jul. 2, 2013 at 7:37 AM
Quoting Aestas:

 military interventions abroad

Another example.

In the thread about "Why on Earth is President Obama bothering to visit Africa, just to meet leaders there informally", I was surprised that nobody raised the Lord's Resistance Army, and the American soldiers in the Congo to help deal with that.

Clairwil
by Ruby Member on Jul. 2, 2013 at 7:38 AM
Quoting stormcris:

Does that really include all injuries I thought it was much higher.

Injuried serious enough to require admitting to hospital.

But the figure was just for people from the UK.   It isn't Americans, or other American allies who were out in Iraq.  It also, obviously, doesn't include Afghanistan.

stormcris
by Christy on Jul. 2, 2013 at 7:39 AM

Ah ok then.

Quoting Clairwil:

Quoting stormcris:

Does that really include all injuries I thought it was much higher.

Injuried serious enough to require admitting to hospital.


kidlover2
by Bronze Member on Jul. 2, 2013 at 7:44 AM
People in third world countries rarely know more about America than we do unless you take in to account their intricate knowledge of As the World Turns reruns. If you want to discuss industrialized countries knowing more, I'd believe it.
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