White Privilege: ‘The Hidden Wound’


Sarah Halley made the distinction between safety and comfort. As the facilitator for the first of four Not in Our Town workshops on White Privilege at Princeton Public Library, she wanted everyone to feel safe but not necessarily comfortable. “If you start to feel uncomfortable, get a little curious,” she suggested. “Use it as a way into the work as opposed to the way out of the work.”

Full disclosure: I represent Princeton United Methodist Church on the steering committee for Not in Our Town (NIOT), a faith congregation-based social action group that works to combat racism and bias in Princeton. The workshops are NIOT’s response to the often-heard comment, voiced in inter-race discussion groups, “We really wish white people would teach white people about racism.”

The result: this series, “Engaging Together to Explore White Privilege.” White privilege has been defined as a right, advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by whites beyond the common advantage of all others. It differs from racism in that the people benefiting from white privilege may not necessarily hold racist beliefs and can be unaware of the privilege.

About 60 people came to the first workshop, and the next Monday, 7:30 p.m. sessions are on April 20, 27, and May 11. Co-sponsored by the library, the sessions are free. For information, email niot.nj@gmail.com or me at bfiggefox@gmail.com

Halley explained the “Paradox of Diversity.”

All people, no matter what race, share the same values and hopes.
Some people are like each other in terms of race, gender, or group level identities.
Each person is also an individual, like no other person, in terms of DNA, life experience, and upbringing.

White people are more likely to be seen as individuals, Halley noted, then members of minority groups. “Why would you have part of you erased?,” she asked. “I don’t want my identity erased, but I don’t want to be seen as a group.”

Participants journaled for 7 minutes on what and where they had learned about race, and then shared some of their observations.

This is what Wendell Berry had to say on the subject, on page 62 of his 1989 slim volume, “The Hidden Wound,” available at the Princeton library.

“I am a good deal more grieved by what I am afraid will be the racism of the future than I am about that of the past. . . I have the strongest doubts about the usefulness of a guilty conscience as a motivation; a man, I think, can be much more dependably motivated by a sense of what would be desirable than by a sense of what has been deplorable.”

About a dozen people who could not come to the first session have made plans to attend the second session – everyone is welcome.

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One thought on “White Privilege: ‘The Hidden Wound’

  1. I think that both of the people you quoted hit on important points and expressed the reasons that I don’t like the terminology “white privilege”. It both continuing/perpetuates the approach of dealing with people as groups not as human beings and it has an Old Testiment passing the sins of the fathers on to future generations attitude. Charles.

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