I guess at this point he is losing me a bit. The core concept is still that privilege is about controlling access to resources and using physical traits (the first rung of the diversity wheel) as the most powerful means of doing that. I just find that it is hard to see the point he is trying to make in this chapter because he is pretending that there is no world outside the U.S. Privilege has existed in every human society. If the arguments he is making here are difficult to understand, it is because they are tangential to a genuine understanding of what privilege is. He needs to stop pretending that the U.S. is the only country in the world if he wants to make sense of privilege. Privilege existed long before slavery.
This chapter probably has less personal relevance for me than some of the other chapters. It is hard to find any resonance in this chapter. Johnson doesn't really understand capitalism that well, and he doesn't draw good linkages between it and privilege. That's probably because while there are elements of our society that strongly reinforce privilege, the specific examples again are kind of tangential to the core of the issue. His weak understanding of economics and his insistence on ignoring non-American examples just undermines this chapter completely. I guess he figures the way he uses American viewpoints is supposed to make it easier to understand for the audience but for me it distracts from the issues at hand.
It is only when he gets back to the core issues that he starts making good points again. The way people subconsciously ascribe privilege (or take it away) on the basis of physical characteristics is the strongest point in this chapter and should have been the focus all along. I have seen that among some people I know overtly, and Johnson argues that it can also be subtle as well, so that we don't know we are doing it. We all do it -- I do it every day. I make little subtle judgments about people based on very little information. The mind, in the absence of real information, fills in the blanks using various shorthand techniques. One of the easiest such techniques is to use stereotypes. Sometimes I don't even realize it until what I thought is shown to be wrong -- I made a judgment about somebody and they had to surprise me before I realized that I had even made that judgment at all. What I mean is, nobody you meet can possibly have a clean sheet in your head. You always think something about them, and when you have no information your brain cheats and sometimes you don't even know it. I wish he would have talked more about the psychology of all this, because this latter part of the chapter is where the real meat is.
I would ask Johnson, about this chapter, how his theories of the relationship between capitalism and privilege apply overseas. His premise is based on the American experience, but there are nations with wealth that are not predominantly white and do not have a slave history. There are systems of privilege that exist even in nations that are not overtly capitalist -- even Communist/socialist nations like China, Cuba or Venezuela have issues with race and privilege, yet are based on entirely different economic systems. So I would ask him how his theory applies beyond the United States.
Chapter 4: In this chapter, Johnson explains how privilege manifests itself. He points to subtle examples found in speech, in appears in open hostility, and for those without privilege that lack of privilege is something that is an everyday occurrence. He also points out that there are negative consequences of privilege that apply even those from privileged groups. Now, there are issues with seeking to define every action or lack thereof as oppressive -- seeking to reinforce privilege even unknowingly -- this is as loaded as any such actions themselves. But the point Johnson is making is that privilege is everywhere. While privilege is about power and resources, the way it manifests itself may have nothing to do with those things. The ways in which privilege manifests are ingrained in culture on so many levels. When little things are put together, they add up to cultural reinforced of the prevailing systems of privilege. We don't do things specifically to reinforce anything -- we do them "just because" -- but they add up. I am presuming that beyond this chapter these arguments are woven into an action plan for re-building society. Johnson certainly wants that to happen when he says that the wounding must stop before healing starts.
It is that section that has significant impact on me. Johnson provides examples such as male fear of aggression or fear of showing emotion; of using derogatory language for homosexuals to emasculate straight men. He also shows how privilege manifests itself negatively in organizations, again something to which I can relate, as we can see how in business good people sometimes fail to excel, in part because they are unable to truly learn from others. It's probably an effective rhetorical tactic to discuss how males do this to each other, because that is certainly an audience that Johnson wants to reach, and it is easier to identify with both sides when he makes points about how we interact with each other. When you have a better sense of how privilege works, it becomes easier to identify it.
About chapter four, what I would ask Johnson is where one draws the line? In this chapter he provides numerous examples of how language and behavior that is privilege-loaded contributes to negative outcomes for all people. This raises the question of what a world would look like without any privilege, or classification at all. I realize that Johnson is not seeking necessary to answer question, but the fact that is it so difficult to answer, I think, shows how much privilege is embedded in our society. We have trouble conceiving a world without it. I would love to hear Dr. Johnson's take on what such a world would look like, and what it might be like to exist in that world.
Chapter 5: This chapter outlines some of the issues in dealing with privilege. Some of the reasons why those with privilege are disinterested in the subject are given, how there is very little sense of ownership of the problem. One of the themes Johnson repeats frequently in this book is that the problem of privilege is everybody's problem, yet he notes that nobody really seems to want to do anything about it. We all have our own reasons, and Johnson outlines some of them here. Those with higher levels of privilege may not really know the issue exists in the first place -- those with lower levels might be aware of it but not be aware of a common framework for discussion. Also, it is hard to take a societal problem and make it personal. Not only is there a sense that one person is not responsible for the creation of the problem but there is also the sense that one person cannot really do anything about the problem. It is hard to see how the individual snowflake turns into an avalanche when you are just another snowflake. We relate only to those immediately around us, and therefore we have a more difficult time sorting out what exactly we can do about a societal issue. This sense of powerless can paralyze even the most sympathetic person.
One part that I see from my own life -- and it is interesting to me because it doesn't relate to any of the -- isms that Johnson normally discuses -- is about middle-class people ignoring homeless people. This actually raises an interesting question about the concept of the book in general. I relate to this because I see it -- most people do not give to beggars and I don't either. Yet, there is no -- ism attached to homeless people. They are simply an underclass. (Note that I strongly disagree with the comment that was made that suggests racism, classism or ablism. That shows a lack of understanding of homelessness. Homelessness is not a race problem. Homeless people come from all walks of life -- some were once wealthy as anybody else. And many have no disabilities. Like I said, there is no -- ism for homelessness, but the visibly homeless do face reactions equivalent to -- isms.)
What I would ask Johnson therefore is how his theories extend out beyond the basic -- isms. If we think back to the diversity wheel even then homelessness is not included. Does the issue of privilege relate solely to phenotypes? Are there not, I would ask, forms of privilege for just about any human trait? We've talked about visible traits or social status…