More about race, privilege, and assumptions—and how they operate

July 26, 2013

Wearing privilege
Earlier this week, one of our Links of the Day featured an essay and video defining white privilege. Today’s link illuminates the concept further.  In a post for Sociological Images, Dr. Jennifer Lee, a sociology professor at the University of California, Irvine, tells of an incident that drove home to her in a new way what racial privilege means. “I have always known about my privilege intellectually, but I felt it keenly last Saturday.” Dr. Lee describes herself as an Asian American female, and her partner, Mike, as a white male.  She tells of their not being regarded as suspicious in any way —even as the two of them were wandering around a vacant condo advertised for rent in an affluent neighborhood. They were dressed exactly as Trayvon Martin had been when he was followed and then killed by George Zimmerman.  Dr. Lee writes:  “Mike and I don’t have to wear our class in order to obviate being treated like threats or criminals; we can wear hoodies and board shorts without worrying that others will be suspicious, fearful, or make assumptions about our class status. Just being ‘not black’ affords us the benefit of the doubt.” She goes on to say that we “would like to believe that we don’t make assumptions based on race or gender, but evidence proves otherwise. . . .”  She points to a social experiment (from the ABC hidden-camera program, What Would You Do?”) in which three separate scenes show different individuals (a white male, a black male, and a white woman) each trying to steal a bicycle.  Note the different assumptions operating as passersby observe them.  Also, take time to watch the other brief video included with Dr. Lee’s essay.  It’s from Howard University and is called, “Do I Look Suspicious?”

Letha Dawson Scanzoni
Letha Dawson Scanzoni (1935-2024) was an independent scholar, writer, and editor, and the author or coauthor of nine books. In 1978, she and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott wrote Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?, one of the earliest books urging evangelical Christians to rethink their views on homosexuality (updated edition, 1994, HarperOne). More recently, Letha coauthored (with social psychologist David G. Myers) What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage (HarperOne, 2005 and 2006). Another of Letha’s most well-known books is All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today, coauthored with Nancy A. Hardesty (Word Books, 1974; revised edition, Abingdon, 1986; updated and expanded edition, Eerdmans, 1992). Letha served as editor of Christian Feminism Today in both its former print edition (EEWC Update) and its website for 19 years until her retirement in December 2013.