Progressives believe the melding of different nationalities, cultures, and ethnicities in America to create a harmonious, colorblind society is oppressive because it obscures an understanding of racial inequities and social injustices.1
Progressives view white Americans as a uniquely privileged group that unfairly dominates society, that generates the most wealth, and is more influential and powerful than non-white Americans. As such, progressives see people of color as disadvantaged, marginalized, and oppressed.
Progressives blame white Americans for nearly every ill suffered by non-white Americans. “White-dominated institutions restrict the life expectancy, infant mortality, income, housing, employment, and educational opportunities of people of color,” according to authors of a popular publication on social justice.2
To redress these inequities, progressives separate Americans into groups based on their skin color, gender, sexual orientation, income, etc. It’s incumbent on each group, according to progressives, to fight the unjust inequities in society so they can become equally privileged.
The overall goal of progressives is to invert the “power hierarchy” in America and create a level playing field for everyone by reducing the influence of white Americans, while boosting the power of people of color. In doing so, progressives believe they can create a just society, in which everyone is equally privileged. (Click here for racial equality definitions published by The Kellogg Foundation)
Progressives believe the power, wealth, and opportunities enjoyed by white Americans were not earned but are the result of the color of their skin. As a consequence, the benefits white Americans enjoy are “institutional” and represent a privilege that is unavailable to non-whites.
“White skin privilege is not something that white people necessarily do, create, or enjoy on purpose,” progressive Southern Poverty Law Center asserts. It “is a transparent preference for whiteness that saturates our society” and creates “real advantages” for whites.3
Given this mindset, progressives view meritocracy as an illusion. They believe achievements by white Americans did not result from their hard work and individual effort, but accrued due to their white privilege.
Going a step farther, because white privilege is institutional and unearned, progressives consider it to be a form of racism. Since white Americans intentionally or unintentionally take actions to maintain their status quo and protect their privileges, their actions are racist.4
As explained by progressive Peggy McIntosh, Associate Director at the Wellesley Centers for Women, “whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege” and do not realize they are oppressors. “I did not see myself as a racist because I was taught to recognize racism only in individual acts of meanness by members of my group, never in the invisible systems conferring unsought racial dominance of my group from birth.”5
In other words, racism is not just an act of bigotry, but for progressives also encompasses actions and institutions of white Americans that “protect” their privileged position in society.
Carrying this thought forward, progressives believe only white Americans can be racist because only they are dominant and enjoy power, wealth, and influence. When people of color mistreat or use violence against white Americans to achieve equality and social justice, it’s not considered racism or a hate crime. Rather, such acts are viewed by progressives as natural responses to counter oppression by white Americans.
“Since people of color do not have the institutions to empower their prejudices,” the progressive Education Action Group Foundation explained, “they cannot be racist.”6
Progressives want white Americans to be aware of their institutional, unearned advantages and their social dominance. To make Americans equal and thus achieve social justice, progressives seek to reconfigure America’s “power systems,” reducing privileges for white American while increasing power for non-white Americans.
1) Progressives believe it is a “microagression” when some states “America is a melting pot,” because it denies a person of their color’s racial/ethnic experience, discounts an individual as a racial/cultural being. See Microagression Tip Sheet, http://chronicle.com/items/biz/pdf/Mocroagressons.pdf
2) “Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice,” edited by Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin, Routledge, 2007.
3) “On Racism and White Privilege,” Teaching Tolerance, Southern Poverty Law Center.
4) “Rethinking Environmental Racism: White Privilege and Urban Development in Southern California,” by L. Pulido, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 2000.
5) “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” Peggy McIntosh, 1989.
6) “Re-Creating America,” a video produced by Education Action Group Foundation, EAGNews.org.
7) “Black Congressman Stands by Comment that Charence Thomas is an ‘Uncle Tom’,” Washington Post, April 30, 2014.
8) “Hillary Clinton: ‘We White Americans…Need to Recognize Our Privilege,” NBC News, July 18, 2016.
To not support one’s identity group is viewed by progressives as a betrayal. When Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas chose not to promote his identity group, he was chastised by progressive Rep. Bernie Thompson (D-MS) as an “Uncle Tom.”7
Thompson said Associate Justice “doesn’t like black people, he doesn’t like being black.” In other words, Justice Thomas is not allowed to have his own views and must walk in lockstep with the progressive ideology. To do otherwise means one is a sellout, unauthentic, and a race traitor, an outcast to be disparaged and vilified.
Check Your Privilege
Progressives believe a white American should have to check his/her privilege when interacting with non-white, lesser-privileged individuals. White Americans should be aware of their unearned advantages and how they influence their views.
If a lesser-privileged person believes a statement by a more-privileged person is offensive or insensitive, the lessor-privileged person should ask the latter to “check your privilege.”
Progressives believe checking one’s privilege will help level the playing field and make the world a better place. As explained by Hillary Clinton, “We white Americans need to do a better job of listening when African-Americans talk about the seen and unseen barriers you face every day. We need to recognize our privilege and practice humility, rather than assume our experiences are everyone’s experiences.”8