Confessions of Privilege and the Re-constitution of Whiteness
Over the last several decades, an approach to critical scholarship and social justice activism has emerged that seeks to interrogate unmarked sites of privilege and power; including whiteness, masculinity and heterosexuality. Some have referred to this turn as the 'politics of privilege'. The growth of whiteness- and masculinity-studies is emblematic of this turn, as is the emphasis on practices of self-reflexivity and the confessing of privilege. This paper seeks to discuss the shortcomings of the politics of privilege in the context of whiteness studies and anti-racist activism, and to reflect on the limits to self-reflexivity as an academic practice and strategy for social and political change. While the politics of privilege is certainly not without merit, this paper argues that they nevertheless serve to reinstall white supremacy and racism in the following ways: 1) by constituting the white subject as the one that is capable of self-reflexivity, while simultaneously positioning the racialized subject as the 'raw-material' for this reflexivity, 2) by (re-)centring conversations about race and racism on the agency of white people, 3) by fixing racialized subjects in a posture of complaint consistent with the so-called 'politics of recognition', and 4) through what Sara Ahmed calls the 'fantasy of transcendence' whereby white people, by declaring an awareness of racism, attempts to position themselves as being immune to its effects. Ultimately then, this papers calls into question the transformative potential of 'good intentions' and underscores the importance of structural change and concrete action.
Politics of privilege