White privilege

​American academic Peggy McIntosh describes white privilege as an 'unearned package of assets' enjoyed by white people. She argues that in Western societies, whites enjoy advantages that non-whites do not experience.1 White people may not recognise the privileges they have. But the effects can be seen in workplaces, schools, universities, courts, jails and other institutions.

If you are a Pākehā New Zealander, compared to Māori:

  • Your teachers will pay you more attention at school; they will expect you to do well;
  • You are three times more likely to experience fair treatment in the workplace;
  • You will live up to ten years longer;
  • You will receive more effective treatment for cancer and your chances of survival will be greater;
  • If you are depressed you are 22 times more likely to be offered anti-depressants by your GP;
  • Your GP will spend up to two minutes longer with you every appointment;
  • If you are a woman, you are more likely to be offered pain relief during childbirth;
  • If you appear before the courts you are four to five times less likely to be sent to jail.2

New Zealand is multi-cultural, walk down Queen St any given day and you will see the diversity. White privilege, racism and bias is becoming more complex. In New Zealand schools, Asians out-perform all other groups. In the hierarchy of achievement, however, Māori continue to be right at the bottom.

Image: Office of the Auditor General.

It is supposedly Māori parents' fault their children don't do well at school. The whānau doesn't support their children's learning. But the critical relationship is between the teacher and student, this is where most of the learning happens. Māori students receive less positive encouragement from teachers than anyone else.

White privilege and micro-aggressions

Another term that is useful here is 'micro-aggression'. A micro-aggression is a 'brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental indignity, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicates hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of colour.'3

Micro-aggressions can be active (using racist labels like hori or slant-eye) or passive (not pronouncing a person's name properly, ignoring them, rolling the eyes). Micro-aggressions reinforce white privilege.

Image: nortonism.tumblr.com

A couple of weeks ago, I was interviewed for a job by a panel of one Māori and two Pākehā women. The Māori panellist was warm and encouraging, she listened to me attentively, smiled and nodded at my responses. The two white women were cool and stand-offish. They frowned at my responses and scribbled furiously throughout the interview.

Asked what I would bring to the role, I replied strong leadership. This is not a leadership role, they said. But the title is project manager, doesn't that imply leadership? I will be asking you to do quite menial tasks one said, how would you feel about that? I said I've been a public servant for 20 years, I've reported to boards and funders, I understand a chain of command.

I felt very pressured to respond, I wanted everyone to smile and be nice to me. In an out of body experience, I found myself making up answers to the questions. As the porkies became more elaborate, the answers were less convincing. I can see how a Māori teenager being interrogated by the Police could admit to offences they haven't committed.

Before I left the building I asked the assistant to explain to the panel that I had exaggerated my experience. I didn't want to leave feeling guilty, or that I'd given the two panelists more reasons not to like me. I am recovering from this assault of micro-aggressions but even now the question lingers 'why do you hate me?'.

Why do you hate me?

  1. McIntosh, Peggy. "White privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" (PDF). Independent School, Winter90, Vol. 49 Issue 2, p31, 5p
  2. Blank, Anton; Houkamau, Carla; Kingi, Hautahi. "Unconscious bias and education; a comparative study of Māori and African American students." Oranui Press 2016.
  3. https://www.buzzfeed.com/hnigatu/racial-microagressions-you-hear-on-a-daily-basis?utm_term=.ssY7GXve2#.ur2kaWYyG 
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