White privilege discussion a step towards change

The crippling presence of white privilege is so normal in Canadian society that most people don’t even realize it exists, says Tamari Kitossa, associate professor of sociology at Brock University.

“White people believe that whatever privileges and access they have, it’s a function of their efforts and hard labour and not that there’s a system supporting their access and their privileges,” says Kitossa.

The Brock scholar will join a host of international experts examining these issues at a landmark conference this fall. The White Privilege Symposium will be held for the first time in Canada when it takes place Sept. 30-Oct 1 at Brock.

Kitossa says ignorance and naiveté about race is often a direct result of white privilege, a system of inequality that gives white individuals access to resources and supports while others are excluded. But white privilege is so ingrained in western culture that, even when it is discussed, it is often dismissed.

Race is not a problem for the oppressed, it’s a problem for people who created and benefit from it.

“When people make complaints, it’s presumed that they are either not working hard enough or that they are finding something to complain about,” he says. “That’s one of the privileges of whiteness, that whites never have to look at themselves.”

One of Brock’s leading experts on race and its role in society, Kitossa will lead a workshop during the conference using his research into how the African body is represented as threatening and ways in which European culture exploit that.

“The reality of it is, race is a significant problem in Canada to the extent that Canada is a white-dominated, colonial place and all of our institutions, all of the popular culture, seek to reproduce white innocence and whiteness,” the professor says.

“We have to recognize this is a problem that won’t go away. Race is not a problem for the oppressed, it’s a problem for people who created and benefit from it.”

Kitossa says the symposium is an important step on the road to equity. He said engaging in conversation about white privilege will help develop a language around it so it can be challenged and countered.

“The ultimate goal is to change the culture,” he says.

The timing of the symposium is important as debate rages in the United States about race, policing, Donald Trump and political correctness. He points to Trump’s assertion that he can’t speak freely because people are trying to censor him, in particular when talking about crime in America. Kitossa says Trump is using coded language that comes from a place of white privilege.

“Trump is talking about crime in the streets. Well, who does crime in the streets signify? Blackness – African Americans. Definitely not white people,” he explains.

He says decoding that type of language is an important aspect of the symposium.

Brock’s location in an area with strong ties to the Underground Railroad is fitting for the symposium’s first time being held in Canada. He noted that Brock’s experience with black face incidents – one of the catalysts for the Task Force on Racial Climate to bring the conference here – shows a need to address racism on campus.

“It’s support for this conference is sending a positive signal that the University community itself is ready and willing to engage this difficult conversation,” Kitossa says.


What: White Privilege Symposium

When: Sept. 30-Oct. 1, 2016

Where: Brock University

Register: Visit https://brocku.ca/racial-climate/wpsc/ for more information

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