Privilege, Power, and Difference by Allan G. Johnson

Usually, I would not be too thrilled to read another book that labels me (the white, male, heterosexual, non-disabled) as the problem with American oppression today.  Johnson’s book was different.  Yeah, I was still labeled as the one with the most privilege, but Johnson show how everyone intentionally and unintentionally contribute to the problem of privilege and oppression.

Johnson has an interesting way of using culturally charged verbiage to get the reader fired up.  Take for example this passage from Johnson,

“But the truth is that my silence, my inaction, and especially my passive acceptance of the everyday privilege that goes along with group membership are all it takes to make me just as much a part of the problem as any member of the Klan” (Pg. 118).

What a bold statement!  Does are silence, inaction and passiveness really make us as bad as the Klan?  As I walked over to pick up the book from chucking it across the room, I realized Johnson may have a point.  If I don’t do something about the oppression of groups (racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, etc.), no matter how insignificant it may be at the moment, it can make a difference.  As Johnson puts it,

“As I shift the patterns of my own participation in systems of privilege, I make it easier for others to do so as well, and harder for them not to.  Simply by setting an example- rather than trying to change them- I create the possibility of their participating in change in their own time and in their own way” (Pg. 134).

This is a profound way to bring about change.  Most short term attempts to change have been that of coercion by guilt or advantaged populations donating money or time to the disadvantaged populations so they get the good feeling for “helping”.  This has only been temporary bandages to the problem of privilege and oppression.   In Johnson’s view, we need to bring change to the system that supports this problem by not playing it’s game.

This can be as easy as not laughing at a joke about women.  Standing up for a black man that is not getting fair service in a restaurant.  Or telling your friends that it is not okay to make hurtful comments to a homosexual.

All these changes maybe difficult because the system of privilege and oppression runs deep in our society.  But Gandhi sums it up well when he says,

“nothing we do as individuals matters but it’s vitally important to do it anyway”

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