Defining Whiteness and the Dominance of White Culture and Privilege

This article was written by Carol Battle for



While America asserts itself as a “melting pot,” it is apparent that a culture Whiteness is considered the norm. According to author and activist Glenn Singleton, “Conversations about race often prove difficult, and shining a light on White as a color, culture, and consciousness is the most challenging aspect of these interactions. Not only does White define the dominant race, but also it represents the standard by which our racial awareness, experiences, and perspectives are judged.” The world through White lenses becomes the “norm” and all other experiences become additive and often judged as less than. Consider classroom curriculum. Eurocentric history, leaders, authors and artists are at the center of what all students are taught and is seen as the norm of what is deemed worthy of learning. An additive approach spearheaded by cultural celebrations and isolated units of study makes any material featuring non-Whites an additive rather than included as part of a student's learning. Singleton argues that white privilege is an invisible package of unearned assets about which you were meant to remain oblivious. Peggy McIntosh, activist and scholar, adds to the idea of the Invisible Knapsack of White Privilege by comparing it to work in Women’s Studies. In the same way men are often unable to see how the oppression of women helps them, Whites are often unable to see how the oppression of people of color gives them advantages.  McIntosh relates the idea that many are taught that racism puts some at a disadvantage but are not taught that others benefit from it. She adds that Whites are taught they are neutral and that all should be like them because it is their lives that are normalized. McIntosh lists daily conditions that Whites can count on that most people of color cannot, such as local stores carrying hair care products and greeting cards with people who look like you to choose from. She further argues that White people are on their own turf which confers dominance and unearned power vs. earned strength. McIntosh concludes by stating that we need to work to spread the positive advantages and reject negative types of advantage in order to tear down the current hierarchy. 

Further, we need to acknowledge these invisible systems of dominance and reconstruct them with a broader base. Whites are taught what racism is but do not see what role they play even if they are not actively doing something to someone. By design, when racial events occur, White privilege allows White people to see these as incidents where people of color see the historical racial dimensions or its future applications. 

Singleton argues that Whiteness needs to be spoken about directly and candidly. Educators must acknowledge White to be a race in order to see its full impact on education and students. All students need to see all people in a variety of roles so true multicultural representation occurs and is normalized. We must recognize that Whiteness is presented as the social, political and economic yardstick and that the standard of beauty, intelligence and moral correctness all stems from Whiteness. It also needs to be recognized that Whiteness is not limited to terror and blatant White Supremacy, but is  displayed in color inferiority and unspoken low expectations. Anger, guilt and shame needs to be replaced with White people listening to people of color and indigenous people describe ways in which Whiteness affects them and engage in self-assessment. In recognizing that Whiteness is the dominant culture and dominates the American school system, it's possible to acknowledge and understand Whiteness and see the ways in which White culture subordinates other cultures.

Finally, teachers teach their own personal culture first, and since 80% of teachers are White, Whiteness pervades our classrooms. Educators need to realize, non-whites have an added, “exhausting daily anxiety, worry, fear, and anger,” that exists due to White privilege and that we must all be actively anti-racist in order to create systematic change. 


White privilege is the inherent advantages possessed by a white person on the basis of their race in a society characterized by racial inequality and injustice.


Having white privilege does not mean that your life isn't difficult. It just means that your race isn't one of the things making it difficult.

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What is white privilege and how does it affect people of color?

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Why is it important for whiteness and white privilege to be spoken about?

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Further Reading


Talking About Race: Whiteness


White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh

 Courageous Conversations About Race: A Field Guide to Equity in Schools by Glenn E. Singleton

Jane Elliot's Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes Experiment