You are on page 1of 9

Privilege: Expanding on Marilyn Frye's Oppression

1. Frye's Structural Analysis of Oppression

105

Privilege: Expanding on Marilyn Frye's "Oppression" Alison Bailey


Marilyn Frye's "Oppression" (1983) is essential reading in most courses with political and feminist content. One of the merits of her essay is the way in which examples such as men opening doors for women, metaphors that equate oppression with a double-binds, and birdcage-like social structures get tied to the meaning of oppression. Anyone who teaches this essay knows how difficult it is to get students initially to understand how Frye uses the term 'oppression' to refer to systems. Each time I teach this essay I try to move the conversation one step further to make connections between oppression and privilege so that, in Frye's words, these terms do not get "stretched to meaninglessness" (1983, 1). Yet when I suggest that the oppression of people of color is systematically held in place by white privilege, or that women's subordination makes male privilege possible, or that homophobia holds heterosexual privilege in place, students who otherwise embrace Frye's analysis become reluctant to extend it to cover their own unearned advantages. To my surprise, conversations about what it means to have privilege are met with responses parallel to those Frye mentions at the beginning of her essay "Blacks and other minorities are privileged too; they get athletic scholarships and affirmative action benefits," my students say Or, "women are privileged too; they don't have to register for the selective service and men pay for their dinner on dates." Or, "gays and lesbians are privileged; current city ordinances for domestic partnership give them special rights." If students really do understand oppression as the product of systematically related barriers and forces not of one's own making, then why do they abandon Frye's analysis when I raise issues of privilege to explain how the oppression of one group can be used to generate privilege for another? It would appear that they have not understood the structural features of oppression well enough to grasp how their use of "privilege" to describe mere advantages, such as having someone pay for your dinner, puts the term "privilege" in danger of being stretched to meaninglessness. I've come to conclude that any understanding of oppression is incomplete without recognition of the role privilege plays in maintaining systems of domination. This essay continues the conversation Frye began in a way that makes connections between oppression and privilege. It is my hope that by providing a parallel account of privilege in general-and white, heterosexual, male privilege in particular-I can extend Frye's analysis to clarify the political dimensions of privilege.

In her careful analysis of oppression, Marilyn Frye argues that one of the reasons people fail to see oppression is that they focus on particular events, attitudes, and actions that strike them as harmful, but they do not place these incidents in the context of historical, social, and political systems. According to Frye, members of oppressed groups commonly experience "double-binds," that is, they are faced daily with situations in which their options are reduced to a very few, all of which expose them to penalty censure, or deprivation1 (1983, 2). These binds are created and shaped by forces and barriers which are neither accidental nor avoidable, but are systematically related to each other in ways that confine individuals to the extent that movement in any direction is penalized. To make visible the systemic character of the barriers shaping the double-bind Frye uses the metaphor of a birdcage. [Oppression is] the experience of being caged in.... Consider a birdcage. If you look very closely at just one wire, you cannot see the other wires. If your conception of what is before you is determined by this myopic focus, you could look at that one wire, up and down the length of it, and be unable to see why a bird would not just fly around the wire ... it is only when you step back, stop looking at the wires one by one, microscopically, and take a macroscopic view of the whole cage, that you can see why the bird does not go anywhere; and then you will see it in a moment. (1983,5-6) Ignoring the systemic and interlocking nature of what I call complex systems of domination (e.g., racism, ableism, sexism, anti-Semitism, or homophobia) has misleading consequences. When the effects of sexism, for example, are not understood macroscopically as the products of systemic injustices, they are understood microscopically as the exclusive problems of particular women who have made bad choices, have poor attitudes, are too sensitive, or who are overreacting to a random incident. Failure to examine sexism, homophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism as harms produced by systematically related forces and barriers blurs the distinction between harm and oppression. For oppression to be useful as a concept, Frye argues, the differences between harm and oppression need to be sharpened. All persons who are oppressed are in some way harmed, but not all persons who are harmed are oppressed. Men who cannot cry in public or whites who are ineligible for minority loan programs may feel harmed by these restrictions, but they are not oppressed. The gender roles which make public tearfulness inappropriate for men are unfair and may indeed be harmful to men's emotional well-being, but there is no network of forces or barriers which says both crying and not crying are unacceptable and that to do either is to expose oneself to "penalty, censure or deprivation" (1983, 2). Similarly, whites

JOURNAL of SOCIAL PHILOSOPHY, Vol. 29 No. 3, Winter 1998, 104-119 1998 Journal of Social Philosophy

Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1334782

106

Alison Bailey

Privilege: Expanding on Marilyn Frye's Oppression

107

who are ineligible for loan programs designated for racial or ethnic minority applicants are only oppressed if there are no other reasonable means of securing a loan open to them. If whites are eligible for a variety of existing loan options, having one avenue closed to them may feel unfair, but it does not mean they are oppressed in Frye's sense of the word. Whites who find options for financing their education severely limited may be oppressed by their class, but not by their race. There is nothing in these cases to suggest racial barriers or forces that leave loanseeking whites optionless. Since oppression is a structural phenomenon that devalues the work, experiences, and voices of members of marginalized social groups, it might be said that oppression is experienced by persons because they are members of particular social groups. In the language of Frye's cage metaphor: "The 'inhabitant' of the 'cage' is not an individual but a group.... Thus, to recognize a person as oppressed, one has to see that individual as belonging to a group of a certain sort" (1983, 8). Before turning to my analysis of the concept of privilege, I wish to make two important comments regarding Frye's observations about group membership and its role in systems of oppression. First, because individuals are rarely members of one community, oppression is not a unified phenomenon. Group differences in race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, or class cut across individual lives to the point that privilege and oppression are often experienced simultaneously The felt experience of oppression of a working-class white woman, for example, will be different than the felt oppression experienced by a middle-class African American male. Because of the complexity of these intersections, Iris Young argues that to be oppressed persons must experience at least one or a combination of as many as five conditions: economic exploitation, social/cultural marginalization, political powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence (1990, 48-63). The double-bind may be a characteristic of an individual's experiences of oppression, but it is not the defining feature, Both Frye and Young, I think, would argue that the strength of the bind depends upon which of these oppressive conditions are present in a person's life, how many conditions are present, how long they are present, and whether the individual is privileged in ways that might weaken or mediate the binds. Next, to say that women are oppressed as members of the group women, or that lesbians are oppressed as lesbians, or that African Americans, Cherokees, or Chicano/as are oppressed as members of particular racial-ethnic group suggests that sexism, heterosexism, and racism require identifiable sexes, sexual orientations, and racial-ethnic groups. Yet to understand how oppression is experienced by these marginalized groups, it is not necessary for social groups to have fixed boundaries. In fact understanding the systemic nature of oppression requires just the opposite: it requires that one understand how the lack of a rigid definition of social groups is part of complex systems of domination. One of the features of privilege is the ability of dominant groups to construct, define, and control the construction of categories. In the United States, for example, the invention of the category

"white" illustrates how systems of oppression are held in place by purposely unstable racial categories. The word "white" began appearing in legal documents around 1680 as a direct result of legislation enforcing the hereditary bond servitude of Negroes, antimiscegenation laws, and new antiNegro attitudes. In time, the idea of a homogeneous "white" race was adopted as a political means of generating cohesion among European explorers, traders, migrants, and settlers of eighteenth-century North America. The borders constructed between races have never been static. Racial borders are well guarded but intentionally porous: the political nature racial classification requires that these borders be redrawn as patterns of immigration challenge them and new candidates for whiteness arise. Racial designations, then, historically shift to preserve power and privilege of those who have the authority to define who counts as white. 2. The View From Outside of the Birdcage: Privilege and Earned Advantages When I argue that members of dominant groups-men, whites, heterosexuals, or the wealthy-have privilege by virtue of their being members of particular social groups, I do not mean "privilege," as Joel Feinberg defines it, in its philosophical broad juridical sense as synonymous with mere liberties or the absence of duty.2 In this sense to say that person P is privileged or at liberty to do action A means that P has no duty to refrain from doing A, To say that I am privileged or at liberty to take a job in Seattle means that I have no obligations to refrain from taking a job in Seattle. Although privilege, in the sense I will be using the word, does imply a greater freedom of movement and choice, there is nothing about belonging to a group such as whites or men that would imply that one does or does not have duty to refrain from choosing to move to Seattle. Neither am I using privilege in the sense of a legal benefit that is not a right. Privilege in this sense offers valuable benefits granted to persons or organizations by institutions (e.g., the state of Illinois, the federal government, or the Catholic Church) at the discretion of those institutions. Having a driver's license, being a naturalized citizen, or holding public office are common examples of privilege in this sense. Because my driving or voting privilege may be revoked at any time, say, for speeding or treason, the privileges to drive or to vote count as mere privileges; the state does not have a duty to grant these to me. I have neither a prior right to get a license nor a right to retain it once I pass the examination. While legal structures have historically played a role in holding heterosexual privilege, male privilege, or white privilege in place, privilege in this sense is not captured by legal language. My interest is in a narrower sense of privilege as unearned assets conferred systematically. My aim is to fashion a distinction between privilege and advantages that parallels Frye's distinction between oppression and harm. Just as all oppression counts as harm, but not all harms count as

Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1334782

108 Alison Bailey


oppression, I want to suggest that all privilege is advantageous, but that not all advantages count as privilege. Like the difference between harms and oppression, the difference between advantages and privilege has to do with the systematically conferred nature of these unearned assets. If we want to determine whether a particular harm qualifies as oppression, Frye argues that we have to look at that harm in context (macroscopically) to see what role, if any, it plays in an maintaining a structure that is oppressive. Likewise, if we want to determine whether a particular advantage qualifies as a privilege, we need to look at that advantage macroscopically in order to observe whether it plays a role in keeping complex systems of domination in place. We need to know if the advantage enables members of privileged groups to avoid the structured system of forces and barriers which serve to immobilize members of marginalized groups. I am interested in providing an account of privilege and advantages that further clarifies Peggy McIntosh's distinction between "earned strength" and "unearned power conferred systematically" As McIntosh argues: Power from unearned privilege can look like strength when it is, in fact, permission to escape or to dominate. But not all privileges... are inevitably damaging. Some, like the expectation that neighbors will be decent to you, or that your race will not count against you in court, should be the norm in a just society and should be considered as the entitlement of everyone. Others, like the privilege not to listen to less powerful people, distort the humanity of the holders as well as the ignored groups. Still others, like finding one's staple foods everywhere may be a function of a numerical majority. Others have to do with not having to labor under pervasive negative stereotyping and mythology. (1991, 78) McIntosh's explanation suggests that strength is something necessarily earned and that power is something unearned. She explains that the power of unearned privilege can appear as strength, when in reality it is just permission to escape or to dominate. And later, she says that privilege may confer power, but not moral strength. McIntosh's distinction between strength and power puzzles me. Her point can be stated more simply by distinguishing between two kinds of assets: (unearned) privilege and earned advantages. The general distinction I will make between privilege and earned advantages begins with an etymology of privilege and rests on four related claims: (1) benefits granted by privilege are always unearned and conferred systematically to members of dominant social groups; (2) privilege granted to members of dominant groups simply because they are members of these groups is almost never justifiable; (3) most privilege is invisible to, or not recognized as such, by those who have it; and, (4) privilege has an unconditional "wild card" quality that extends benefits to cover a wide variety of circumstances and conditions. To understand how the benefits granted by privilege are always un-

Privilege: Expanding on Marilyn Frye's Oppression

109

earned and conferred systematically to members of dominant social groups, privilege must first be understood as a class of advantages. The words "advantage" and "advance" have a common Latin root-abante meaning "in front of" or "before." To possess any kind of advantage is to have a skill, talent, asset, or condition acquired-either by accident of birth or by intentional cultivation-that allows a person or a group to rise to a higher rank, to bring themselves forward, to lift themselves up, or otherwise to make progress. Privilege, in the sense that I will be using the word, is by definition advantageous, but not all advantages count as privilege. Advantages that are not privilege I will call earned advantages. Earned advantages are strengths which refer to any earned condition, skill, asset, or talent that benefits its possessor and which under restricted conditions helps to advance that person. Earned advantages include things such as being awarded extra frequent flyer miles, learning a second language, working hard so that you afford to live in a neighborhood with a good school system, or dutifully attending athletic practice in order to be eligible for a volleyball scholarship. The difference between earned advantages and privilege is not hard and fast; but I want to hang onto the distinction in a way that recognizes how privilege and earned advantages do not operate independently from one another, and at the same time highlight the connections between them. So, the distinction between privilege and advantages becomes less clear when it is challenged by cases where, for example class oppression diminishes the currency of white or male privilege. Consider the role privilege plays in one's ability to get good work, to afford to fly, to buy a house, or to rent an apartment. To earn frequent flyer miles, for instance, assumes that one can afford to fly Regardless of race, the homeless have few, if any, chances to take advantage of opportunities to earn frequent flyer miles. Working long hours so you can afford to buy a house in a good neighborhood also assumes that you are able to get a high-paying job, that real estate agents will show you houses in the "good parts of town," and that the owners of those houses will sell to you. Regardless of economic class, practices like redlining commonly keep fan-Lilies of color that can afford to live in middle or upper-class suburbs from purchasing real estate and moving into those areas. In addition, malicious stereotypes of African Americans or Puerto Ricans as lazy, dirty, or untrustworthy, or stereotypes of gays and lesbians as pedophiles, promiscuous, or diseased also discourage landowners from renting to these individuals even if they are good tenants. The distinction between privilege and advantage is also blurred by in stances where, for example, class, race, or heterosexual oppression are temporarily transcended or overlooked. I have in mind here the gay community leader or the working-class philanthropist who, by virtue of outstanding community service, earns a good reputation in the community and is granted the status and authority commonly associated with heterosexual or class privilege. Or the African American who has elevated her economic status to the point where she is granted privileges commonly associated

110 Alison Bailey


with well-to-do whites. In these cases members of dominant groups are often willing to make exceptions for certain individuals because of their economic success, community visibility, or civic reputation. There are also instances where closeted gays or light-skinned Latinas and African Americans are granted privileges because they can pass as straight or white. Perhaps the point here is not that earned advantages and privilege are necessarily distinct, but rather that some advantages are more easily earned if they are accompanied by gender, heterosexual, race, or class privilege. Privilege and earned advantages are connected in the sense that privilege places one in a better position to earn more advantages. The link between earned advantages and unearned privilege generates a situation in which privileged groups can earn assets (e.g., control of resources, skills, a quality education, the attention of the mayor, a good reputation, a prestigious well paying job, political power, or a safe place to live) more easily and more frequently than those who don't have white, male, heterosexual, or economic privilege. Failure to recognize the differences between earned and unearned assets allows privileged groups to interpret all privilege on the same footing as earned advantages. Ann Richards' insightful remark, "George Bush was born on third base, and to this day he believes he hit a triple," is a telling illustration of the failure to make this distinction .3 The cases of the black entrepreneur, the working-class activist, or the gay community leader weaken the tie between privilege and birth. Privilege also helps to move a person forward, but unlike the advantages described above, privilege is granted and birth is the easiest way of being granted privilege. In this sense, for a person to have privilege is to be granted benefits automatically by virtue of their perceived or actual class, sex, race or sexual status that others not of that status have had to earn. Suffrage, for example, was initially granted to white property-owning males; white women and emancipated Negroes, Native Americans, and immigrants had to struggle to earn this privilege. Marriage is also a highly regulated privilege which is granted exclusively to heterosexual couples. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual couples are currently struggling to secure this privilege in ways similar to Mildred Jeter Loving and her husband, Richard, who struggled to have their interracial marriage recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia in the early 1960s. Being granted the privilege to marry because you are heterosexual, or the privilege to vote because you own land, are male, or are white, then, is unearned in the same way that having a friend or relative who will work on your car for nothing, or having goodnatured and caring neighbors is unearned; they both seem to be largely a matter of luck. In spite of their significant differences the words privilege and advantage are used interchangeably. For this reason I want to be clear about how my use of privilege-as unearned advantages or assets conferred systematically differs from standard philosophical and conversational usage. Like McIntosh, I recognize and am disturbed by the misleading ordinary language connotations of privilege as something positive. The privilege that gives some people the freedom to be thoughtless at best, and mur-

Privilege: Expanding on Marilyn Frye's Oppression

111

derous at worst should not be thought of as desirable (1988, 77). The etymology of the word "privilege" helps to clarify my use of privilege as unearned advantages conferred systematically. "Privilege" itself is derived from the Latin privilegium, a law or bill in favor of or against an individual, from priv-us, meaning private, individual, or peculiar, and from lex, or law. So, privilege literally means private or individual law.4 As one legal definition holds: "Privileges are special rights belonging to the individual or class, and not to the mass."5 The etymological roots of privilege as private law or special rights reveals the worrisome nature of privilege. Historically, to have a privilege meant to have a right or immunity granting a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor, such as a right or an immunity attached to a particular position or office. The exemption of ambassadors and members of Congress from arrest while going to, returning from, or attending to their public duties is an example of this. Here, having privilege means that holder of particular offices such as queen, police officer, senator, judge, parliamentarian, or bishop are either exempt from the usual operations of public law or accountable to a less formal set of private laws (sometimes of their own making) or both. In this sense to have a privilege means that a particular individual, like the president of the United States, or a specific group, say members of the Senate, are exempt from particular burdens or liabilities o public law (e.g., having to pay their parking tickets); their activities are governed by an individual or private set of immunity-granting rules. If the contemporary connotations of privilege strike us as too positive, then sure1 the denotations reveal the disturbing origins of this term. Second, since exemptions and benefits of offices are sometimes understood as arbitrary favoritism, privilege in this sense has pejorative connotations; but it could be argued that some exemptions, and thus some privilege, is justified. For example, it is reasonable to grant ambulance drivers immunity from speeding laws, since emergency care re quires getting to the hospital as quickly as possible. In this sense paramedics maybe said to have special rights in the sense that they are granter temporary immunity from speeding laws while they are on duty. The extension of privilege to particular practices such as ambulance driving which enable emergency care to continue efficiently, are generally regarded as justifiable. However, by most standards of fairness it is not justifiable to grant immunities to persons simply because they are perceived to be white, heterosexual, or male. Laws granting immunities to individuals because they are perceived to be members of dominant groups, if they can be justified at all, certainly ought not to be justified on the grounds that these private laws are needed for members of dominant racial or economic groups to move through the world safely at the expense of others. Dominant group privilege is a particular class of unearned benefits an immunities enjoyed by individuals who, by moral luck, belong to groups with race, heterosexual, gender, or class privilege. I refer to groups such men, whites, and heterosexuals as dominant not because of their numbers,

112 Alison Bailey


but by virtue of the fact that historically their lives and experiences define the standards for what is deemed valuable or "normal." Dominant group privileges can, as I have argued, also be extended to individuals outside of these groups. Dominant group privilege is established partly through legislation and public policy but also through informal and subtle expressions of speech bodily reactions and gestures, malicious stereotypes, aesthetic 'judgments, and media images. In this way privilege is systematically created and culturally reinforced. My third point is that one of the functions of privilege is to structure the world so that mechanisms of privilege are invisible-in the sense that they are unexamined-to those who benefit from them. What Frye's birdcage metaphor does for oppression, Peggy McIntosh's invisible knapsack and Jona Olsson's computer metaphor do for privilege.6 The systemic and unexamined nature of what it means to have dominant group privilege is made clearer by McIntosh's metaphor of the "invisible knapsack." White privilege, she argues:
[is] an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was "meant" to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, code books, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks. (1988, 71)

Privilege: Expanding on Marilyn Frye's Oppression

113

It is worth highlighting some of the common examples of privilege in this sense. Briefly white privilege includes: I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular material that testifies to the existence of their race. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group. I can dress any way I want and not have my appearance explained by the perceived tastes of my race. Whether I use checks, credit cards, or cash I can be fairly sure that my skin color will not count against the appearance of my financial reliability. In most instances I can be assured of having the public trust. (1991, 78)

The structural nature of privilege is made visible by Jona Olsson, who compares privilege to having a very user-friendly word processing program. When I open up a new document in this program, the font, margins, page length, type-point size, spacing, and footnote style are set in a commonly accepted format for me. I do not have to do anything: this preset style is the default mode. I expect this service when I open up a new document, so much so that I take the professional shape and appearance of my document for granted. The structured invisibility of the word processing program insures that the flawless professional presentation of my documents will be attributed to my own talents and individual merits, rather than to my software. Privilege offers a default mode not unlike the default position on my word processing program. White, male, and heterosexual privilege are default positions. Either I can choose to be aware of these default positions or I can ignore them and decide to experiment with new fonts, margins, or document styles. If I become unhappy or frustrated with these new modes, I can always go back to the default positions. Like the default mode on a word processing program, the bars on the birdcage are especially difficult to see from outside of the cage. The structured invisibility of privilege insures that a person's individual accomplishments will be recognized more on the basis of individual merit than on the basis of group membership.7 Redirecting attention away from the unearned nature of privilege and toward individual merit allows persons born on third base to believe sincerely that they hit a triple. In fact, the maintenance of heterosexual, white, or male privilege as positions of structural advantage lie largely in the silence surrounding the mechanisms of privilege. For persons situated inside the borders of privilege, the privilege associated with being white, male, wealthy, or heterosexual is difficult to name, yet for those situated outside of these borders, the benefits of privilege are seen all too clearly.8 White, heterosexual, or male survival do not depend upon an awareness of default positions and invisible knapsacks, so whites are not encouraged to recognize or acknowledge the effects of racialization on white lives, men have difficulty seeing the effects of sexism on women's lives, and heterosexuals rarely understand the impact of homophobia on gay, bisexual, and lesbian communities. Reflecting on the racial heterogeneity within her own family, for example, Cherrie Moraga uncomfortably acknowledges that her giiera (light-skinned) appearance is something she can use to her advantage in a wide variety of difficult situations. Then [my friend] Tavo says to me, "you see at any time [you] decide to use your light skinned privilege [you] can." I say, "uh huh. Uh huh." He says, "You can decide that you are suddenly no Chicana." That I can't say, but once my light skin and good English saved my lover from arrest. And I'd use it again. I'd use it to the hilt over and over to save our skins.

Heterosexual privileges include: Being able to publicly show affection for one's partner without fear of public harm or hostility. Being assured that most people will approve of one's relationship. Not having to self-censor gender pronouns when talking about one's partner.

114 Alison Bailey


"You get to choose." Now I want to shove those words right back into his face. You call this a choice! To constantly push against a wall of resistance from your own people or to fall nameless into the mainstream of this country, running with our common blood?9

Privilege: Expanding on Marilyn Frye's Oppression

115

3. Positive and Negative Dimensions of White Privilege

The invisibility of the default position here means that whites are rarely aware of the times light skin and/or clear English benefits us. Since whites rarely examine their privilege, we rarely perceive the barriers and hassles faced by those who appear to others as "nonwhite." The final claim I want to make is that privilege facilitates one's movement through the world in a way that earned advantages do not. The systemic nature of privilege gives it a wild card quality, which means that privilege has a broader currency than earned advantages. Most earned advantages will advance a person under limited conditions. For example, frequent flyer miles are only an advantage if I need to travel, living in a neighborhood with a good school system is only an asset if I have children, and being bilingual is only beneficial to me if I live in or travel to communities where speaking two languages facilitates my daily activities. Unlike earned advantages, playing the privilege card (e.g., using the passports, checks, and codebooks in my knapsack) grants extra advantages to holders in a broader variety of circumstances. This is to say that being heterosexual, male, or white will almost always count in one's favor. To have white, heterosexual, or male privilege means that the immunities and benefits you have because of your race, sexual orientation, or sex extend beyond the boundaries of your comfort zones, neighborhood, circles of friends, or what Maria Lugones calls the 'worlds' in which you are at ease.10 Although privileged persons feel ill at ease outside of their own worlds, they rarely lose privilege outside of their comfort zones. The meaning of privilege as "special rights" or "private laws" should now be clear: immunity granting passports, checks, and tickets in the knapsack are wild cards in the sense that they are accepted almost everywhere. Regardless of where I am, being a member of a dominant group will almost always count in my favor. Andrew Hacker (1992) has designed a particularly effective exercise to illustrate the extent to which whites unconsciously understand the wild card character of white privilege. He asks his white students to imagine that they will be visited by an official they have never met. The official informs them that his organization has made a terrible mistake and that according to official records you were to have been born black. Since this mistake must be rectified immediately, at midnight you will become black and can expect to live out the rest of your life-say fifty years-as a black person in America. Since this is the agency's error, the official explains that you can demand compensation. Hacker then asks his white students: How much financial recompense would you request? The figures white students give in my classesusually between $250,000 to $50 milliondemonstrates the extent to which white privilege is valued.

The wild card quality of privilege points to the possibility that dominant group privilege is more complex than simple immunities from the systemic barriers of which Frye speaks. Members of dominant groups not only receive benefits from the default options and knapsack tools they use to maneuver themselves around barriers, they also receive additional benefits. Barriers are put in place with the intention of creating privilege, but it is here that we encounter the limits of Frye's barrier metaphor. The collective package of privileges given to members of dominant groups takes two distinct forms: negative privilege, which can be understood simply as the absence of barriers, and, positive privilege, which can be understood as the presence of additional perks that cannot be described in terms of immunities alone. The distinction between positive and negative privilege is not merely two ways of expressing the same phenomenon. I first became aware of this distinction during a conversation I had with a young white male student in my "Introduction to Women's Studies" class. Once he became aware of the unearned aspects of his male privilege, this student was eager use it in politically useful ways. He suggested that one way to do this would be to accompany women on a Take Back the Night March, a historically women only demonstration against sexual violence. Since men can go out at night with little risk of sexual assault, he reasoned, he might use this unearned privilege to, in his words, "protect the women as they marched." What this student had in mind, no doubt, was to exercise his role as protector to defend the marching women against members of his gender with predatory leanings. In other words, he wanted to use his privileged protector status in a way that supported feminist projects. But, it might be objected, what is wrong with wanting to use male privilege to help women and girls demonstrate for their right to safe access to the streets at night? Shouldn't our male allies use privilege to open up opportunities for women and to advance feminist causes? Certainly, in some cases persons with privilege should actively seek ways of using privilege supportively, but this is not one of them. The purpose of Take Back the Night Marches is to give women and girls the opportunity to reclaim the night in ways that do not rely on male protection. On a practical level, when male protectors step in, the symbolism of the march is undermined; with male protection the marchers no longer experience the autonomy and empowerment which come with walking around at night and feeling safe. On a theoretical level, the problem is that the gendered roles of both "protector" and "predator" are the products of the ideology of hetero-patriarchal dominance. The student fails to understand how the protector role that heterosexual male privilege grants him is the product of the systemic nature of heterosexism; that is, the benefits of the protector role depend on and cannot be secured independently of the heterosexual paradigm which cast women in male-serving subordinate roles. As Sarah Hoagland argues,

116 Alison Bailey


"there can be no protectors unless there is a danger. A man cannot identify himself in the role of protector unless there is something which needs protection" (1988, 30). In his eagerness to help the cause he does not notice the systemic links between his heterosexual male privilege as a protector and women's oppression. He does not notice how his offer of protective services reinscribes the function of the hetero-patriarchal protector/predator gender role assigned to men.11 In attempting to supportive he falls into his scripted role as a protector. Protector status is a wild card which can be played in a wide variety of circumstances beyond the example of the march. By virtue of a hetero-patriarchal system that casts men in the role of protector, men are granted additional credibility and power. It is expected that males will be protectors; being a protector is understood as a natural innate male trait. Men who deviate from this role are often thought of as cowardly or as sissies. The unquestioned presupposition here is that men's so-called "natural protector" status gives them additional benefits beyond protectorship. It suggests that men, by virtue of their "natural" role, are automatically the rightful heads of households, the proper leaders, the best organizers, administrators, and educators. Thus, the Take Back the Night March example reveals the tightly intertwined nature of positive and negative privilege. First, this student was aware that male privilege meant that, as a man he saw no barriers to his being able to move about at night (a negative privilege). Second, the student was also aware on some level that male privilege conferred upon him the status of protector (a positive privilege) that is not characterized by the absence of barriers alone. The unearned privilege accorded to whites can also be explained in terms of both negative and positive privilege. Whiteness-the expression of white privilegemeans more than just being granted immunity from demeaning stereotypes and the removal of barriers to housing or high-paying jobs. Since privilege and oppression intersect all identities, having light skin and whitely mannerisms does not automatically grant one immunity from misfortune or failure, but even for those whites who are poor or unemployed, being white does have some value. If whiteness is associated with "being an American," hardworking, or a trustworthy neighbor, then to be white in America is to have a culturally valued identity. The positive dimension of white privilege captures what, for lack of a better phrase, might be called a reputational interest in being regarded as white. In fact, this reputational interest was used as grounds for Plessy s case in Plessy vs. Ferguson. When Homer A. Plessy, a lightskinned man of European and African descent, boarded a railway car reserved for whites, he was arrested for violating a Louisiana Jim Crow statute mandating separate cars for white and "colored" passengers. Plessy's gripe was not that he had an additional barrier placed in his path. He charged that the refusal to seat him on the white passenger car deprived him of "the reputation [of being white] which has an actual pecuniary value."12 Because Plessy appeared to be white, not allowing him to ride on that car reserved for whites deprived him of the

Privilege: Expanding on Marilyn Frye's Oppression 117


white privilege to which he felt entitled. The entitlements Plessy gained from being regarded as white are not expressed negatively in terms of being denied freedom of access to the best seats on the train, but being denied the status (or positive privilege) associated with being treated as a person worthy of respect. To treat persons with respect and dignity is to listen to what they have to say, to respond to their requests, or to give their need,, and concerns priority. The unquestioned presupposition that whites are it most cases hardworking, honest, good trustworthy citizens may suggest that white people will be better candidates for jobs, scholarships, and public office.13 By virtue of a system that understands white and male superiority to be the natural state of affairs, Plessy is granted the credibility and respect appropriate to white men. If the structural features of oppression generate privilege, then a complete understanding of oppression requires that we also be attentive to the ways in which complex systems of domination rely on the oppression of one group to generate privilege for another. A complete understanding of the systematic features of oppression requires not only that we understand the differences between oppression and harm, but also that we understand both the differences between privilege and earned advantages and the connections between oppression and privilege. Silence about privilege is itself a function of privilege and it has a chilling effect on political discourse Conversations that focus exclusively on oppression reinforce the structure invisibility of privilege. White women who focus solely on their oppression as women, for example, generate incomplete accounts of oppression when they fail to explore the role white privilege plays in the subordination o their sisters of color. Attention to the construction of privilege, then, is necessary component for a full account of oppression as well as a way to make visible the role of privilege in maintaining hierarchies.
This paper has benefited greatly from conversations I've had on privilege any oppression. In particular I would like to thank Charlotte Brown, Susan Feldman Marilyn Frye, Kay Leigh Hagan, Lisa Heldke, Sarah Hoagland, Ambe Katherine, Jona Olsson, Mark Siderits, and Nancy Tuana for their comment on earlier drafts of this project. This essay is dedicated to the loving memory c Linda Weiner Morris.
1

Maria Lugones has challenged Frye's account and Marxist accounts of oppression tha leave oppressed groups in the discouraging position of the double-bind. In respons to these theories she suggest a more liberatory "contradictory desiderata" for oppression theory which rests on embracing a pluralist notion of the self. See "Structure and AntiStructure: Agency under Oppression," The Journal of Philosophy, 88:10 (October 1990), p. 500. 2 See Joel Feinberg, Social Philosophy, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1963, pp. 58-5c and Black's Law Dictionary, 6th ed., St. Paul, Minn.: West Publishing, 1990, pp. 1197-9 My remarks follow Feinberg's examples here.

118 Alison Bailey


3 4

Privilege: Expanding on Marilyn Frye's "Oppression" 119


example, had a Mrs. Plessy taken a seat on the train that day, the reaction would have been very

I am grateful to Jona Olsson for demonstrating the appropriateness of Richards' remark in this context. My definition here follows the Oxford English Dictionary. Privilege: [from old French; and middle English] privilegium a bill in favor of or against an individual; fr. L . priv-us, private, peculiar + lex, legem law. 5 Given this definition it is ironic that current struggles for equality on the part of historically disenfranchised groups are described as "special rights" by conservatives. See, Loans v. State, 50 Tenn. (3 Heisk.) cited in Words and Phrases, permanent edition, 1658 to Date, Vol. 33A, St. Paul, Minn.: West Publishing, 1995, p. 494. 6 "The word processing metaphor comes from Jona Olssori s unpublished work on white antiracism. "White Privilege" Workshop. August 10, 19th Annual Womyri s Music Festival. Hart, Michigan. 7 The term "structured invisibility" comes from Ruth Frankenburg, White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness, Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minneapolis Press, 1993. In another context Frye refers to this phenomenon as "structured ignorance." See Marilyn Frye, "Critique, "Philosophy and Sex, eds. Robert Baker and Frederick Elliston, New York, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1984, p. 447. I'm grateful to Mark Siderits for having called my attention to Frye's phrase. 8 For instance, contrast bell hooks's account of whiteness with that of Judith Levine or Minnie Bruce Pratt. See hooks, "Representations of Whiteness in the Black Imagination," in Black Looks: Race and Representation, Boston: South End Press, 1992, pp. 165-79. Judith Levine, "White Like Me," Ms. Magazine (March/April 1994), pp. 22-24. Minnie Bruce Pratt, "Identity: Skin, Blood, Heart," Yours in Struggle: Three Feminist Perspectives on AntiSemitism and Racism, ed. Elly Bulkin, Minnie Bruce Pratt, and Barbara Smith, Ithaca, N.Y.: Firebrand Books, 1984, pp. 11-63. 9 Cherrie Moraga, Loving in the War Years, Lo Que Nunca Paso por Sus Labios, Boston: South End Press, 1983, p. 97. 10 I'm using "world" in the sense that Maria Lugones uses it in her essay "Playfulness, World Traveling and Loving Perception." For those unfamiliar with Lugones's notion of world traveling, 'worlds' are not utopias; they may be an actual society as it is constructed by either dominant or nondominant groups. Worlds need not be constructions of whole societies, they may be just small parts of that society (e.g., a barrio in Chicago, Chinatown in New York, a lesbian bar, a women's studies class, an elegant country club, or a migrant farmworkers community). The notion of 'worlds' is useful in that it helps us to understand why we are constructed differently in worlds in which we are not at ease. Lugones's own example is of being constructed as "serious" in Anglo/ white worlds where she is ill at ease and as "playful" in Latina worlds where she is at ease. The shift from being one person in one world, to being another person in a different world is what she calls travel. See Maria Lugones, "Playfulness, 'World-Traveling, and Loving Perception," Hypatia, 2:2 (Summer 1987), pp. 3-18. Lugones's observations are supported by sociologist Joe Feagiri s research on the "black tax" or the added hassles African Americans face in getting through the day. See Feagin, "The Continuing Significance of Race: Antiblack Discrimination in Public Places," American Sociological Review, 56 (February 1991), pp. 101-22. 11 Some ways of using male and heterosexual privilege may reinscribe privilege, but it is not obvious that all will. The fact that the male student could not use the privilege his protector status afforded him in this instance does not mean that male or heterosexual privilege can never be used in traitorous ways. It does not mean that men should never use their privileges to protect women and it would be foolish for women not to ask for protection in some instances. 12 See Derek Bell, "Property Rights in Whiteness-Their Legal Legacy, Their Economic Costs," in Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge, ed. Richard Delgado, Philadelphia, Penn.: Temple University Press, 1995, pp. 75-83; Cheryl Harris, "Whiteness as Property," Harvard Law Review, vol. 106, no. 8 (June 1993), p. 1746; and Andrew Hacker, Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile and Unequal, New York, N.Y.: Scribner's, 1992, esp. pp. 31-49. 13 The political significance of whiteness as I have described it in the Plessy case is highly gendered. For

different because reputation and respect have different values for women. As Frye explains: "Being rational, righteous, and [law abiding]... do for some of us some of the time buy a ticket to a higher level of material well-being than we might otherwise be permitted.... But the reason, right, and rules are not of our own making; white men may welcome our whiteliness as an endorsement of their own values and as an expression of our loyalty to them (that is, as proof of their power over us), and because it makes us good helpmates to them, but if our whiteliness commands any respect, it is only in the sense that a woman who is chaste and obedient is called... "respectable." See Frye "White Woman Feminist," Willfid Virgin: Essays in Feminism., Freedom, Calif.: Crossing Press, 1992, p. 161.

References
Frye, Marilyn. The Politics of Reality. Freedom, Calif.: Crossing Press, 1983,1-16. __________ . "White Woman Feminist." In Willful Virgin: Essays in Feminism. Freedom, Calif.: Crossing Press, 1992,147-69. Hacker, Andrew. Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile and Unequal. New York: Scribner's, 1992. Hoagland, Sarah. Lesbian Ethics: Toward New Value. Palo Alto, Calif.: Institute of Lesbian Studies, 1988. McIntosh, Peggy. "White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women's Studies." In Race, Class and Gender: An Anthology, eds. Margaret L. Andersen and Patricia Hill Collins. N.Y.: Wadsworth, 1991. Moraga, Cherrie. Loving in the War Years, Lo Que Nunca Paso por Sus Labios, Boston: South End Press, 1983. Young, Iris Marion. Justice and the Politics of Difference. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990.