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Johnson Guided Questions for Power, Privilege, and Difference

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vii What does Johnson say is the goal of his book?

The goal of Johnsons book is to provide readers with a new way of thinking about
what makes us different as human beings (gender, social class, sexual orientation,
etc.). This new thought process can hopefully start to make a change because it
allows us to see not only where the trouble comes from, but how we as individuals
are connected to it (Johnson pg. vii).

viii Johnson says hes going to discuss forms of difference that are the most
pervasive. That affect the greatest number of people, and that produce the most
harm. What does he say these forms are?

Johnson says these forms are gender, race, social class, and, in a less extensive
way, sexual orientation (Johnson pg. viii). Along with choosing forms that are the
most persuasive, he feels that he is the most knowledgeable on these topics.

ix How does Johnson say that having a white, straight, male, middle-class point
of view informs him as he writes this book?

The author believes that although his work will have some bias due to these traits, he is
still able to make the connection with others of a different background. He provides an
example of bringing his experience as a man to men's work - including gay men and
men of color - around the subject of sexism and male privilege (Johnson pg. ix).

x Name two credentials that Johnson has which give him a solid background to
write this book.

Some of Johnsons credentials include having received a Ph.D. in Sociology where he

designed and taught courses on class and capitalism the sociology of gender,
feminist theory, and, with a female African American colleague, race in the United
States (Johnson, pg. x). Additionally, he has been an activist in the violence against
women movement.

1 What is the question that Rodney King asked, and how has it haunted the U.S.
ever since?

After he was beat by police officers and riots broke out due to their acquittal, he asked
Cant we all just get along?. This question has echoed across the long history and
deep divide of racism in the United States (Johnson pg. 1) because its simplicity asks
why we allow qualities that we are born with dictate how we think and act towards
other people.

2 Even though many people suggest to Johnson that he eliminate the words
racism, white, and, even worse, white racism, he doesnt do so. Why?

He believes that if we stop ourselves from using those kinds of words, we make it
impossible to talk about what's really going on and what it has to do with us (Johnson
pg. 2). By giving these topics a name, we are validated they exist and can work towards
a solution.

3 According to Johnson, were not getting along with one another. Why not?

Johnson says that one argument is that people can't help fearing the unfamiliar
(Johnson pg. 3); however, he acknowledges that the hatred we have been taught is
something human beings have created themselves.

4 n/a (too short)

5 How does Johnson describe a dogs nature?

He explains how a dog looks at life as being simple. They never stray far fromtheir
essence, the core of what it means to be a dog in relation to everything around
themand that's all they seem to need or care about (Johnson pg. 5).

6 Name 3 or more ways that Johnson suggests we are social beings.

Johnson suggests we are social beings in the fact that we are not able to survive as
babies without the care-taking of someone else. Additionally, we need to feel that we
belong to something bigger than ourselves (Johnson pg. 6) and we base our idea of
self-worth off of other peoples opinions.

7 We all do want to be comfortable with others, but forces keep us from being
comfortable. What are these forces?

From Johnsons book, the audience learns how these powerful forces have been
formed by societal standards of what is superior/inferior. He uses an example of
having a hard discussion with his friend who is an African-American woman to show
how the legacy of racism and sexism shapes our lives in such different ways, how my
whiteness and maleness are sources of privilege (Johnson pg. 7).

8 What are some ways that Johnson and his colleague of color differ in their daily

One way they differ is in terms of their personal safety he may not have to worry
about walking around late at night alone, but she does. Additionally, because she is a
woman, she has to remember to have her keys out and ready as she approaches [her
car] and to check the back seat before she gets in (Johnson pg. 8).
9 The barrier, according to Johnson, is a society and its people for whom a
decent and productive social life that is true to the best of our essential
humanity continues to be elusive Why?

The problem is elusive because it is not something that you can pin-point exactly, its
an overarching idea that society has created. It works because it creates a yawning
divideit promotes fear, suspicion, discriminationit sets people against one another
(Johnson pg. 9).

10 How does Johnson say that the problem of privilege can be solved?

The issue of privilege can only be solved if people who benefit from privilege begin to
worry and take on other peoples lack of it as their own problem. Minorities and inferior
groups of people cant fix it on their own because they don't have the power to
change entrenched systems (Johnson pg. 10).

11 How does naming a problem help an individual to deal with the problem?

By naming a problem, you can make sense of it by seeing how it's connected to other
things that explain it and point toward solutions (Johnson pg. 11). Without having a
name, the problem loses significance and can no longer be talked about.

12 How do many people ignore the trouble by trying to get rid of the language that
names it?

People are able to ignore the problem because they discredit the words or twist their
meaning or turn them into a phobia or make them invisible (Johnson pg. 12). Society
is able to make privileged people feel like they have personally done something wrong,
which offends them and closes them off.

13 Why is there is no way to talk about problems that divide us without difficulty
and without pain?

These problems bring up memories that are difficult and painful in our history [and it]
continues in everyday life (Johnson pg. 13). People have been harmed, both
emotionally and physically, by issues of privilege and so there is no way to ignore that

14 n/a (too short)

15 As the introduction to the next chapter, Johnson reviews a major point he made
the previous sections. How come talking about power and privilege isn't easy,
which is why people rarely do it?

Talking about power and privilege is difficult because it makes people feel that they
have done something wrong, even though it wasnt caused by something we did or
didnt do. But now that its ours, its up to us to decide how were going to deal with
it (Johnson pg. 15). People are afraid that bringing up these topics will cause more
tension and arguments between different groups, even though those feelings already

16 How is the idea that everyone is naturally frightened by difference a cultural


This idea is a myth because we are a naturally curious species and are actually usually
drawn to things that are new to us. The real problem is that it isn't what we don't know
that frightens us, it's what we think we do know (Johnson pg. 16).

17 Describe yourself, using the Diversity Wheel.

I am a female, Portuguese-English-Irish, white, 19 years old, heterosexual, and

physically able. I am not married, although I am in a relationship, and I am currently a
college student. I have lived in New England my entire life and come from a Christian
home, even though I am open to other spiritual practices. I have no military experience
and I was raised in a middle class working family.

18 How does/ doesnt the Diversity Wheel say much about the unique individual
you know yourself to be, your personal history, the content of your character,
what you dream and feel?

It gives you a strong idea about the social reality that shapes everyone's life in
powerful ways (Johnson, pg. 18). It doesnt, though, tell someone a lot about your
opinions on certain things or specific life experiences that make up who you are as an

19 Johnson concludes that the trouble around diversity, then, isn't just that
people differ from one another. What does he say, actually, that the trouble

The real issue is that we live in a society that uses our differences against one another,
to include or exclude, reward or punish, credit or discredit, elevate or oppress, value
or devalue, leave alone or harass (Johnson pg. 19). Our world lives by the ideal that
our differences are what dictate who should be on top and who should be on the

20 How do perceptions and assumptions color an individuals view of the world?

By making assumptions about how people should behave/look/think, it excludes those

who dont fit into those perfect ideals. People rely on them in order to see the world
as an organized and predictable place from one moment to the next (Johnson pg. 20).

21 What did James Baldwin mean when he said, ''No one is white before he/she
came to America 'It took generations and a vast amount of coercion before
this became a white country?"

Baldwin basically means that everything is a cultural construct, and our differences
dont mean anything unless weve made them mean something. If you dont live in a
culture that recognizes those differences as significant and meaningful, they are
socially irrelevant and therefore do not exist (Johnson pg. 21).

22 Describe how we can see the constructed Nature of reality.

We can see the constructed nature of reality by looking back on our history and
realizing that different groups have been considered minorities at different times just
because people have said so. Even though nowadays, most Europeans are considered
white and dominant, there was a time when immigrants from [Eastern European
countries] to England and the United States were excluded and subjugated and
exploited (Johnson pg. 22). We can see from this that there is no minority, and it is all
just a matter of what we are being told to believe at the time.