The invisibility of privilege for the dominant group member


The invisibility of privilege for the dominant group member.

While many of the dynamics discussed above make privilege invisible to the dominant group, there is also a phenomenon that scholars describe as “sanctioned not-knowing” or “willful ignorance” (Dei, Karumanchery, & Karumanchery-Luik, 2004). These terms attempt to describe dynamics that allow dominant group members to remain ignorant of the overwhelming evidence of injustice in society. While many dominant group members claim that they simply don’t know about the minoritized group, invoking a sense of innocence, the information is easily available. Thus we use the phrase “willful ignorance” because minoritized groups have always tried to get dominant groups to see and understand their experiences, but dominant group members often aggressively resist this information. These forms of denial and resistance include:

Demanding more data to prove the injustice (“When were these statistics published? I think things have changed in the last 10 years.”) Feeling qualified, without any study of the issue, to argue with people who experience the oppression and with experts in the field (“I disagree that disability is socially constructed.”) Giving counter examples or exceptions to the rule (“But Roosevelt had a disability and he was president!”) Channel switching (“The true oppression is class. If you eliminate classism all other oppressions will disappear.”) Intimidation (“You might advance more if you were a team player.”) Defensiveness (“Are you calling me ableist? I have an aunt with a disability!”) Negating research and explaining away injustice by giving personal and anecdotal stories (“There was a kid in a wheelchair in our class.


Everybody loved him and no one even noticed his wheelchair.”) Emotional fragility (“It hurts my feelings that you think I would say something ableist.”)

All the dominant ideologies in society support willful ignorance. The ideologies of meritocracy, equal opportunity, individualism, and human nature we described above play a powerful role in denying the current of privilege and insisting that society is just.

Perhaps the most subtle yet powerful way we resist knowing is by simply being uninterested. Internalized superiority makes us indifferent to learning about the minoritized group because we don’t see them as valuable. If we did see them as valuable, we would seek them out. For example, we might not know much about what it means to be rich and famous, but many of us spend a lot of time reading about their lives because they are important to us.

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