White Immunity

White Immunity is Like a Vaccine… A Social Inoculation in a Racist Society Photo by Maksim Goncharenok on Pexels.com

Backlash to White Privilege

Have you tried talking to White colleagues, friends, or family members about White privilege, only to hear back from them how offended they are because they too have had to struggle in life and therefore, could not have had any privilege?  This scenario is far too common, especially when trying to talk to people who know very little about racial structures and caste issues.  These are the same people who believe in the myth of meritocracy and the achievement gap.  These are often the same people who believe themselves to be White saviors because they work at schools with poor children of minority backgrounds or engage in some other types of service.  These are the same people who often cannot understand the need for Dual Language Education.

According to University of Arizona Associate Professor Dr. Nolan Cabrera, the trouble people often have with the term “privilege” is that they conflate racial privilege with economic privilege.  They think, “How could I possibly have had privilege when I didn’t grow up in a mansion?”  The idea that there are multiple types of privilege and that individuals may suffer from the lack of one or multiple types of these privileges and still have White privilege becomes difficult for them to grasp.  Due to this mental block, Dr. Cabrera, suggests that instead of using the term White privilege, to use a term he coined, White immunity. 

What is White Immunity?

According to Dr. Cabrera, White immunity is a type of social inoculation conferred by being White in a racialized society.  Imagine Whiteness being a vaccine against racial discrimination. 

What protection does White immunity confer?  A person who has White immunity is immune from walking into a room and having their intelligence questioned for no reason but the color of their skin.  A person who has White immunity is immune from having to change the natural texture of their hair to be considered professional.  A person who has White immunity is immune from wondering if being pulled over by the cops for speeding really has to do with their speed or the color of their skin and if being pulled over will result in their death.  A child with White immunity is immune from teachers lowering their expectations due to the color of the child’s skin.  A child with White immunity is immune from being targeted for suspensions or corporal punishment at school due to the color of their skin.  A high school senior who has White immunity is immune from being labeled as antisocial by admissions readers at Ivy League universities despite having a similar resumé, grades, and reference letters as their White counterparts.

What White Immunity Is Not

White immunity is not a barrier to all society’s ills. White immunity is similar to the chicken pox vaccine in that the chicken pox vaccine inoculates the recipient only from the chicken pox; it does not inoculate the recipient from the measles or the new coronavirus that is currently plaguing the world.  These illnesses require their own vaccines.  Similarly, White immunity does not provide inoculation against other life difficulties.  For instance, White immunity does not inoculate White women from being considered less intelligent than their male counterparts for nothing more than a difference in sex chromosomes.  White immunity does not inoculate anyone from ever being pulled over by the cops for speeding.  White immunity does not provide immunity for White, disabled students from being punished more often and more severely at school than their White, able bodied classmates for no reason other than their disabilities.  White immunity does not protect a child from the consequences of having drunken parents. White immunity does not provide immunity for a White student not getting into an Ivy League school when their application does not make the cut.  It’s just that in all of these circumstances, historic, racial discrimination have not exacerbated life’s difficulties.  This is not to say that these other difficulties should not be addressed. It’s just that difficulties such as those related to the patriarchy and discrimination against students identified with disabilities need different, additional vaccines just as Covid-19 needs its own vaccines. It’s not an either/or situation.  Simply, we have a lot of work to do.

So the next time a colleague, friend, family member, or acquaintance argues with you that White privilege doesn’t exist, try talking to them about White immunity, and see if the conversation becomes less difficult.  Be sure to comment below about your success or lack thereof, with the term.

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