Even though some may believe that racism and discrimination are phenomena that belong in the history books, the contemporary discussion around them is as dynamic as ever. The present paper reviews two major works that deal with the issue of racism to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments presented.
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Both readings view the phenomena of racism and white privilege in the context of other related events and occurrences. Thus, Glassner’s book “The Culture of Fear” provides a general overview of societal fears incited by the media’s framing and reporting of different events. Particularly, Chapter 5 of his book focuses on how the media portrays black men as perpetrators of violence while ignoring the fact that they are, in fact, more often the victims of crime (Glassner 109). The author relies on anecdotal, empirical, and statistical evidence to support his claims. Thus, for instance, he examines the surging crime rates in Miami in the 1990s which were largely perceived as a threat to tourists. Visitors, in fact, were more likely to become victimized at home while young local blacks and Hispanics were the typical victims of crime in the city (Glassner 110).
McIntosh’s work, on the other hand, was largely inspired by her experience as a female researcher who studied the phenomenon of male privilege. She has become aware that allocation of power in the United States society is based not only on gender but also on race. Consequently, she argues that the contemporary society should shift its focus from direct and outright discrimination as individual acts of racism are becoming increasingly rare (McIntosh 36). As a result, she addresses the other form of racism which is more subtle and virtually invisible but is nevertheless omnipresent and systemic. She goes as far as to describe fifty mundane scenarios that demonstrate how white privilege manifests itself on an everyday basis (McIntosh 32-35).
While both of these works are foundational for understanding the current state of affairs in terms of racial equality or lack thereof, they nevertheless have certain important drawbacks and limitations. Glassner provides a solid and thorough examination of the way the media fails to cover the stories that involve black men as crime victims. However, the main flaw of Glassner’s argument is his assumption that the media shapes rather than reflects public opinion and attitudes. Certainly, it is a two-way street, but the fact that the media does not tell black narratives stems from the larger public’s indifference toward them. Moreover, Glassner’s analysis is largely normative, but it offers little to no practical and actionable solutions and policy implications.
McIntosh successfully applied her understanding of experiences common to one minority group – that is, women – to examine the problems and issues that are prominent for another underrepresented social group. She is largely credited for introducing the very concept of privilege, especially white privilege, into the mainstream discussion on race, gender, and sexual orientation. However, she is perhaps too quick to discard discrimination as individual acts of racism, as recent events of police brutality demonstrate. It is also worth noting the institutionalization of racism in law enforcement, criminal justice, and other government and private entities. Moreover, her framing of privilege as power dominance may result in a race to the bottom where the society should strive for a race to the top. Racial equality should not imply the elimination of white privilege by constraining the privileged group; rather, achieving it would require amelioration of standards of living for the underprivileged group.
Undoubtedly, the works of Glassner and McIntosh are highly significant for understanding how racism manifests itself in the contemporary society. Nevertheless, they do not necessarily provide an ultimate and authoritative solution to all racism-related issues and problems.
Glassner, Barry. The Culture of Fear: Why Americans are Afraid of the Wrong Things, New York, New York: Basic Books, 1999. Print.
McIntosh, Peggy. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Independent School 49.2 (1990): 31-36. Print.