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Scholar: White People Acknowledge Privilege to Make Themselves Feel Good, Avoid Addressing Racism

Scholar Claire Lockard argues in a new work that white people who acknowledge their privilege are less likely to engage in actual anti-racism efforts.

In her work, “Unhappy Confessions: The Temptation of Admitting to White Privilege,” recent Emory graduate and Elon University scholar Claire Lockard argues that acknowledgments of white privilege or racism are “pleasurable to enact but ultimately reinforce white people’s feelings of goodness and allow them to avoid addressing this racism.”

In the abstract for her work, Lockard explains how an admission of white privilege could lead to a complacency that leads individuals away from anti-racist activism.

I argue that because such admissions are conscious attempts to address unconscious habits, they are unhappy speech acts and contrary to their implied aims. Admissions of white privilege or racism can be conceptualized as Foucauldian confessions that are pleasurable to enact but ultimately reinforce white people’s feelings of goodness and allow them to avoid addressing this racism. I ground my argument in Shannon Sullivan’s analysis of white privilege and Sara Ahmed’s critique of confessions of racism/privilege to show that in addition to doing no anti-racist work at the moment of saying, these confessions actually reify white privilege deeper into the unconscious and make it harder to address.

Lockard, whose Twitter account has now been set to private, tweeted on March 1 that she frequently would interrupt white students in her courses to encourage minority students to speak up: “New favorite thing: interrupting white dudes in my classes to say ‘I think some other folks want to join the conversation.’”

Tom Ciccotta is a libertarian who writes about education and social justice for Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @tciccotta or email him at

Tom Ciccotta

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