How Whites benefit from fighting White privilege #1: Self-Esteem

A White person may benefit from fighting White privilege, because if she accepts the existence of White privilege, she will develop a healthier self-esteem.

High self-esteem is not always healthy self-esteem.

High self-esteem is not the same thing as healthy self-esteem, according to psychology research from the University of Georgia. Those with “fragile” high self-esteem are more likely to be verbally defensive compared to those with “secure” high self-esteem.

According to the news release, people with fragile high self-esteem:

  • compensate for their self-doubts by engaging in exaggerated tendencies to defend, protect and enhance their feelings of self-worth
  • are verbally defensive; they lash out at others when their opinions, beliefs, statements or values are threatened
  • feel that potential threats are more threatening and work harder to counteract these threats

This behaviour differs from individuals with “secure” high self-esteem:

On the other hand, individuals with secure high self-esteem appear to accept themselves “warts and all,” and, feeling less threatened, they are less likely to be defensive by blaming others or providing excuses when they speak about past transgressions or threatening experiences.

One reason the study’s findings are important, Kernis said, is that it shows that greater verbal defensiveness relates to lower psychological well-being and life satisfaction.

What does this have to do with Whites and White privilege?

Defensive Whites have a fragile high racial self-esteem.

The study is not about race, but the idea of distinguishing between “secure” high self-esteem and “fragile” high self-esteem can be applied to Whites’ view of themselves. Whites with secure high racial self-esteem can accept themselves “warts and all” and can accept that society confers privilege on them due to their skin colour, while Whites with fragile high racial self-esteem will “lash out” at the mere possibility that our society is not a meritocracy.

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