Allan G. Johnson, PhD, is an author, activist and educator, and was the guest speaker for the opening SPHERE event hosted at The Ethel Walker School on August 26. Johnson’s work is based on a lifelong commitment to understanding the fundamental nature of social life and systems of privilege and oppression. His well-known published works include: Social Statistics without Tears; Human Arrangements: An Introduction to Sociology; The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy; The Forest and the Trees: Sociology as Life, Practice, and Promise; The Blackwell Dictionary of Sociology; and Privilege, Power, and Difference. Since 1995, he has also worked a public speaker and trainer around issues of race and gender.
Johnson’s presentation focused on defining white privilege, its history and manifestations, its inextricable links to class and the industrial capitalist system, and the ways in which it is systemic, invisible and unspoken in our culture. The system of white privilege, he said, is “a system in which we all participate from the day we are born.” We don’t ask for it, he said, it is passed down to us as “just the way things are.” He drew clear distinctions between individuals and the system, helping the audience tease apart the two in order to move beyond uncomfortable feelings and begin having courageous conversations that may lead to meaningful change. “We are not the system, and the system is not us,” he said, though the two are interdependent. Following the presentation, audience members were invited to share ways in which white privilege shows up in their schools, and to discuss opportunities for positive change.