The fashion trend paradigm derives from a view of society based on systems thinking.
Systems thinking entails a methodology quite different from mechanistic thinking. The methodology associated with the study of systems, especially biological and social systems is twofold. First, because such systems are complex and non-linear, their behavior cannot be evaluated based on isolated observations. Only statistical methods can reveal if there are meaningful patterns in the behavior of such systems over time. I referred in the previous post to the crucial difference between performing a statistical analysis of racial equity in the U.S. and citing individual anecdotes, such as Obama’s election. Interpretations may vary, but no one can deny the persistence of major patterns of racial disparity in virtually every measurable domain. The data leaves little doubt that the ability to claim a white identity in the U.S. corresponds to significantly greater material well being and social mobility.
In addition, in order to understand how the patterns revealed by statistical analysis came to characterize a particular system, one must study that system’s history. If we examine the history of racism in the U.S., and avoid trying to fit it into the preexisting narrative of advancing freedom, we may notice a consistent pattern. Despite significant racial progress in certain areas, the advancement of people of color, as a whole, has been limited, at every juncture, by the unwillingness of white people, as a whole, to relinquish the unearned benefits we derive from our white identity. I’m not saying that individual white people are necessarily acting deliberately to perpetuate large scale systemic injustices. We are usually just acting individually to preserve social benefits that we have been trained to regard as entitlements. We are like bees, who’ve been blindly following simple local rules, while building and maintaining an elaborate hive of white supremacy. The white privilege paradigm provides a framework for conceptualizing the history of racism in the U.S. in a way that re-frames the question of racial progress and exposes its built-in limitations.
The privileges of whiteness include concrete material advantages such as access to “safe” neighborhoods, well-resourced schools, and favorable or fair treatment by most private and public institutions. They also include less tangible advantages such as a confidence (not always warranted) that the system will be forgiving of your and your children’s “mistakes,” that your bad habits won’t be seen as racial flaws, that portrayals of your race in the media and in history books will be mostly positive, and that your race will remain a norm against which racial and cultural difference is measured and judged. It should come as no surprise that white people act collectively, if not always consciously, to preserve these benefits.