Allan Johnson is a white, heterosexual, American man. He is the epitome of power and privilege, and he knows it. Despite his fortunate and rather comfortable position in our society, Johnson has chosen to step outside of his comfort zone and investigate, make sense of, and teach others about the social constructs that define and constrict our modern American Society. He offers some challenging and thought provoking material. His writing serves as a warning to those who are in the most privileged circles of our society and may not even realize it, but also as the beginning of a solution to the problems of inequality and inequitably in our society. Here are a few of Johnson's most important points emphasized within his writing:
1. "We are prisoners of something."
Johnson argues that people feel that something is off in our society. We don't like it. We don't want it to be this way, but this "something" or "elephant in the room" seems beyond our control. Like trying to control the weather, it's not possible. According to the author, we easily point fingers or look at parts of a picture and place ourselves on the outside of it, but Johnson would argue that we are inside of this picture, we are the focal point. This "something" that we feel is "closer to our own making than we even realize." We are prisoners of history and a long series of events that have resulted in the "socially constructed society" in which we live today, and whether or not we like it, we are in it heart and soul. No one living in the United States today can separate themselves from the history and "legacy we all inherited."
2. We live in what sociologists might call a "social construction of reality."
So what is this legacy we inherited? This legacy is the ruling force behind the comings and goings of each and every individual and all of the things that happen in between in our day-to-day lives. It is a set of rules that say some people are more trustworthy, important, intelligent, and valuable than others. Men are more important than women. White people are more trustworthy than blacks. Heterosexuals are normal and homosexuals are not. Johnson provides evidence of these norms which can be witnessed within society in the section entitled "What Privilege Looks Like in Everyday Life." For example:"whites can succeed without other people's being surprised," and "men can reasonably expect that if they work hard and play by the rules, they'll get what they deserve." These norms amongst many others are all part of what we have accepted as the product of a "socially constructed idea of reality." The challenge for each of us is to question that reality, acknowledge that it is part of our world and rather than blindly accept it, become part of the solution.
3. Those who are privileged often don't realize it, it is a "legacy we (the privileged) all inherited."
Simply put, you are not exempt. Even though you may not have done anything to offend, harm, or condemn others, you live in the product of a society that has systematically done this for centuries. In order to start solving the problems of segregation and inequality in our country, everyone must realize that they play a role in the solution.
4. People are not afraid of what they don't know. They are afraid of what they think they know.
Johnson debunks this myth entirely and really hits the nail on the head. Think about it. Are you really afraid of what you don't know? Or are you afraid of what you think you know about a group or individual? This is a critical part of Johnson's argument, in that we need to shut down or circumnavigate the conditioned reaction we have developed when meeting new people. As human beings we have the tendency to categorize people and put them in boxes. Each person must be treated as an individual, not as a statistic or representative for the group you may think they belong to.
5."Once you name it, you can think, talk, and write about it."
In summary, Johnson asks readers to step outside of what is comfortable. Instead of talking about vague terms like "love," etc. We need to confront racism, sexism and homophobia head on. We can't act as if these realities don't exist. We cannot go on living as we have. That "something" needs to be dealt with directly. The sooner we "name it" the better off we all will be.