addressing the normalized position

November 10, 2010

It’s been some months since last I participated in a synchroblog. But the topic was impossible to ignore! Marginalization remain one of the most important questions in our globalized, capitalist, McWorld. But I am not marginilized. I am white and male. Educated. I speak a language which in a country of 11 official languages receive a lot of special attention. I was part of the privilaged few who could have 12 years of school education and 6 years of university education while always having a teacher of lecturer in class that was able to speak my home language. I have internet access, in a country with quite a low internet penetration. I am Christian, in a country where in many ways on a popular level it is just assumed that everyone is Christian, at least when you are white and Afrikaans. Yes, I am from the South, and I live in South Africa, that does take me out of at certain dominant narratives, and I am 26, which in the world in which I work could be argued that to make me somewhat marginalized.

In many ways I am the example of normality.

But yet white people are only 11% of South Africa.

The world is majority female, the worlds labour force is majority female, and Africa specifically is being carried on the backs of the mothers and grandmothers.

This is a country of second languages. Where children are being taught in languages other then their home language.

Although I’m the example of normality, I’m not normal at all, if normal is defined as the place where “most people” are. But the normalized position it not selected democratically. The normalized position is the position never being questioned. We talk about “female perspectives” or “black perspectives”, but assume the “male perspective” or “white perspective” to be… well, normal. The perspective, all other being a deviation from this normalized position. And this is not limited to popular culture, as academics until recently also weren’t putting any emphasis on white people as a “race like any other“, assuming whiteness to be the position from which others is being studies, and interestingly, this report points out how the behavioral sciences continue to universalize Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic people (specifically young Americans at universities).

Concerning race, South African sociologist Melissa Steyn writes:

As the privileged group, whites have tended to take their identity as the standard bywhich everyone else is measured. This makes white identity invisible, “even to theextent that many whites do not consciously think about the profound effect being whitehas on their everyday lives”. In sum, because the racialness of their own lives is editedout, white people have been able to ignore the manner in which the notion of race has structured people’s life opportunities in society as a whole.

When seeing through the eyes of the marginalized, their might be something more important than recognizing the absolute horrors of life on the fringes of society, the suffering and oppression. If we are serious about racism, sexism, and all other phenomenons which create the marginalized in society (for economic reasons?), as systemic problems, and not simply the evil actions of individuals, then I would need to recognized my own non-normal normalized position. I would need to recognize my own indebtedness to this system of privilege. Yes, simply recognizing privilege is not solving the problem, but at least the privileged position of race (as Shannon Sullivan points out in Revealing Whiteness), and I believe the same can be said about other systems of privilege, has ways to keep itself in place, habits which manifest also among those who claim to be a voice in favour of the marginalized.

Our first task might then be to see ourselves through the eyes of the normalized. Recognizing our participation in different systems of privilege and power, so that we in turn can work for the transformation of systems which is continuing to create marginalized groups on so many different levels.

* * * * *

this part of the monthly synchroblog i enjoy being a part of, bloggers writing on the same topic on the same day.  november’s is a topic near & dear to my heart, seeing through the eyes of the marginalized. i encourage you to check out some of the other writers who participated, the early link list is at the bottom of this post & i’ll add to it as new ones come in over the course of today.  if you’re a blogger & want to be part of future synchroblogs, you can join on facebook or go to our newsynchroblog site and subscribe.


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9 Responses to “addressing the normalized position”


  1. […] on November 9, 2010 at 11:58 pm | Reply seeing through the eyes of the marginalized: addressing the normalized position « my contempla… […]

  2. Katie KM Says:

    Hi There!

    I’m a newcomer to WordPress & Blogging & was just trying to figure out the ‘tagging’ system when you rpost appeared on my page (I’m fairly technologically illiterate,so I’m still not sure, how or why this happened)!

    I clicked on your post, read it and loved it! You write so well about our ‘non-normal normalised’ position as white, educated, priveledged people.

    As a (white) Australian married to a (black) Tanzanian, I’m really interested in race, racism & race-relations. Thanks for such an interesting & insightful piece 🙂

    Would you mind if I shared it on my blog (when I can work out how!)?


  3. […] Cobus van Wyngaard – Addressing the Normalized Position […]


  4. […] Cobus Van Wyngaard – Addressing the Normalized Person […]


  5. […] Cobus van Wyngaard – Addressing the Normalized Position […]

  6. kathyescobar Says:

    cobus, thanks for sharing. the whole issue of really getting in touch with what “privilege” really means is something i continue to wrestle with. glad you were part of this synchroblog. peace, kathy


  7. […] Cobus van Wyngaard – Addressing the Normalized Position […]


  8. […] Cobus van Wyngaard – Addressing the Normalized Position […]


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