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White Privilege, Color Blindness, and Services to Battered Women

NCJ Number
Violence Against Women Volume: 11 Issue: 1 Dated: January 2005 Pages: 6-37
Denise A. Donnelly; Kimberly J. Cook; Lara Foley; Debra Van Ausdale
Date Published
January 2005
32 pages
This article presents the methodology and findings of an exploratory study of "White Privilege (system of benefits, advantages, and opportunities experienced by White persons in American society because of their skin color) in battered women shelters in three Southern States.
All battered women's shelters that received State funding in Alabama (n=17), Georgia (n=32), and Mississippi (n=11) were identified; and their executive directors, the vast majority of whom were White, were interviewed by phone in 1995. The semistructured interviews asked about the history and organizational philosophy of the shelter, the services provided, the demographic characteristics of the women served, the characteristics of the underserved populations, and their perceptions of why these groups were underserved. The data were analyzed both quantitatively and qualitatively. One of the themes that emerged from the findings was "color blindness," which involved the belief that there were no differences among the experiences of women related to their race, so all women coming to the shelter were treated the same. A second theme revealed in the interviews was the process of "othering" women of color, i.e., drawing on stereotypes to explain why they were different from White women and not in need of or receptive to shelter services. The third theme revealed in the findings was the existence of normative practices based on the experiences and needs of White women. In discussing the implications of these findings, this article concludes that structuring shelter services as though there are no differences among women's experiences, needs, and responsiveness to services according to race leads to default programs based on the normative needs of White women. The authors suggest policies and research that will make shelter services more relevant to diverse populations of women. 1 table, 30 references, and appended interview guide