The historical origins of ethnic (white) privilege in US organizations

  • Nkomo S
  • Al Ariss A
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Access to this document was granted through an Emerald subscription provided by emerald-srm:198477 [] For Authors If you would like to write for this, or any other Emerald publication, then please use our Emerald for Authors service information about how to choose which publication to write for and submission guidelines are available for all. Please visit for more information. About Emerald Emerald is a global publisher linking research and practice to the benefit of society. The company manages a portfolio of more than 290 journals and over 2,350 books and book series volumes, as well as providing an extensive range of online products and additional customer resources and services. Abstract Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to trace the genealogy of ethnic (white) privilege in US organizations and its continuing significance in organizations today. Design/methodology/approach – The paper relies upon the historical literature on work, culture, and society found primarily in the fields of labor history and sociology. It also references contemporary organization studies and sociological literature to illustrate the continuing significance of ethnic (white) privilege in the workplace. Findings – There is an inexorable link between European global expansion and colonization, industrialization, and the racialization/ethnicization of nineteenth and twentieth century US organizations. Furthermore, the particular manifestations of ethnic (white) privilege today must be understood within its historical development and the new meanings whiteness has acquired within the workplace if scholars and practitioners are to be successful in creating inclusive workplaces. Research limitations/implications – The focus in this paper is on the USA and ethnic (white) privilege to the exclusion of other forms of difference and contexts. Suggestions for future research are provided along with managerial implications. Originality/value – This paper provides historical insight into the formation of white privilege in organizations and constitutes a prelude to fully understanding its contemporary manifestations in the workplace. These insights suggest ways to disrupt inequality and create inclusive organizations that do not privilege one ethnic or racial group over another.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Discrimination in employment
  • Diversity
  • Ethnic (white) privilege
  • Inclusion
  • USA
  • Whiteness

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  • Stella M. Nkomo

  • Akram Al Ariss

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