Cooper Thompson






Essays on Privilege, Oppression, and the Experience of being White Heterosexual and Male.

This is a collection of material I wrote over the past 25 years, beginning in 1985. It is largely, but not exclusively, about my experience as a white, middle class, heterosexual man. Since moving to Germany in 2003, I have also written about the experience of being an immigrant and using a second language.

Thanks to Harry Brod, who encouraged me to make this material accessible, Gerald Jackson, who has repeatedly told me that I have to share what I have written, and Michael Kaufman, who gave me suggestions about putting it on a web site. And thanks to the people who co-authored some of the material, and to the many people who inspired me to write this material in the first place, and who gave me feedback.

All articles may be linked to another web site, downloaded, quoted, and/or reprinted for personal, educational, and social justice purposes.
Please give credit to Cooper Thompson,

If you want to reprint and distribute the essays for a commercial, revenue generating purpose, please contact me. There are copyright restrictions on some of them.

I also offer coaching, counseling, and supervision. In addition to working with individuals and couples on a wide range of issues they face in their work and personal lives, I offer supervision for trainers and managers who want to develop their competencies and broaden their skills in challenging oppression and promoting equality.

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I hope you find this material useful.


Understanding Oppression

We Want to Meet Each Other as Equals, but Something Gets in the Way | Wir wollen einander gleichberechtigt begegnen, aber irgendetwas stellt sich uns in den Weg
Published originally in German in Nürnberg Interkulturell, Zeitung des Integrationsrates, June 2013 (the newspaper of the Nürnberg Integration Council)
An essay in both English and German that describes patterns of inequality between native Germans and Immigrants to Germany. My colleagues at VISIONS, Inc., in the United States ( developed and continue to use a model called Modern and Internalized Oppression to explain the persistence of racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression in the United States. In this essay, I apply the model to a German context.

Promoting Equality and Human Rights Includes Self Reflection | Ein Anstoß für Menschen, die sich für Menschenrechte und Gerechtigkeit engagieren: Ein Plädoyer zur Selbstreflexion
Co-authored with Inge Spiegel, published originally in German in Nürnberg Interkulturell, Zeitung des Integrationsrates, June 2013 (the newspaper of the Nürnberg Integration Council)
In our experience in Germany, many of the people who fight discrimination do so only at the institutional level and never get personally involved. This is an essay in both English and German that challenges activists, politicians, and teachers to work at all four levels at which discrimination occurs: personal, interpersonal, cultural, and, of course, institutional.

A White Man’s Experience of Oppression in a Life of Privilege
Published in The Diversity Factor, Spring 2008
After moving to Germany and beginning to speak German, I had some experiences that taught me about the emotional impact of oppression. Even though I am a very privileged immigrant, I had a taste of what it feels like to be the target of oppression.

Skills for Creating and Working Successfully in a Multicultural Workplace
Co-authored with Angela Bryant in 2000 and used in workshops developed by VISIONS, Inc.
A checklist that I originally developed for use with white men to give them tools to understand oppression and build stronger working relationships with women and people of color. The checklist was further developed with my colleague Angela Bryant. It describes explicit behaviors that we believe are essential when people with different cultural identities, and different experiences with prejudice and discrimination, want to successfully work together.

The Connections Between Homophobia and the Other "Isms"
Co-authored with Althea Smith, published by The Campaign to End Homophobia, 1991
Encourages people to use what they know about one type of oppression and apply it to other types of oppression, as a way to learn. Offers guidelines as well as traps to avoid when exploring the similarities and differences between oppressions.

White Heterosexual Men Can Understand Oppression
Published in Cultural Diversity at Work, September 1995
This is a shorter version of an essay I wrote in 1991, Can White Heterosexual Men Understand Oppression. In this essay, I describe some of the barriers that white heterosexual men like me face in understanding oppression and offer some suggestions for overcoming those barriers.

Can White Heterosexual Men Understand Oppression?
Published in Changing Men magazine, Winter/Spring 1991
This is the original version of White Men Can Understand Oppression. It is more personal, and I conclude the essay with some questions about my identity, and about my work challenging oppression.

Racism, and Race Privilege

Profiting From Racism: a family history of how race and class privilege created wealth
Published in Hughes, S. A. and Berry, T. eds., The Politics of Race in Education: Living, Learning, and Teaching, Hampton Press, 2011
Describes in detail how my white ancestors benefited financially from over two centuries of official, legal racism in the United States, and how I am the beneficiary of this racism.

White Men Challenging Racism: 35 Personal Stories
Co-authored with Emmett Schaefer and Harry Brod, published by Duke University Press, 2003
This book is a collection of first person narratives based on interviews with 35 white men in the United States who challenge racism. Included here are the table of contents with a brief description of the 35 white men profiled, excerpts from the Introduction and Preface, and the complete narrative of one of the men profiled in the book.

When the Topic is Race: White Male Denial
Published in The Diversity Factor, Spring 2000
For many years, I led workshops in which white male participants resisted the idea that racism was alive and well. In this essay, I describe some of the various ways that this resistance is expressed, provide some explanations for this resistance, and offer some options for how workshop facilitators might work with this resistance.

White Men and the Denial of Racism
Published in Reading for Diversity and Social Justice, edited by Maurianne Adams et al, Routledge, 2000
This essay is a variation of the previous one, with additional comments about white male resistance and without options for workshop facilitators.

Modern Racism at a Multicultural Men’s Retreat
Open letter to the participants, 1998
In 1998 I attended a week-long multicultural men’s retreat with approximately 100 white men and men of color from around the United States, with the goal of creating a multicultural space in which we would learn about each other. A month after the retreat, I wrote a letter to all of the participants, describing patterns of behavior that I observed among the white men during the retreat, behaviors that I described as modern forms of racism.

Published in Freedom Ways, the newsletter of the Freedom and Jail Project, Americus, Georgia, 1998
On a visit to a former German concentration camp just outside the city of Weimar, and hearing about how the residents of Weimar claimed that they didn’t know what was happening at the camp, I draw some comparisons to racism in the U.S. prison system.

Sexism, Masculinity, and Male Privilege

Busting 101: Workplace Bullying Between Men
Published in The Diversity Factor, Spring 2003
From 1996 to 2000, I led a project to help men create alternatives to a culture of harassment that had developed in the factory where they worked. This is a detailed report about the project and its impact.

A New Vision of Masculinity
Published originally in Changing Men, Spring 1985, and reprinted in many other journals and books, including New Men, New Minds, edited by Franklin Abbott, Crossing Press, 1987 and Race, Class, and Gender in the United States, edited by Paula S. Rothenberg, Worth Publishers, 2007
One of the first essays I ever wrote. Based on my experiences in public schools in the U.S., I describe some of the ways that boys are socialized into destructive patterns of masculinity, and what we could be teaching them, if we want men who are psychologically healthy, who are committed to living peaceful lives, and who treat women as equals.

Sexual Orientation
Homophobia, Sexual Identity, and Heterosexual Privilege

A Queer Life for a Straight Guy
Published in The Diversity Factor -- Perspectives on Heterosexism, Racism and Sexism, Winter 2005
Based on my experiences working as a consultant with men in a construction management company, this essay describes some of the subtle ways that homophobia impacted my relationships with male employees, and their relationships with each other, and suggests that something as simple as sharing feelings might have a major impact on the work environment.

Beyond Gay or Straight: Increasing our Choices about Sexual Identity
Co-authored with by Amanda Udis-Kessler, published by the Campaign to End Homophobia, 1995
Originally published as a pamphlet, this essay offers a broad perspective on sexual identity. Included are three scales that measure sexual identity in different ways.

On Being Heterosexual in a Homophobic World
Published in Backfire: the effects of homophobia on heterosexuals, edited by Warren Blumenfeld, Beacon Press, 1993
A personal history of my relationship with homophobia: how I learned about homophobia, its negative impact on my life, how ending homophobia is in my self interest, and the hope I feel when I see how younger people are dealing with their own and others’ sexual orientations.

Co-authored with Barbara Zoloth, published by The Campaign to End Homophobia, 1990
This essay answers the questions, How do you recognize homophobia in yourself and others? How does homophobia hurt heterosexuals? What are the causes of homophobia? Can homophobia be cured? Describes homophobia as a form of oppression that occurs at four levels: personal, interpersonal, cultural, and institutional.

Language and Immigration
Second Language Acquisition and Immigrant Experiences

Losing My Voice and Finding Another
Published by MSI Press, Hollister, California, 2012
This is a memoir of my experience learning German, when I moved to Germany in 2003 and began to learn a second language. It describes some of the difficulties and successes I experienced over a six year period, emphasizing emotional and social aspects of second language acquisition. Included here are the Table of Contents, the Prologue, and the first Chapter, Regression.
More information about the book can be found here (Youtube Video).

Who Decides Sprachkompetenz? | Wer enscheidet über Sprachkompetenz?
Published originally in German in Nürnberg Interkulturell, Zeitung des Integrationsrates, June 2012 (the newspaper of the Nürnberg Integration Council)
An essay in both English and German that challenges German expectations of immigrants’ language competence. In addition to providing some information about how immigrants actually learn and use German, I argue that immigrants have the right to use German and their native languages in whatever way suits their needs and desires.

Who are the Experts on Immigration? | Wer sind die Einwanderungsexperten?
Published originally in German in Nürnberg Interkulturell, Zeitung des Integrationsrates, Juli 2011(the newspaper of the Nürnberg Integration Council)
An essay in both English and German that criticizes the extensive use of so-called experts, Germans who have academic training in the field of immigration, while ignoring the experience and knowledge of immigrants themselves. Imagine convening a commission on the status and problems of women, and staffing the commission almost exclusively with men who have studied the issue.

Over there, they all speak English
Published originally as Language Chauvinism: the Ugly American Revisited in The Diversity Factor, Fall 2008
A plea for native English speakers to recognize the privilege of coming from an English speaking country. The essay is based on several experiences I had in Germany when tourists from the U.S. approached me and began speaking English, assuming that I spoke English. Of course I do, but on these occasions I wasn’t wearing a baseball cap or sweatshirt that said, “I come from the U.S.” They simply assumed that I would understand them.

Using a Language That’s Not Your Own: Experiences of Multilingual Employees
Published in The Diversity Factor, Spring, 2006
This essay describes some of the challenges faced by employees who have to use English, even though it is not their native language. Includes suggestions for improving communication between native and non-native speakers and for supporting non-native speakers when there appears to be a performance issue based on language ability.