Disclaimer: some explicit content.
My last post announced my new project: an exploration of my own privilege and a new determination to listen to those who lack it and stand in solidarity with them. In an effort to show my readers what I’m talking about, let’s take a moment to define the word privilege and how I hold a high position of privilege in our society today.
Here’s the definition of privilege that I’m running with, as explained by Peggy McIntosh in her essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”
I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught
not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like
to have white privilege. I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of
unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to
remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special
provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.
What McIntosh is referring to are the different things that whites enjoy, but are unaware that others do not. This isn’t something that a white person earned through hard work, but by virtue of being a part of the “favored” race. Here’s a few of McIntosh’s examples:
I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed
I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my
race widely represented.
When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that
people of my color made it what it is.
I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the
existence of their race.
If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a
supermarket and find the staple foods that fit with my cultural traditions, into a
hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can deal with my hair.
Whether I use checks, credit cards, or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work
against the appearance of financial reliability.
If those aren’t really a big help, then let’s examine who I am as a person and pick that apart a bit.
Race: White. As a white person, I have the privilege of never having had the experience of being called a “nigger,” nor having to be reminded of the past crimes associated with such a word. I do not come from a history of having been oppressed, or having my skin color be identified as dirty or somehow evil. If I wear a hoodie with the hood up, people are probably more inclined to think my head is cold, instead of thinking I am hiding my face. Culture is predisposed to consider me as its primary citizen, with other races as something of an addition to the dominant culture.
Gender: male. As a man, I do not have to be concerned with a glass ceiling on my salary. I don’t have to be concerned with taking birth control, or carrying a child to term. If I mess something up, I am the only one blamed for it, whereas if a woman messes up, she has represented her whole gender in the process (see above comic. Credit: XKCD). No one will ever ask me to take their name in a marriage, nor am I expected to somehow magically balance being a parent and having a career (if I have one).
Economic Class: Middle. My parents made enough money as I was growing up to support our family of four to send my brother and I to a private Christian school. They also owned their home; in fact, they are landlords right now, managing four apartments over my father’s auction house and another property in my hometown. I currently have a decent paying job, while my wife has one that pays better, which affords us an extra amount of money to not only pay our bills, but also throw extra money at student loan debt (which I was able to get because my parents could cosign the loans).
Religion: Christianity. As a Christian, there’s no town in the United States I can go to that doesn’t have at least one church I could attend. Political candidates are expected to express their Christian faith in order to even think about getting into office, especially the White House. Though definitely over-commercialized, my holidays are the focal point of the whole year (this applies to race as well; think Thanksgiving). I even have my own subculture of Christian themed pop-culture that I can immerse myself in!
These are just a few of the ways in which I enjoy privilege in this country. There are probably many, many more I am missing. What do you think? Am I missing something? Am I off my rocker?