Sunday, August 22, 2010

White Privilege, Part II

Any conversation about white privilege has to start with Peggy McIntosh's essay, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack." McIntosh says it so well -- she describes white privilege as "an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks." She lists the everyday benefits of being white -- the big things and the little things. Read it for yourself at

I know I had never thought of any of this before I read this essay for the first time, and that's the thing about white privilege. It's invisible to those of us who benefit from it. I didn't have to think about race because, well, I'm white. I don't really have a race. I'm just regular, which means that, for me, everyone else is irregular. I never thought those words consciously, of course – it’s just an unstated (invisible) way of looking at the world.

Here’s an example. Last year there were two scary incidents at my son’s school involving possible “stranger danger.” Here’s how they were described on the school website (I’ve removed names of streets and school district):

Incident 1: A Hispanic man driving a silver two door Honda or Nissan approached a group of students requesting they get in his car. They wisely refused, however even after the refusal the vehicle followed them for some time. A police report has been filed.

Incident 2: While a group of students were throwing a shot put at the track, a red vehicle stopped in the turning lane and began taking pictures of them. A police report has been filed.

What do you notice? The person in incident 1 was clearly described as Hispanic. Incident 2? Apparently the car was taking the pictures. I happen to know that the man in the car was white, because my son was one of the kids throwing shot put who reported it, and he clearly stated that the guy was white. Yet that didn’t make it into the report, because in this mostly white school district, whiteness is assumed. Obviously, there’s a lot more to this topic than this, but it’s a small example of how one aspect of white privilege operates.

Maybe you’re thinking, hey, I’m not privileged! I’ve worked hard for everything I have! More on that in next week’s blog.

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