Article for submission
September 14, 2006
Recently, I was given an article to read for my Cultural Differences class in graduate school. The article was enitiled “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh. It is written as a series of statements that the writer feels she can make, because she is white. While the article’s stated purpose was to make me aware of my “unconscious oppressiveness,” it became clear that the real point was to try to make me feel guilty for being white, and born in the United States. The article was written in 1988, by someone who’s experience is clearly reminiscent of 1955. Times have changed. So I have compiled this, my response to “white privilege.” This is not intended to be confrontational, although it will no doubt be taken that way.
My American Experience--
1. If I am in a position of authority over a person of color, I must take extra special care where disciplinary action is concerned because if that person makes a racial complaint, I may be fired.
2. When I watch a movie, TV show, or commercial, I can assume that the white male will either be portrayed as the villain, or an idiot. The hero or person who solves the problem that the idiot/villain white male creates will always be played by a woman or minority.
3. If I am in my car and I honk my horn at the person of color who is in the wrong, I must ask myself if my disappointment in their driving is racially motivated. The person of color who honks at me has the luxury of not having to ask him or herself this question.
4. I can be sure that if I get a new job, or attend a college or university, I will be subjected to cultural sensitivity training that is intended to show how my demographic is the cause of every problem on earth for the last 2000 years.
5. Even though my own father escaped from a communist country, was jailed twice for his first 2 attempts, came to America in 1959, was broke and did not speak a word of English, I will be reminded from time to time about American slavery—as if any my ancestors had anything to do with it. Never mind the fact that the name of “my people,” the Slavs, is the basis for the English word slave. This is because we were the pool of people from which the majority of slaves came in Europe for the 1000 years preceding the existence of the USA.
6. When referring to the founding fathers of this country, I will, from time to time hear the phrase “old dead white guys.” When Martin Luther King, Jr., Booker T. Washington and other famous, dead blacks are mentioned, “old dead black guys” is totally inappropriate.
7. Any stand up comedian I watch will constantly make fun of men (especially the code phrase “rednecks”) not being able to ask for directions, leave the toilet seat down, or understand what women “really want,” etc. There will never be any derogatory jokes about any other demographic groups.
8. In a room full of 50 white people and 1 person of color, the whites must be particularly careful of stereotyping.
9. Clarence Thomas, Walter Williams, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and J.C. Watts are called “traitors” and “acting white.” “Acting white” is used as a pejorative (about the condition of being white) in this context.
10. When I ask my clinical supervisor about it, the reason given for why men therapists in training are outnumbered by women 3 to 1 is that women are “more nurturing.” In the medical profession, the reason given for why there are more male surgeons and more female psychiatrists and pediatricians is “the glass ceiling.”
11. If I was involved in a domestic dispute and the police were called, no matter who the victim was, I would probably go to jail.
12. If I were involved in a custody battle for my children, no matter who the better parent was, I would probably lose.
14. When I was in high school, a male trying to become a cheerleader was called a “faggot” and a “sissy.” The girl at the high school just down the road who tried out for the football team was called “courageous.”
15. The allowable stereotypes about all other demographic groups are intended to make them look good—“women are more nurturing,” or “Hispanics love their families.” The allowable stereotypes regarding my group are all negative. “Men are too proud to ask for directions,” “Men are too aggressive,” “Men think about sex too much.” If someone says “men do very well in math and science,” it is immediately dismissed as an anti-woman remark.
16. When I go to a clothing store, I will see t-shirts that read “boys are stupid. Throw rocks at them.” There will be no t-shirts about what boys should do to girls.
17. If I have sex with a woman and she regrets it the next day, she might accuse of me rape, and I will be convicted.
18. In the predominately black neighborhood of East Palo Alto where I live, when I introduced myself to my neighbor, it was brought to my attention that they all thought I was a police officer sent in undercover to arrest them for drug possession.
Some of the points in the article deserve specific attention. Take this one for example—“I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.” It is unbelievable to me that it does not even occur to the writer that this presents itself as an argument against affirmative action.
Or this one—“I can choose blemish cover or bandages in ‘flesh’ color and have them more or less match my skin.” So what? If I moved to Africa, I would have the opposite problem. I would not feel oppressed, I would feel nothing. This is not evidence of oppression. It is the nature of living in a country where the majority of its population is “more or less” white.
How about “I am never asked to speak for all the people of my race?” It has been my experience that people of color PRESUME to speak for all the people of their race, not that they are asked to by whites. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are self proclaimed speakers for the African American community. Whites have not appointed them such.
On the subject of confronting stereotypes and biases, I have my own stories. Here are a couple. When I arrived on campus in September, 2004, the parking lot was a sea of cars awash with “Kerry-Edwards” and “Not in our Name” stickers. I took my “Bush-Cheney” sticker off of my truck the very next week, for fear that I would stand out in a negative light.
The first week of school shocked me into the truth about university life. It was a truth that I already knew about, but I guess I just hoped for something more. It was the fall of 2004, and the presidential elections were fast approaching. George W. Bush and John Kerry had a debate the night before my class that week. The first day, the professor began to speak and was interrupted by a fellow student. She said “I am sorry, but I just have to interrupt for a minute. I want to make sure that everyone saw the debate last night and that we all agree on what an idiot this president is.”
“Make sure?” “We all agree?” These statements reveal some basic truths about life on the typical college campus. It is presupposed that everyone on the campus is a member of the same political party, and that they all agree on these points. She also obviously felt very comfortable pointing out what she thought was self-evident. Did I speak up? Of course not. I FELT very uncomfortable, because I don’t think this president is an idiot, but since I was obviously outnumbered, I just kept my mouth shut. Isn’t the whole point of this type of training to protect feelings and discomfort? I guess it only goes one direction. These are the people who have supposedly cornered the market on “tolerance.”
When I was in preschool, I was living in Inglewood, CA—a predominately black city. My best friend was an African American kid named Damon. It wasn’t until years later, as an adult, when I was looking at a picture of the two of us that I said to my mom, “I never realized Damon was black until just now.” Somewhere along the timeline of my life, I got the impression that his skin color mattered. I did not get this from my parents, but from the barrage of societal influence telling me that I must “respect” color. (And now gender, class, sexual orientation, and on and on). These dimensions have no effect on my initial assessment of an individual. They never have, and never will.
I submit this writing, not to win any friends and certainly not to sound “hateful” or like a racist. I will be called these things by those who do not want to engage with the points I have made. Others will actually interact with the material and a dialogue might be possible.
Finally, in a previous paragraph, the reason I used the phrase “African American kid” instead of “boy” is because of exactly what I have been writing about all along. I second guessed my first inclination because of fear of being called racist. Even though he was a boy in every sense of the word, it is not OK, especially for a white male to identify him that way