The majority of my life, I have dealt and confronted white privilege in many different social spaces. So, I’m not really shocked with the current debate over privileges! This debate has been an ongoing battle for decades!
But, it does remind me of the writings of Dr. Peggy McIntosh. In her groundbreaking article, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, she pointed out that “whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege.” She continues by stating that “white privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.” Furthermore, McIntosh “identif[ies] some of the daily effects of white privilege.” Here is a short list of them!
1. I can if I wish to arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.
3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
7. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
9. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
10. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.
For me, as a faculty of color, I encounter those effects of white privilege almost every day, especially when I receive random emails from my students questioning my credentials. Here is a clear example of white privilege! This student was enrolled in one of my courses but decided to drop it. For some odd reason, the student decided to email me a year later!
[city, state, zip code]
Dear Mr. Moreno,
I know it has been almost a year since I was enrolled in your class, but I decided to write this letter to both thank for sparking an interest in the history of minorities in America as well as my own family history. Additionally, I am writing this letter to inform you about some of my findings.
While it is true that many white college kids are uneducated about the history and lives of minorities I have found that the reverse is also true. I feel as though you made several comments that I found offensive and indicated that you may be misinformed as well. These include comments like, “there is isn’t very much color in [state],” insinuating that if someone is white that means that they are racist and that minorities are all open minded. In fact studies show lower levels of anti-Semitism and homophobia among white Americans than many other ethnic groups. You also referred to Western Civilization as the culture of “dead rich white men,” which I found incredibly offensive to anyone whose ancestors served in the military to defend our freedom. My ancestors fought for liberty not Marxism. I could mention numerous other comments, but that would take up too much space so I will continue with informing you about my family background.
Through my research I have found that I had ancestors from Ireland who were locked up in prison for fighting for their freedom from colonial rule and were forced to come to the United States to save themselves from starvation. I have Greek ancestors who were kicked off of their land in modern day Turkey and lived under oppressive Ottoman rule were they were basically treated as slaves. Upon arriving in America my Great Grandmother was forced to sleep with animals and eat dog food as that is how rich businessmen in New York City viewed her. My Grandfather recalls being called a “God damned Greek” and even had his house in [city] burned down. He was told by a teacher that he would of course never go to college. I have ancestors from French Canada who were kicked out of Acadia by the British. Nearly half starved to death. Many of my mother’s ancestors were Irish and German Catholics who were at one time viewed with the same suspicion as Muslims and Hispanics today. I even discovered that my third great grandfather was of African American and Spanish descent and he escaped slavery on the Underground Railroad.
Yet despite the hardships that my ancestors faced, despite the fact that my father and his brothers were repeatedly harassed growing up for doing well in school and eventually getting well paying jobs, I am viewed by people such as yourself as just another white man. I am viewed as an oppressor, a bigot, a homophobe, etc. just because I am a white man. Because my family members have good jobs and do well financially it is assumed that we are members of a magical “dominant group” of white people who congregate together to figure out how we can get rich exploiting minorities. I think it is important for you to understand that many white people have had no involvement in the oppression of minorities and work their asses off to get good jobs. Maybe white people in a rich, liberal state like California buy your narrative, but not in a state like [state] which is filled with descendants of poor ethnic Europeans.
I hope this letter has helped you to understand that not all white people come from the same background and hate their ancestors. I have a great deal of respect for the sacrifices that my ancestors have made.