Discussion Recap: 1/25/15

By Amanda Ahadizadeh

Our second weekly meeting was a smashing success. I know this because we were passionate enough to annoy the other people in the Community Room at the good old Biz. We’re not wholeheartedly sorry–it’s called the Collaborative Learning Center for a reason. 🙂

This week’s topic was white privilege. We read, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” by Peggy McIntosh. Interestingly, this was one of the first published works on white privilege. Now, why is that interesting? Because it was published in 1989.

1989, in addition to being the name of Taylor Swift’s most recent album, is also not that long ago. Most of our parents were born before 1989. The Civil Rights Movement was allegedly all wrapped up in the late ’60s, right? Wrong. 1989. Blondie. Perms. Grunge. White privilege? I feel like sometimes we make the mistake of thinking we’ve come a lot farther than we really have, especially concerning white privilege. Today it’s something we read about every week, something that we can quickly identify.

26 years ago, Peggy McIntosh was astute enough to use her perspective as a woman, a socially marginalized and oppressed person, and relate her feminist philosophy to race. In her article, she opens by commenting on her experiences with males. Apparently, the men she had encountered had no problem recognizing that women were indeed disadvantaged by society. However, they were rather unwilling to acknowledge their own privilege, especially as a benefit of female oppression.

“I have often noticed men’s unwillingness to grant that they are over-privileged, even though they may grant that women are disadvantaged. They may say they will work to improve women’s status, in the society, the university, or the curriculum, but they can’t or won’t support the idea of lessening men’s.”

At our meeting yesterday, we discussed the average privileged perspective. In agreement with McIntosh, we too were taught in school that racism is categorized by explicit acts of violence. In school, the slaveholders were racist. Racism is mean. Racism is bad. Racism is over because the Union won. With this mindset, a mindset of sympathetic observance, a sense of “Gosh, I’m sorry that happened to your people, but I didn’t do it,” we fail to realize how privileged we are. McIntosh listed twenty-six daily effects of white privilege in her life. Some of these we the privileged take for granted. For example, number ten: “Whether I use checks, credit cards, or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.” Or, “I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.” These are things which we can all agree EVERYONE should be entitled to. The fact is, people take their privilege for granted most of the time, and revealing it to them destroys the “myth of meritocracy.” It’s not pleasant feeling like the oppression of a whole group of people is your fault. It’s not pleasant feeling like you didn’t earn your place in society. But I’ll bet you can guess what’s even less pleasant…

The myth of meritocracy is so incorporated within the American culture that it uncomfortable and inconvenient to identify. As McIntosh discusses in her article, men were very offended when she pointed out that they received advantages not because they deserved them, but because these advantages were reserved for them. Our hierarchical social system, unfortunately, is based on dominance masked as merit.

“Thinking through unacknowledged male privilege as a phenomenon, I realized that since hierarchies in our society are interlocking, there was most likely a phenomenon of white privilege which was similarly denied and protected. As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something which puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.”

How might your privileges affect others? Take a look at McIntosh’s essay. It’s only five pages long. Cross reference her list of privileges with a list of your own. See what happens.