The concept of using ‘our’ White Privilege until it is gone has been rattling around in me for months… what I have been finding is that the more choices I make to use WP to dismantle the system, the fewer “yeses” I can answer to the “qualifying” questions in Peggy McIntosh’s article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” The more I know my WP, and use it as an ally, the emptier that Knapsack gets.
Specifically, at present, for certain of McIntosh’s questions, I can describe where that Privilege went– and the ‘upsides’ I see as being increasingly more blessed to be without it:
1. I can no longer arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time, at least at our Ohio home; I have become identified as a “N-lover,” and find white folks usually not letting me into their lives the minute they get that memo. (Upside: more Black friends.)
2. 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, BUT:
3. I can no longer be pretty sure that my [white] neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me, because my views are known and my door signage communicates it visually. The more my relaxed enjoyment of new Black friends was seen, as we shared a day of yard work at the house, the more this changed. (Upside: more Black friends.)
6. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am no longer shown that people of my color made it what it is, because I have educated myself to see between the lines of any text purporting to show white “credit. “ (Upside: I know and can teach many of the facts about the injustices done in the name of white society.)
10. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can no longer count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of my financial reliability. This is because in our Ohio neighborhood I have often shopped in the company of Black people– specifically, Black men. Once this has been noted, I am grilled for ID and denied certain store privileges, whether I am with a white person or a Black person. (Upside: lots of practice in interrupting “micro-aggressions.”)
11. I can no longer arrange to protect my [visiting] children most of the time from people who might not like them, again because I am now a known “N-lover,” and therefore my nieces and nephews are likely to hear that from passing neighbors when we’re out in the yard together. (Upside: opportunities to teach about racism with these children.)
12. I can no longer swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race– since it is now assumed that I must be “poor white trash” for associating with Black men socially. And if I fail to acknowledge social norms with Black friends, I’m assumed to be “acting white.” (Upside: humility is a virtue, and I get to cultivate it and give up victimhood.)
13. I can no longer speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial. (See #12)
14. I can no longer do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race. (See #12) “Not bad for a white trash N-lover.”
15. I am often asked to speak for all the people of my racial group. (Upside!) My Black friends feel safe about opening up their curiosity and anger with me, increasingly asking me to try to address their curiosity truthfully.
16. I can no longer remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion, because more and more whites know the truth and hold one another accountable for speaking it.
17. I can no longer criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider. (See #12.)
21. I can no longer go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, or feared. (See #12.)
24. I can no longer be sure that if I need legal or medical help my race will not work against me. (See #12.) Amazing and different, how many white attorneys would not return my call last winter. (Upside: more Black friends.)
25. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need to consider each negative episode or situation as to whether it has racial overtones. (See #12.) (Upside: Black friends seem to feel more welcome to tell me how it is for them on a daily basis.)
Of course, all this ‘loss’ of privilege doesn’t mean that I am not white anymore; physically I am as white as ever. Culturally though, I hope I am becoming less ‘white.’ I can’t try to be Black, which is just not possible– but I can become more multiculturally curious. I can be (and am) more comfortable engaging beyond ‘whiteness,’ by ever moving towards my own discomfort: I am working deliberately on learning and rejecting the roles my culture of origin played in systemic, racist injustice.
The system encourages me to repack the Knapsack; the world still cuts me White Slack the minute I step into a new environment, until they know me there. Keeping it light depends on being known as my authentic self.
As I look forward to living full-time in the very diverse community my husband and I chose for our retirement, I also look forward to seeing more of that Privilege disappear. It just doesn’t fit right, because I know it doesn’t make sense to have it while others have less Privilege as a result of too much of it being mine.
This is not a new phenomenon, among white people who have stepped out in communities of diversity in past generations; it’s just a distinctive process to me because I’ve been in a very majority-white culture for so long that this change is sort of happening all at once. It’s making me ponder an age-old consequence of celebrating diversity, through a modern-times lens called “White Privilege.”
My own personal change is a very tiny hill of beans, relative to the big picture, because I know I’m as ‘racist’ as anyone who has not yet gotten rid of all the poisonous conditioning our culture serves on pretty plates. But I’m proud to be able to join the ranks of white folks letting go of their unearned privilege, and I’m not alone– so many segments of white America are coming forward these days. For example, yesterday began Chanukah, and the mostly-white Jews for Racial Justice publicized this Chanukah activism:
ChanukahAction: A Jewish Day of Action to End Police Violence
I long for a society I hope to see in my lifetime– a happily and comfortably diverse society where no one (white) wears invisible knapsacks, and no one (nonwhite) has to carry the reserve stock of items to replenish them.
Each of us is a unique person thinking about justice. What is so important about this massive coalition-swelling is that it’s coming from the group that has had a disproportionately huge amount of the power in the US. It’s as big a change as the toppling of the Berlin Wall. No thinking person these days denies that whites have had Privilege (and thus power) for hundreds of years. That power has been building silently for a long time, but now we hear those voices and see those faces moving for justice for ALL.