Perhaps one of the reasons some people push back a bit when they hear the term white privilege is because many on the left have distorted the message described in Wellesley College professor Peggy McIntosh’s seminal article, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.
Wikipedia defines ‘white privilege’ as the societal privilege that benefits white people over non-white people in some societies, particularly if they are otherwise under the same social, political, or economic circumstances.
So does ‘white privilege’ actually exist in this country? Of course it does, how could it not. Beginning in the late 1400s predominantly white explorers followed by predominantly white settlers began arriving in the New World creating a culture dominated by white people. Meanwhile, five hundred plus years later our nation remains predominantly white as does the culture and its attendant ‘privileges.’ But let’s also not forget that privilege of one kind or another exists just about everywhere in society; we find it within social class, religion, ethnic status, gender and even geographical location. Meaning that white privilege isn’t premeditated racism and ascribing blame or fault is playing racial politics.
My issue has never been with the subject itself. Rather I find it disturbing how certain precincts in this country try to use the matter as a cudgel. McIntosh’s work described a situation that exists in America. And those who’ve read her work know she places no blame or fault and wanted no guilt associated with it. Her work was about observing, realizing and thinking both systemically and personally. McIntosh also specifically cautioned against generalizing because her work was about her experiences, not about the experiences of all white people at all times in all places and circumstances.
Nonetheless, when I watch or listen to panel discussions from certain media outlets like CNN and MSNBC the attitude of the hosts invariably turns into one of condescension and judgment accompanied by an air of moral superiority. After watching these talking heads on television I always walk away feeling the people discussing the issue are far more interested in announcing to the world how “woke” they are than dispassionately examining the matter to ascertain what can be done to ameliorate any negative effects this phenomena has on society.
Could it be that some in this great land of ours are taking a legitimate cultural issue and weaponizing it? And is it also possible that judgment, opinion, implied guilt, blame, shame, and generalizations, i.e., everything Professor McIntosh wanted to avoid are a part of a political agenda? As an aside, in all the discussions I’ve heard about white privilege I’ve never heard a single word about the “privilege” of simply being born an American, or perhaps that doesn’t have much value in certain precincts anymore.
My advice then to those about to engage in a discussion on the subject, is first not to take anything personally, second, educate yourself on the matter beginning by reading McIntosh’s “invisible knapsack” article, but most importantly, never ever engage in a conversation about white privilege unless its context is completely non-judgmental. Honest and non-judgmental discussion on the topic is a good thing—you just won’t find it much of it in the mainstream media.
Quote of the day: “Compared to what we ought to be, we are only half awake”—William James