By Didi Madden, O.P.
White privilege is a system of unfair advantage that is woven into societal norms and practices for members of one race over another. White privilege in western society affirms elevated worth, greater social status, and increased freedom to move, act, and speak in society to white people. White privilege also enables the experience of white people to be understood as the normative experience by which everyone and every event is measured.
White privilege is a system of ordering the value of persons and their experiences that has been structured into societies throughout history and in the United States since its inception. As a system it renders the privileged blind to the scope of their advantage and subjects those excluded from privilege to injustices in major and minute ways. White privilege and racism intersect with other “isms” (sexism, ageism, ableism, classism, heterosexism) and create complex layers of valuing and devaluing persons and groups of people.
In the United States, white privilege is a primary vehicle for continuing the structure of racism. Understanding the unearned privilege that white skin provides in the U.S. and the limitations imposed on those who do not have white skin is essential to identifying and dismantling the structure of racism. In Peggy McIntosh’s article, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, the following experiences highlight how white privilege is operative in our experience of life:
- I can, if I wish, arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
- 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.
- I can be pretty sure that neighbors in such a location will be neutral/pleasant to me.
- When I am told about our national heritage or about "civilization," I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
- I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.
- I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.
- I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
- I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
- I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.
- I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the "person in charge", I will be facing a person of my race.
- I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.
- I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get
The remainder of the article is well worth reading! McIntosh helps us to see the many expressions of white privilege and the impact it has on our society and on the lives of people caught in an unequal and preferential social system.
Follow this link for the complete article: http://code.ucsd.edu/pcosman/Backpack.pdf
This and so much more was presented by Ceil Lavan at the January 20 OPSCC study day on white privilege. Ceil, many thanks for the excellent presentation and the process you led us through during the meeting.
To view the Livestream of the event, click here.