Got privilege? I saw this phrase on a bumper sticker and it got me wondering.
Do I think they are talking about somebody else, other people, not me? I feel pretty average. There are lots of people with more money or education than me. I don't have more privilege than anyone else — or do I?
I became intrigued with the concept of white privilege after attending several transforming diversity trainings in Berkeley and Los Angeles. Racism is such a huge subject. Am I to acquaint myself with people of color, see how this privilege question affects them? Yes, partially. Yet, maybe the responsibility lies here, in my white soul, to seek out other people of privilege, who are living in the fog right beside me. It's so invisible. We, of the white persuasion, live it, breathe it, benefit by it every day, without noticing a thing about it. Do fish see the water in which they swim?
If I am never outside my comfort zone of the white majority culture, how would I know how it feels different to anyone else? Anyone else who is not white, heterosexual, able-bodied — the list goes on.
So, I say, yes, I do need to tease apart this "invisibility cloak," wrapped all around me.
Peggy McIntosh wrote a seminal article in the '80s, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack." Her definition: Privilege: an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was "meant" to remain oblivious. As I read the exhausting list of situations (that happen to be true for me), I realize this must mean there are people out there, for whom this is not true?" What an eye-opener. Here are a few from her list:
I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help my race will not work against me. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
Do I take these things for granted? Of course I do, and, I'm pretty sure there are many people of Ashland who cannot.
What makes me foggy, oblivious, not notice? It's like there is a cultural mandate not to know that we, as white, people are surrounded by a set of extraordinary privileges.
Dissipating this fog will take some doing. Maybe I start by seeing what I do take for granted and what others cannot; finding out what the world looks like through another's eyes.
Partly, I think, it has to do with taking the path of least resistance. It is easier not to know this exists; not to speak up when a salesperson, unconsciously, takes me before someone of color who was there first. Worried about making someone uncomfortable, I say nothing. How can I be in collusion with such ungracious behavior? Because, it is so invisible, and expected of me, that's why, and how. Media, government, schools, corporations, you name it, all settled nicely into the invisibility of the privileged culture.
To start dismantling this invisibility cloak, I cannot sit around feeling guilty. It does no one any good. Am I a nicer person because I feel bad that the culture has come to be this way? I read something once that says "Our silence, then, isn't because nothing we do will matter. Our silence is our not daring to matter."
Maybe the fog of privilege won't evaporate in my life time. I am no expert at how to clear this trance. I've lived in, and benefited from, this fog all of my 62 years; but I will live out the rest of my life daring to speak up, giving an extra smile, making a comment that, at least, lets people know I have learned something about this. From the beginner's place, maybe I can show that it is the small things we do that make a difference.
Toni Lovaglia, diversity consultant in training, will host an evening, "Exploring White Privilege," Feb. 9, 7 p.m. at Peace House, 543 S. Mountain. Information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Send articles on exploring Inner Peace to Sally McKirgan email@example.com.