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Invisible Privilege

When Peggy McIntosh writes about the invisibility of advantage in White Privilege and Male Privilege, she points out what I think is the crux of the inequality dilemma.  Most people who have power and privilege bestowed upon them as a birthright likely cannot, or will not, see the advantages they have over ‘others’.  This same idea was said by Tim Wise in his video.  Secondly, as both McIntosh and Wise point out, those of us who have this privilege are not in any hurry to give it up.  How can the playing field be leveled if no one wants to meet in the middle?  And what would middle mean?  Does it mean being like heterosexual white males?

Wise also made another point which struck a chord with me – white people who say they do not see color are not part of the solution.  Not to say that means the person is prejudice, but after looking at McIntosh’s list of 46 (!) implicit privileges because she is white and at least middle class, makes it obvious that to ignore color means to deny very real disadvantages of non-white people.  I am not sure which is worse – to be actively prejudicial or to pretend everything is OK when it is not.  The second seems more dishonest.

Many of the items on her list are fundamental to a person’s wellbeing, so it should be obvious how profoundly they could affect people of color when the tables are turned.  Examples are access to good housing, education, and credit, fearing for one’s personal safety, and to not be judged on the merits and  demerits of the entire race.   This last one in particular is so obvious in the media – neither criminals or the newsworthy who are white people ever have their whiteness described, but a non-white is usually identified as such, regardless if it is a good or bad situation.  Even President Obama’s blackness is often pointed out.  Why make note of something that is common knowledge and visually identifiable unless the intention is to make an unspoken inference?

However, privilege is not just a white/color, male/female issue.  Complicating inequality is the hierarchy  / intersection of race, class (economics), gender, ageism and sexuality as noted in many of the readings.   Unfortunately,  the bigger picture shows that society has many layers of prejudice and oppression and it seems to me that we need a top-down solution to inequality – leveling the playing field –  rather than just minor concessions by the privileged, for certain groups (i.e. white women)  based on protests from minorities.

1 Comment

  1. khamida23 says:

    This issue of White privilege seems so easy to analyze yet is so hard to fix because it is an overall issue of prejudice. Prejudice/hatred towards one another has been the number one issue around the entire globe for what seems like forever. They say history repeats itself, which is definitely true, and we are currently facing the repetition of history all around us. This is evident in every conflict we see on the media, whether you are discussing war, politics, or everyday issues which seem to revolve around prejudice.

    I like how you mentioned Obama and how his skin color was the first to be spoken about rather than his stand on any issue that our government was discussing. Personally I see Obama as a little slice of hope for our society because having a president of color is a major accomplishment in the prejudice and white privilege dilemma. However, many people still have an issue with this, and many times still mention his color rather than analyzing him on a presidential, political level. This is shocking if you realize that we supposedly “solved” color discrimination in our country back since the civil war, apparently we did not.

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