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.