Every website has to begin somewhere, and I thought I’d start this one with some outside reference material on the topic. Invisible privilege comes in many forms – white privilege, class privilege, male privilege being among the better known. I’m starting with an article on white privilege that neatly addresses other forms of privilege (since none of them exist in vacuum to each other):
From Peggy McIntosh on White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack:
I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege. I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.
After I realized the extent to which men work from a base of unacknowledged privilege, I understood that much of their oppressiveness was unconscious. Then I remembered the frequent charges from women of color that white women whom they encounter are oppressive. I began to understand why we are just seen as oppressive, even when we don’t see ourselves that way. I began to count the ways in which I enjoy unearned skin privilege and have been conditioned into oblivion about its existence.
My schooling followed the pattern my colleague Elizabeth Minnich has pointed out: whites are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, normative, and average, and also ideal, so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work that will allow “them” to be more like “us.”
This is a well-drawn example of how the privilege pyramid works. It’s easier to see when others have advantages you don’t; tougher to see when you hold advantages others don’t. You’re trained from birth to see your privileges as rights you are owed simply for showing up. But if not everyone has those “rights”, then clearly they are privileges. If you claim not to support unequal rights dispersed on random criteria such as color or gender, then you need to listen carefully and investigate before dismissing claims that other people don’t fully share your “rights”.
Peggy’s White Privilege Checklist includes some thought-provoking items that hadn’t occurred to me:
10. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.
15. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.
17. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color.
18. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.
20. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
Numbers 17 and 18 particularly interest me. As a woman, I know what it’s like to have my less-than-stellar moments put down to my gender’s alleged inferiority. I know what it’s like when people clearly expect less of me because I’m a woman. I know what it’s like to have to be nice when people applaud you for being “pretty good for a girl”, even though that’s the very thinking that eliminates you from competing with men. I wonder how white men are able to relate to this sort of thing? Perhaps the ones who come from a rich or poor family experience the class version of this: lowered expectations for the poor, for example.
Peggy goes on to say:
For me white privilege has turned out to be an elusive and fugitive subject. The pressure to avoid it is great, for in facing it I must give up the myth of meritocracy. If these things are true, this is not such a free country; one’s life is not what one makes it; many doors open for certain people through no virtues of their own.
Indeed. Some of these privileges need to be removed from the people who enjoy them – such as the privilege to ignore someone whose color or gender arbitrarily forces them onto a less powerful rung on the social ladder than you occupy – but others should be corrected by being extended to everyone:
For example, the feeling that one belongs within the human circle, as Native Americans say, should not be seen as privilege for a few. Ideally it is an unearned entitlement. At present, since only a few have it, it is an unearned advantage for them.