The Blinders of Privilege™

(I’ve been thinking about this for some time now, and recent events brought it to the forefront.  I just had to get it out there, even if I make a fool of myself in the process.)

In a way, I find it embarassing that I’m just now learning that I have The Blinders of Privilege™. I mean… I’m 32 years old, for Pete’s Sake. You would think that I would have learned it by now, especially considering that for all of my adult life, I have had a more diverse group of friends than I did growing up. But nope… The Blinders of Privilege™ made sure I didn’t see what was right in front of my face.

Certain groups of people are made to feel more entitled than others, and in such a way that they feel they’ve earned that right. It happens every day, and most of those people involved don’t see that there’s a problem. Sometimes even the ones to whom we feel superior feel that they deserve the treatment they get.

In White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, Peggy McIntosh describes it like this:

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.

Now, obviously, Ms. McIntosh is speaking specifically about white privilege. But the fact is, we can take the word “white” out of there and replace it with any of the privileged groups: Rich, Men, Thin, “Normal” – and you end up with exactly the same result.

In her essay, she goes on to list 50 things that are an everyday occurrence to white people that openly shows their privilege.  Things you might not even think of.  However, in reading those things, I think I caught a glimpse of why I’ve always seen People of Color as being equal to me despite my white upbringing.  Short story: I’m obsinate and wouldn’t let racist talk affect the way I thought of People of Color; and my adult life has been spent struggling financially, which, in turn, put me in contact with People of Color more often – and I learned a lot from them.

But there are some things on that list that I never even thought of, and surprised me.

  • I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
  • I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
  • I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
  • 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 sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
  • I can be pretty sure that my children’s teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others’ attitudes toward their race.

Those are just a few.  But they illustrate my point: because I am white, I don’t have to think about these things.  However, when they are pointed out to me, I can honestly understand why People of Color get so upset about this privilege we have.  Because while I was too blinded to see it before, it’s right there in front of my face.  But The Blinders of Privilege™ made it impossible for me to see before.

And learning more about my unearned White Privilege has made it so much clearer now as to why People of Color involved in the Fatosphere have said time and again “there is no real place for us.”  Until we – as a society – learn to put away the White Privilege completely, there will always be an “us” and a “them.”  It really saddens me to admit that, but it’s true.

I can only hope that I, under the power of The Blinders of Privilege™, haven’t made any person of Color feel unwanted.  I don’t think I have, but I didn’t think I had any Privilege, either.

At least I’m learning.

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10 Responses

  1. I have always pondered the flesh-colored bandaids, they certainly don’t match my flesh, and even all “flesh” colored people are not of the same flesh-tone. I usually buy the neon-colored ones anyway…

    I’m trying to think of a proper way to word this without coming across as offensive… she’s left off that in a general box of crayons, it is by far easier to draw white people than it is black. Growing up, I totally remember drawing white people because the crayon selection was better. I certainly am not the shade of a brown or black crayon(most definitely not burnt sienna), how am I going to draw myself or people that look like me? In the same 24-box of crayons, I have peach or apricot, which to child-me seemed much more accurate than brown. Even now, when I decide to color, I either buy non-human coloring books, or end up leaving any non-white people blank.

    Maybe I was just too anal-retentive as a kid… no one else seemed to have problems using the brown crayon. When I have kids, maybe I will get them a large enough set of crayons and teach them about mixing colors so they can represent things as they see them.

    I read these stories about “white privilege”, and even this list, I take most of the items for granted. I’m fully aware that I’m black, though I realize I tend to base things on intellect than skin color. There are definitely things that I have to watch out for, regardless of the group I am in. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t properly experienced the disadvantaged side of many of these things.

  2. I didn’t become aware of white privilege until I began taking feminist studies classes in college in my early- to mid-twenties. I am not so Pollyanna’ish to think that we will ever succeed in completely eradicating privileges of various groups, whether they be unconsciously or consciously held, but becoming aware that such privilege exists is the first step to helping reduce inequalities. Kudos to you for taking the time to raise awareness of the issue.

  3. Jess, I think you do have a point there. A lot of the things on that list don’t just pertain to race, but to financial status as well. People with money will always have advantages that people without do not, regardless of their race. For example, this:
    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.
    wouldn’t pertain to me, and I’m your quintessential blue eyed blond white person. But I have always struggled financially, and have more than once been forced to move to an area that wouldn’t exactly be my first choice. Back in 2000, we had to move to an area with one of the worst reputations in town. Because it was all we could afford. My neighbors – all black – asked me why I’d moved there (that’s how they said it, too). I told them the truth: because I was just as poor as they were. Just because my skin was white didn’t mean I automatically had loads of money. And the opposite is true, as well. Just because a person’s skin is dark doesn’t automatically mean they’re going to be disadvantaged. Unfortunately, though, it does mean they’ll be more LIKELY to be.

    Rachel, I think that may be where some of my ignorance comes from: no education. Well, not NO education… I did graduate high school. But I never had the opportunity to get any higher education. Between not being able to afford it and having my first child less than a year afterwards, it simply became an impossibility. (I hope to emulate my mother, though: at nearly 50 years old, she entered university. Now, not only is she on the dean’s list, the honor society, and a member of the student government, but she’s done this all while being and adult with ADD and dyslexia.) But sometimes I feel downright stupid compared to a lot of my counterparts here on the Fatosphere. I know I’m intelligent, but I don’t have the learning experience that y’all have had. And it seems like a lot of this – feminism, white privilege, etc. – is something that y’all became aware of (or learned more about, maybe) when you were pursuing higher education.

  4. I thought the “I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented” one was interesting, because although there are plenty of people of the race I’ve been assigned on TV, very few look like me: dark brown hair, brown eyes, olive skin, short, broad, and curvy. And, the ones who look most like me aren’t considered white. I was very aware of that when I was a kid, actually.

    nuckingfutz’s points about the race and class being confused in the “invisible backpack” are very good, too. Isn’t the black=poor, white=wealthy assumption racist?

  5. .” 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….”
    Just because my skin was white didn’t mean I automatically had loads of money. And the opposite is true, as well. Just because a person’s skin is dark doesn’t automatically mean they’re going to be disadvantaged. Unfortunately, though, it does mean they’ll be more LIKELY to be.

    The issue of “being able to rent/afford housing” isn’t exactly about having the cash. It’s about if you go to a rental agency and say “I want an apartment in the range of $$$” they will treat you fairly and show you the full variet of aparmtents in that range.

    For instance, when I went looking for apartments with a friend that ihs a latina, we were shown different apartments then when my friend a white man went looking. We both provided the same specs, but mysteriously I was shown apartments in less desirable areas.

    Simliarly, which of us got challenged to prove they had a paycheck? Not the white guy who made the least money of all of us.

    Or to talk about jobs. A friend of mine who is a white guy used to clean houses. He faced class based oppression. He also said that if something was missing/broken at an apartment, the owners were less likely to assume he had done it than someone who was a woman of color. Also, he would be offered a key to the apartment adn be allowed to clean on his own, while women of color were less likely to do so.

    I can also say as a middle class educated black person, my class pirvilege often doesn’t help me. It hasn’t stopped security guards from following me around stores. It hasn’t stopped people form asking how I learned to talk white (because black people all sound a certain way). When I open fashion magazines, I don’t see women with my skin tone or my hair texture. When I watch makeover shows on TV, I don’t see women whose skin/hair/features look anything like me.

    I’d also like to add a few links

    What it means to check your privilege
    http://blog.shrub.com/archives/tekanji/2006-03-08_146

    How to suppress dicussions of racism
    http://coffeeandink.livejournal.com/607897.html?thread=6608281

    And how not to be insane when accused of racism (a guide for white people)
    http://www.amptoons.com/blog/archives/2005/12/02/how-not-to-be-insane-when-accused-of-racism/

  6. […] The Blinders of Privilege™ The Blinders of Privilege™ Posted on June 17, 2008 by nuckingfutz (I’ve been thinking about this for some time now, and recent events brought it to the forefront.  I just had to get it out there, even if I make a fool of myself in the process.) In a way, I find it embarassing that I’m just now learning that I have The Blinders of Privilege™. I mean… I’m 32 years old, for Pete’s Sake. You would think that I would have learned it by now, especially considering that for all of my adult life, […]

  7. Julia, thank you for pointing that out about the looking for housing thing. Again, that’s something I wouldn’t have thought of – mainly because my personal experience has been so much different, but I see the truth in what you’re saying.

    And I hate to admit it, but when I was much younger (and much more ignorant), I actually asked a black girl how she learned to talk white. I cringe at my own stupidity now, but it just goes to prove the extent of my ignorance at the time. Luckily for me, though, I was in the company of patient, willing-to-educate-little-ole-me people, who gently showed me the error of my upbringing. So I didn’t make the same mistake again!

    And Thank You! for those links. I was actually trying to find those when I was writing this post, but I couldn’t find them. I thought I’d seen them on the Carnival post over at Fatshionista (I’m MrsNoName1999 over there, btw), but I searched three times and couldn’t find them. So thanks again!

  8. “I actually asked a black girl how she learned to talk white.”

    This makes me giggle. I don’t consider it “talking white”, I consider it using proper/normal English. It sucks that proper/normal is always equated with “white”, but that’s how it is. I want a good job? I want an education? I value learning? I dot my i’s and cross my t’s? I’m “acting white”. I never understood how one could act a color, and I certainly never understood why wanting to better myself would bring ridicule.

    I’ll agree with Julia, class privilege doesn’t always help. It seems that they assume class = race, so nine times out of ten when I go to something I am interested in, I don’t see myself represented. I go shopping, and in the right area/clothing, I will be followed. If I were any less secure in myself, I’d probably have some problems.

    The sad thing is that it works both ways. In (the few) black magazines I’ve read, I don’t see anyone resembling myself. Maybe in skin tone, maybe, but never in hair/features/etc. I go into black salons and most of the time get sent back out, they don’t work with my kind of hair unless I want it chemically straightened. Of course, then I wear it naturally (because almost everyone else does, darnit, so can I) and then I have to worry “oh crap, I’m wearing my hair as it grows out of my head, better hope no one important thinks me to be some crazy radical black-power type of person”. Then I get the (black, never white) people who seem to think that I am less black because I don’t want to kill my hair. IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE! x(

    I joke that I’m “too white” to hang out with black people and obviously not white so I can’t hang out with white people, so I will be myself and just keep going, gathering people to hang out with as I go. What else is there to do?

  9. I never understood how one could act a color,

    You know, NOW? That confuses me, too. Back when I was that ignorant child, I’m talking like age 15. And I grew up in an all-white town, so I had hardly had any interaction with anybody NOT white – hence my ignorance. But now that I know better, the whole “talking white” thing tends to irk on me. Because it’s not talking white, it’s talking like a (at the very least) semi-educated American. Period.

    I can totally agree with the class privilege thing, because I see the exact same thing on the opposite side of the coin.

    You know, that thing about your hair absolutely does NOT make sense. How can being yourself – totally and completely – be misconstrued as being less than what you are? How can totally being yourself be anything BUT a good thing? *mind boggles*

    I will be myself and just keep going, gathering people to hang out with as I go.
    I love this. Really, I think it’s a great attitude to have. Very mentally healthy, and I’m ALL for the mental health. 🙂

  10. “Because it’s not talking white, it’s talking like a (at the very least) semi-educated American. Period.”

    Right. Being an educated American is coded as white (and male and straight).

    “Acting white/black/asian” is basically about racial stereotyping.

    Oh also, as far as white privilege blinders, I’d also point out how quickly some people want to push off and deny that it exists. Or talk about how they don’t access certain portions of white privilege. It is true that not every white person can access every kind of white privilege. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, or that it necessarily makes sense to immediately bring up the way in which you don’t access it. Yes it sucks to realize you have privilege. Denying it won’t help you learn to deal with it. Being honest and reflecting upon it will.

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