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Not Feeling So Privileged

“Build bridges, not walls.” Suzy Kassem

“White Privilege.” Why do these two words make me recoil like a frightened teenager watching their first slasher movie?

Some would say it’s because I suffer from “White Fragility.” Or perhaps it’s just “White Guilt.”

Not familiar with these terms?

Without being culpable of “White-Splaining,” let me see if I can catch you folks that aren’t

“Woke” up to speed.

These phrases and others continue to gain traction when it comes to the discussion of race relations and social issues in America.

“White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks,” wrote Peggy McIntosh, a career academic and activist.

Well heck, give me that “back-pack, back-pack” Dora.

McIntosh outlined forty-six examples (see link below) of white privilege in a paper she wrote in 1988 called “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies.”

The title alone lets me know her feelings about me daring to be born both, white and male. However, after perusing the list, I must say she did bring up some valid points.

Fast forward 30-years, and today it seems acceptable to use discriminatory terms against Caucasian people if you intend to point out the racist bias implanted in them by a racist society.

If you’re feeling uncomfortable at this point, there’s a chance your white fragility is kicking in.

Yet one more catchphrase, coined by another career academic Robin DiAngelo. White fragility is defined as the discomfort and defensiveness of a white person when confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice.

Essentially DiAngelo believes all white Americans are a product of White Supremacy and, therefore, racist. Furthermore, if you claim you are not racist, that is only proof that you are racist.

A bit confusing, I know. This is certain to bring out feelings of white guilt.

White guilt is the individual or collective responsibility felt by some white people for harm resulting in racist treatment of ethnic minorities by other white people, specifically in slavery, colonialism, and the legacy of those eras.

My intent is not to deny, demean or dismiss the struggle for people of color, particularly when it comes to issues related to racism, inequality, or social justice.

My point is, these terms and those like it put me on the defensive. They make me feel like I have to stand up for myself. In turn, this limits the chance I will listen to anything that follows, so any meaningful conversation falls on deaf ears.

They are harmful to the much needed, on-going discussion of race and racism in our society. Such words are counter-productive to their intended purpose as they only serve to divide us further as human beings.

But maybe division is the point. A lot of wealth and power continues to be gained by racial turmoil. Hell, Diangelo has reportedly earned more than $2 million in book sales, not to mention $20k plus per appearance at the expense of White Fragility.

We would all be better served if we practiced the Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

This has more potential to mend fences, heal wounds, and change attitudes than the use of divisive language ever will.

“Instead of condemning people, let us try to understand them. Let us try to figure out why they do what they do. That is a lot more intriguing than criticism, and it breeds sympathy, tolerance, and kindness,” Dale Carnegie once said.

Sounds like a better plan to me, Dale.


Peggy McIntosh’s Forty-six examples of white privilege:

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