White male privileges considered

I am participating in the Leadership Training Institute at the Crown Height Community Mediation Center and in the latest meeting on Diversity one of my colleagues (who it was escapes me at this moment… my apologies! … hat tip forthcoming) mentioned that there was a very good essay on white privilege and male privilege by Peggy McIntosh.

I realized long ago that I was the benefactor of this privilege and, Sociologist that I am, I wanted to read it. There are several versions on the net… I have linked to one.

The argument is simple, we should look to the comparative advantages that the In-group receives especially if they are occulted and denied:

Denials that amount to taboos surround the subject of advantages that men gain from women’s disadvantages. These denials protect male privilege from being fully recognized, acknowledged, lessened, or ended.Thinking through unacknowledged male privilege as a phenomenon with a life of its own, I realized that since hierarchies in our society are interlocking, there was most likely a phenomenon of white privilege that was similarly denied and protected, but alive and real in its effects. As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.

McIntosh noted several ways in which her whiteness confers ‘privileges’ which she did not previously acknowledge as such:

My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an oppressor, as an unfairly advantaged person, or as a participant in a damaged culture, I was taught to see myself as an individual whose moral state depended on her individual moral will. …  My schooling followed the pattern which 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.” I think many of us know how obnoxious this attitude can be in men.

It’s funny, I have always had this perspective on myself. I knew I was privileged, but didn’t have the proper language to express what I felt until I read this. I confronted this as a young teenager back in 1965,  I lived in Los Angeles during the Watts Riots, a civil rights disturbance that affected profoundly how I experienced who I was as a white man. I was living through the growing formation of the dual upheavals of the civil rights movement and the anti war movements. I understood that there was a current of racism, and consequent anger amongst the black population. Who could not understand this? I realize now that many at that time did not and many still cannot. What I needed to deal with internally was what I needed to be as a white person who was thinking about what it meant to me. I knew I was white and male and therefore got a free pass that others would not, and do not today.

But the article of McIntosh at least gives a method of how to approach that privilege. And as an act of self reflection and revelation, she also gives a long catalog of the privileges that she enjoys as a white person. These detail the ways in which she has:

special circumstances and conditions I experience that I did not earn but that I have been made to feel are mine by birth, by citizenship, and by virtue of being a conscientious law-abiding “normal” person of goodwill. I have chosen those conditions that I think in my case attach somewhat more to skin-color privilege than to class, religion, ethnic status, or geographical location, though these other privileging factors are intricately intertwined.

She details in the article I quote 46 privileges. Other online resources have more or less. She apparently has updated and expanded the list over time.

I found many of them telling. And as we discussed in the group and as a part of daily spiritual ritual it might be good to acknowledge your privileges and blessings. Not, I hope, in the negative sense of “Thank you God for not making me a black woman;” but as a recognition of the connectedness of prejudice and arrogance with the flip side of privilege.

Its funny, as a blond, fine haired white man living in a largely black neighborhood of Brooklyn, I confess I laughed at one of privleges that McIntosh mentioned:

I can go into a … hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can deal with my hair.

Now THAT’s freedom.

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