White women: Take the Privilege Challenge

The first in an occasional series that brings the skills and power of a life of practice to bear on healing and awakening deep cultural and tribal divides.

As white women, we know plenty about male privilege. And we can use that knowledge to take the mystery and invisibility out of White Privilege.  I turned to Peggy McIntosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” for a list of prompts to begin to assemble my own.

While associate director of the Wellesley Collage Center for Research on Women, Macintosh came to understand white privilege through her work on male privilege. She recognized that she had been “taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems” that favored her group.  She set out to work on herself by observing the daily effects of white privilege in her life. Her seminal and scholarly piece (dating to 1988) remains widely cited today: White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming To See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies.”

Take the Privilege Challenge – check out Macintosh’s Knapsack and then unpack your own. I promise you it will wake you up to our shared humanity in some surprising ways. Even if you think of yourself as awake and on to yourself in racial matters.

And if you are a white healer, coach, bodyworker or therapist who works with people of color, as you explore and deepen your embodied awareness of privilege, you will offer them a level of safety in the healing relationship of incalculable value.


On the white side of privilege

When I don’t feel normal I can be sure it’s not institutional racism, or even personal prejudice, at work, just some neurotic part of my personality that’s the culprit.

I can hang out with a bunch of white people almost anywhere, even a street-corner after dark, without being told to move along.

No one comes up to me and touches my hair, or even asks if they can touch my hair.

No one asks me to give them examples of micro-aggressions.

I can browse undisturbed for clothing or CDs or a gift for a friend: no one follows me around to make sure I’m not a shoplifter.

No one will be surprised and thus praise me for being “so articulate.”  The way I speak is considered proper and normal, aka “the norm.”

I do not put myself in danger or suffer any threat or penalty for remaining ignorant of the language, culture, and history of other races.  But I can cluelessly ask a person of color to remedy my ignorance by explaining things to me.

I can have a bad hair day, grocery shop in torn and dirty jeans, even raise my voice in public without anyone attributing my looks or behavior to the bad morals, poverty or illiteracy of my race.

If I get pulled over while driving, I’m going to drive away with a warning or a ticket. No search of my car or body cavities. If I need the police, I can call 911 without worrying that somehow I’ll end up suspect, roughed up, or dead.

I can get really angry, even act really angry without scaring every white person in view.

I have never been denied credit or a rental because I am white.

I never had to have The Talk with my children on how to stay physically safe because of their color. Nor did they go to school in the morning  after their sleep was disturbed by gunshots or their waking by news of another neighbor, cousin or friend shot. I never had trouble finding them books that tell their stories.

No one in my family has been denied bail, tried in a court of law or been imprisoned.

I am pretty free to choose to avoid people who have been taught to be afraid of me.  And if people of another race distrust me, I am likely to be oblivious to it.

Health statistics in my country are pretty much on the side of my race.

It’s easy to find “flesh-colored” crayons and band-aids that are close to the actual color of my skin.

I am never asked to speak for the entire white race.

No one crosses the street to avoid me.

No one freaks out if I wear a hoodie.

No one mistakes me for the janitor, the stock clerk, or the door-person because of my race.

I can come home at the end of a day in city, suburb, or small town without the weight of having felt unwelcome, unsafe, suspect, as if I did not belong. Without the exhaustion of constant vigilance.

 


Now you give the Privilege Challenge a try, and please – share  your findings below.

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Showing 3 comments
  • Lisa
    Reply

    I moved to Baltimore City from my very white, rather privileged neighborhood in the county just in time to experience, at my front door, the week of protests regarding the death of Freddie Gray. Hello. Baptism by Fire.

    For the first time in my life I had no choice but to look, listen, read, absorb the complexity of African American lives in relationship to White assumptions, condescension, disregard, disrespect. It was hot hot hot here in town.

    Settling into my neighborhood has allowed me to explore living in a diverse culture and the realities of relationship within its boundaries. There are many different voices here. Some expansive and engaging, some small and just plain mean. It’s life.

    There is no room to ignore or turn a blind eye when you live in a neighborhood where many people gather, where a city hospital is a block away, where the city Court House is down the street. You’re in it. And you grow. And you shed unconscious behaviors and conscious thoughts and you engage in one way or another with everyone. Blankets of judgement develop holes, compassion shows up on your doorstep and you invite it in, you listen. And your actions shift. The heart can get bigger.

    I’m not ‘involved’ in any organized way to move the story forward, I am simply a paragraph within the story that gets rewritten and rewritten, like a stone in the river that becomes smooth and worn by the waters over time.

    It’s not everything, it’s not big. But it has its own potency and I’m happy to be a part of it.

    • Sara Eisenberg
      Reply

      Lisa, thanks for bringing us right into your neighborhood and the midst of your learning. The power of your words comes from your own willingness to be a stone worn smooth by the river.

  • Kelly Inselmann
    Reply

    Thank you Sara.

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