Checked Privilege 7

The seventh of 46 point-by-point analyses of the “founder” of the concept of White Privilege, Peggy McIntosh’s claims of Whites having specific and special advantages solely because they’re White.

When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

— Peggy McIntosh
White Privilege and Male Privilege (1988)

Simply put, the truth is not a privilege, where is why Ms. McIntosh’s observation is meaningless. Whites, by and large, made America what it is. It is not privilege to be exposed to the simple facts of the creation and growth of the nation.

From the birth of our colony, through the forming of our nation, and on to its evolution into a unique culture it has always been Whites who were the movers, shakers, and architects that shaped the form America would take, Non-Whites, most especially Blacks, were the tools and beasts of burden used to perform some of the work of doing this.

Can one lament this fact? Certainly. Can one say that it was something that we now consider heinous? Absolutely. Can one deny its truth? No.

That being said, Ms. McIntosh seems to have had a very sheltered and segregated life, one with little or no access to non-Whites. Negro History Week started in 1926 and expanded into Black History Month in 1976, so there’s been an established policy of showcasing non-White contributions to American history for nearly a century.

Related Reading:

Sociology in Modules
Extraordinary Racial Politics: Four Events in the Informal Constitution of the United States
Racism
Uprooting Racism - 4th edition: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice
White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

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4 Responses to “Checked Privilege 7”

  1. AthenaC Says:

    No, the truth cannot (err … should not) be denied, and no one worth listening to would suggest we should. Incidentally, she seems to be tacitly admitting that Black History Month is a crock of shit.

    That said, I think you’re looking at this wrong – the question isn’t (or shouldn’t be) whether history books need greater minority representation. The question is – what impact does it have on ethnic minority children to see that the movers and shakers of civilization don’t look anything like them?

    Conveniently enough, I have a case study for you – my oldest daughter. She is easily the most beautiful mixed-race girl I have ever seen, and I’m not just saying that because I’m her mom. I’m white, my husband is white, her siblings are white, and throughout her life we have never really lived anywhere that there were many black people. Right around when she turned 3, she started noticing that she didn’t look like anyone we knew. Her hair was all tight curls while the white, Hispanic, and Native American kids she played with all had smooth, straight hair. At one point she asked me if I could fix her hair smooth and straight like her friends. I told her I couldn’t do it. “Please, Mommy?” I tried to explain to her that it simply wasn’t possible, but she was 3 so I don’t know how well that sunk in.

    Fast forward to her kindergarten year, and among the sea of white, Hispanic, Philippino, and native people, her school principal was mixed race, with hair just like hers. When she first laid eyes on him she lit up like a Christmas tree. Later that year. Obama was elected President. Now, they didn’t get into the politics of anything (it was kindergarten after all), just names and dates and facts, but again – same thing. She was SO excited that the President was someone who looked like her.

    So yes, Ms. McIntosh is correct that having role models who look like you is a powerful positive influence.

  2. jonolan Says:

    AthenaC,

    This analysis is solely withing the context of Peggy McIntosh’s claims of White Privilege and is predicated upon her 46 examples of such.

    I won’t dispute the that having role models who look like you is a powerful influence, sometimes positive and sometimes negative, e.g., the entire Rap and Hip-Hop community. After all, it’s scientifically proven that from birth we react best to those who look like us.

    What I dispute is McIntosh’s assertion that is a privilege of any sort.

  3. AthenaC Says:

    What I don’t understand is that you admit that having role models that look like you is a powerful influence, and then turn around and deny that having a plethora of these role models to choose from isn’t somehow an advantage.

  4. jonolan Says:

    No, I don’t deny it. It’s just that the combination of Whites being the ones who built America, there being so few believable non-White role models, and most of those role models often being unacceptable (too White) to the non-Whites belies the claim that this is a privilege, especially an unearned one.

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