My heart sank when the I saw that the extremely lively debate following yesterday’s post about “intersectionality” had sparked a posting of “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Paula McIntosh, who either was time traveling from 1947 or who was awakened from a coma in 1988 and set it to paper. The list was out of date then, and it is 29 years old now: one of my favorite aspects of perpetual victim-mongers is that they always pretend that no progress has been made in ethics and human relations, because progress puts them out of business.
I had to debunk this thing, but there were other priorities hanging over me. Fortunately, reader Isaac took up the challenge. This is often the case in Ethics Alarms, where the remarkable reader base either assists me in doing my job, or, as in this case, does it for me, often better than I could. Isaac chose humor to do the job here, and looking over the material, that might have been the kindest course.
I wish to thank Deery for sharing about the “Invisible Knapsack” of 26 White Privileges invented by someone named McIntosh. I had never heard of it and am eager to unpack all of unseen ways that the White-spiracy has gifted me with an implicit advantage over my colored people friends. By knowing what my white privilege affords me, I can now exploit it and achieve my highest potential! Let’s dive in.
—-“1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.”—-
That can’t be right, and I don’t just mean the sentence structure. My neighborhood in Riverside County, California is about 65% Latino and 15% Black. And I can’t afford to move. I like it here. But if I did want to move to Orange County or Malibu or whatever and hang around fellow Whites all day, I can’t afford it. Maybe McIntosh can connect me to the secret White Privilege Office that will hook me up with a McMansion in Irvine.
—-“2. 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.”—–
Seriously, McIntosh? I just went over this. If it costs more than a one-bedroom apartment in Perris, I CAN’T afford it. Who is McIntosh and why does she believe that being White gets you real-estate discounts?
—-“3. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.”—-
My neighbors have been pretty cool except for the three or four people who have robbed me or smashed some of my property. Is this the realization of my White privilege or do I still have untapped benefits?
—-“4. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.”—-
I got kicked out of a gift store once as a teenager, but to be fair, I WAS shoplifting at the time.
I’ve only been unfairly followed or harassed while shopping a few times. But I checked with some of my Brown and Black friends, and they ALSO had only been followed or harassed while shopping a few times. That number should be WAY higher for them than for me. What kind of white privilege is this? Why are my benefits not notable?
—-5. “I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.”—-
To check my privilege in this area I turned on the television and looked at a newspaper, and was surprised to find that yes, there were quite a few white people there. Sweet, privilege! But it gets better! I checked Wikipedia and found out that White people make up almost two thirds of the population of America! Wow! How can a group of people that make up 63% of a country’s population also be seen on the television and newspapers constantly? It’s gotta be a conspiracy, baby! A sweet, sweet, white conspiracy.
—-“6. 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 had never thought about this before. It’s so unfair. I mean, I’m Armenian, my Dad was an immigrant, and I was told in school that Armenians did precisely nothing to build America…but I had never felt OUTRAGED about that lack of representation until now. NOW I see that it’s because Armenians are WHITE that it never bothered me. I mean, sure, the Founding Fathers weren’t Armenian, but they were WHITE, and all White people are the same kind of people. So it’s kinda like I am represented.
If Armenians were Black or Brown, I would surely feel other-ed by the realities of history and it would probably give me anxiety attacks to know that people who look like me didn’t build America. I resolve to fix this someday by using a time machine to replace Washington and Franklin with Zulu kings. This will fix what is wrong with America.
(I will also find out how having been “shown that people of my color made America what it is” somehow gives me a privilege. Because McIntosh says it does. And she can see invisible knapsacks so I trust her.)
—–“7. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.”—–
This is so dead-on accurate that I am now coming around to the idea of White Privilege. I vividly remember taking that White History Class during White History Month and reading about how White Abraham Lincoln freed all of the White slaves with the help of the great White orator Frederick Douglass. And how the Whites claimed America by killing and conning all of the White Indians who were here first. And remember when we fought the White Spaniards in the great White-on-White war? Heck, I just found out that non-White races exist yesterday! All of my teachers lied to me! They never told me that there were people who existed and also were not White!
—-“8. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.”—-
McIntosh was right about this, because she’s a feminist writer, and it’s well established that if you get a degree in feminist studies, your career options are limited to either writing about feminism on the web, or living with Mom while writing about feminism on the web. So yeah, McIntosh has a lot of outlets for her pieces on White Privilege. Unfortunately, my treatise on why ice-fairies are responsible for freezer burn, while equally fact-based, was rejected by publishers. I told them I was White and everything. Where is my privilege?
—-“9. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.”—–
I know, right? Just yesterday my Black friend was complaining that the music shops won’t carry rap music. And I was like, “What is this ‘rap’ you speak of? Is it some kind of Afro-centric take on the mainstream bluegrass and polka music which all Americans love?” I couldn’t hear his reply because his entire face and head were covered with hair (people who can cut Black people’s hair are hard to find.)
From now on I will also try to encourage White people to finally try Asian, Cajun, and Mexican food, so that these things might someday become accepted in our culture and maybe even popular.
—–“10. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of my financial reliability.”—–
I bought a condo once. They checked my income, and ran an automated check on my credit to see if I was financially reliable. Oddly, they did not seem to care about my skin color, but rather were unusually fixated on how much money I had and whether I could repay the loan. Was I not properly taking advantage of my White privilege? Or perhaps not having to worry about race WAS my White privilege? Like if I were Asian or Nicaraguan, would the nice Latina lady at the bank reject my filthy non-White money?
Then I lost my condo and couldn’t sell it because of the housing crisis, which cut the value of my condo by two thirds. Does your list of White Privileges perhaps explain how I can keep recessions from impacting me in the future? I applied for one of those HARP loans but I didn’t qualify. Did they mistakenly think I was Vietnamese or something?
—–“11. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.”—–
I can attest to this privilege. I was beat up by a lot of White bullies as a kid, but then learned to flash the secret White Fellowship Hand Sign! Then they were like, “Sorry, my white brother. I would never harm another of my noble race.” And that’s how bullying between White people ended forever.
(As an aside, these days the best way to make sure your White kid is never, ever bullied is to give him a Trump hat to wear at school. It’s like an invisible force field against bad vibes.)
—–“12. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.”—-
Yup, and it’s a good thing too. Imagine if there were some sort of cultural stereotype that existed of a poor, uneducated white American. It would be terrible. Only White Privilege prevents such a thing from ever happening. Thank you White Privilege.
—-“13. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.”—-
Hey, we all remember all of those times when a non-White person spoke to a group of powerful males and their race suddenly went on trial. They’re always found guilty, too. That’s why those races aren’t allowed in America anymore. Who hasn’t heard of those times when those things happened? People who’ve never read a history book, that’s who.
—–14. “I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.”—–
(Yeah…I’m not sure anyone has ever said, “you’re a credit to your race” without irony since TVs started coming in color. I think McIntosh is just trying to pad out the list at this point.)
—-15. “I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.”—-
Empathy is all about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. So imagine being with a group of your minority friends, and suddenly one of them asks you, “hey, you’re the only White guy here, what do White people think about that?” Imagine the agony you would feel. The crushing, life-altering shame. The inability to cope.
That’s why it’s important to check your privilege. Because thanks to White Privilege, that scenario has never happened to me (except for the one or two times it has happened to me, which I had to think hard to remember because I don’t care.)
—–16. “I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.”—-
Not even with sarcasm can I pretend that this makes any sense.
“Persons of color” don’t have a language or a set of customs, they have millions of them, all different, and most individuals within those languages and cultures are only familiar with their own. Regardless of where you are on the globe or what color you are…as long as you are familiar with the languages you need to be in order to conduct your daily business (which for most working class the world over people means one single language) you’re fine.
—-“17. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.”—-
Does this apply to all non-white people, or just the ones who are actual cultural outsiders? Do we Whites not believe that Jamie Foxx or Jennifer Lopez are American? Email me the White Handbook so I can stay on top of what we believe about people who aren’t White.
—-“18. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to “the person in charge,” I will be facing a person of my race.”—-
Probably like 64% of the time in fact! It’s the darnedest, confusingest thing. (And magnets, how do they work?)
—-19. “If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.”—–
Wait a minute, why should Asians also have White Privilege? That makes me feel less special.
—–20. “I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.—-”
(If you are confused as to why McIntosh thinks minorities cannot do this…it’s because they are not allowed to use the internet. In fact, E-Bay is secretly an acronym for “Ethincities Besides Aryans? Yuck!”)
Who doesn’t hate the systematic oppression of not being able to easily find something you like? Just last year I was in India and most of the people were Hindu! It was easier to find a Hindu temple than a Christian church! Surely McIntosh will agree with me that this is flagrant oppression against the Christians of India! They should build just as many churches as there are temples! After all it’s a little harder for the minority to find the stuff they like when they live in a place where most people don’t like that stuff! Shocking!
—–21. “I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, or feared.”—–
I don’t see people of other races as my opposites, enemies, or adversaries, but rather, you know, fellow humans whom I can get along with. So it’s kinda hard to relate to how McIntosh here seems to think that minorities all think about people who aren’t genetically the same as them. I’m starting to suspect that McIntosh just has her own issues…
—-22. “I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having coworkers on the job suspect that I got it because of race.—–”
That’s because there is no program that forces people to employ a White person solely because of race. You have discovered one of the major flaws of affirmative action. Not sure what that has to do with White Privilege.
—-23. “I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the place I have chosen.—–”
A “public accommodation” means just about any business establishment, shop, restaurant, or store that isn’t a private club. So yes, this confused person is saying that minorities cannot safely enter or use a store or restaurant. This was written in 1988. It didn’t even make sense then.
—-“24. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help my race will not work against me.”—–
And so can anyone else. Under penalty of law and everything. I demand some real white privilege, that only benefits white people, RIGHT NOW!
—–”25. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones.—–”
If you think getting cancer or having a miscarriage has racial overtones, then you’re problem isn’t that you need White Privilege. The problem is that you are a progressive.
Come on, there had better be SOMETHING at the end of this list that truly counts as a real, tangible privilege that comes solely from being White. Last chance!
——“26. I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.”—–
….. … … THAT’S IT! I can get a Band-Aid that matches my skin if I want! And you can’t, inferior races! Yes, this is a real thing that a literate, educated person thought belonged on a list of injustices! Flesh-colored bandages! White people RULE THE WORLD!
[Addendum: Isaac reported later that indeed dark-colored band-aids are widely available. I would add that when Peggy felt she needed to go there, it should have been a strong hint that she was out of ammunition.]
A few comments of my own:
1. I feel sorry for Peggy McIntosh, and anyone who would seriously regard this list as valid. She should have argued, rather than resorting to band-aids, that not being paranoid is also a privilege.
2. Her best point is #19, and police bias in pulling over blacks for vehicle stops is well documented, as is racial profiling in pedestrian stop-and-frisks. Then she ruins it with a fanciful IRS claim.
3. So much of the list is dated, making me want to investigate whether it was valid in 1988. I doubt it.
4. “If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones” is indeed a crippling state of mind. It is people like MacIntosh who perpetuate it. I could call this a privilege of being black: how nice it would to be able to always blame outside influences and others for my failures! Then again, this would stop me from taking responsibility and addressing the problem.
5.“I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help my race will not work against me.” A complete fantasy, and a slur on two professions that do not deserve it.
6. I cannot remember the last time I heard someone say a black athlete or public figure was a “credit to his race.” I think it might have been Joe Biden who said it, though.
7. #16 is indeed Authentic Frontier Gibberish.I can’t take seriously any academic who would write this and think it is meaningful.
8. All right, if I go much further, I’ll end up doing the whole list.