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16 April 2008 @ 02:27 pm
My knapsack has an invisible hole in it.  
elusis brought up the application of lolcat macros to some of the concepts presented in Peggy McIntosh's "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack." What elusis did was amusing and enlightening, surely (and the ultra-liberals out there should now be questioning why to "enlighten" is a good thing while it should be a bad thing to leave someone "in the dark,"); what I'm about to do is probably going to piss a lot of you off, though if it makes you think for a moment on your own, I won't care.

What I'm going to do is respond to the list of privileges Ms. McIntosh has assured me exist in the invisible knapsack on my back, granted to me simply by my skin color. I am going to answer them as they apply to me, because that is all anyone can do with any honesty.

1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
True, I can. On the other hand, most of the Mexican-Americans and African-Americans I've known can do the same thing.

2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to
mistrust my kind or me.
No, I can't. My experiences with people have trained me to mistrust everyone until I know them very well. Meanwhile, my openness about being pagan, about being supportive of homosexual rights, and my outright cynicism make people mistrust me. For that matter, the fact that I'm white apparently should make people of all races mistrust me, just as the fact that I'm male apparently means that all women should consider me a potential rapist.

3. 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.
This is true, though it has everything to do with my income. I certainly can't move into the same neighborhood as someone like Michael Jordan or Bill Cosby; I can't afford to live where they can, no matter whether I want to live there or not.

4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
This depends on more than race; it depends on any number of factors, including the experiences the existing neighbors have had with prior residents of my new home, with one another, and frankly just what kind of people they are on their own, all in addition to how they'd treat me due to my race. I live in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood; can I be assured of such neutrality? No, because supposedly, they should distrust me due to skin color.

5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
I dress in mostly black and wear a pentacle around my neck. I'm also tall and, I am told, seem possessed of an aura of being pissed off at all times. I'm lucky sometimes if I can get anyone to come over when I want them to, let alone being followed by salespeople.

6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely
Depends on the newspaper I pick up and the television channel I tune in, doesn't it? I'm hardly going to see a lot of white people on BET or Univision. Those I do see on those channels will likely be presented as either villainous malcontents, ignorant rednecks, or well-meaning but clueless bumblers.

7. When I am told about our national heritage or about "civilization," I am shown that people of my
color made it what it is.
Maybe I just went to a progressive elementary school (a Georgia public school, for those wondering), but I was shown that people of all races were involved in history.

8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their
What children? Yes, I can feel fairly certain that any children I might have had would see white people in their textbooks. Thanks to the work of generations of civil rights activists and educators, I can feel pretty sure they'll see people of all races represented in those textbooks. As I hinted at before, I didn't have any illusions that Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, or Gandhi were Anglos. I also didn't lack the information that the people who pushed across this continent like locusts, driving everyone before them or beneath them, were predominantly white assholes who regarded their actions like a holy crusade, justified by vague passages from a holy book written by Jews, added to by Greeks and Romans, and edited to suit political expediency by the British. History is a tapestry; not everything hinges only on the white threads.

9. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
I couldn't be sure to find a publisher of anything I've written. Where's that privilege in my knapsack? I've got some comic book ideas I'd like to see in print, just for example.

10. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.
I can be sure I will be heard if only because I'm a loud asshole who'll damn well refuse NOT to be heard. Meanwhile, this ignores how the rest of the group will weigh my words due to my skin color. Being white does not mean being taken as universally positive.

11. I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person's voice in a group in which s/he is the
only member of his/her race.\
No, I can't, because I'm not an asshole who assumes that skin color has any effect on intelligence.

12. 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'm not sure what music stores this woman has been shopping in, but the stores I go to tend towards inclusiveness. This might be because they're businesses and want to actually sell to, I don't know, anyone with money. Frankly, the last time I went into a hair salon, I only had a 50/50 chance of getting a hair dresser who actually spoke my language, so I wouldn't hold this one as being too certain.

13. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the
appearance of financial reliability.
No, I can apparently count on my personal appearance to do that for me. I am careful to only write checks I'm sure I can cash, to make payments on time, and to not take on more than I can handle, so my credit rating doesn't do too bad representing me on its own.

14. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
Again, what children? If I did have children, no, I couldn't arrange for that. It's called "bullying," and how well I can protect them depends as much on how seriously the school officials take bullying than it does anything else. Children get hurt, usually by other children, because kids are fucking vicious animals, especially to one another. The fact that I can't stop my children from being hurt is one of the many paranoid concerns that have kept me from having kids in the first damned place.

15. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical
This depends on the neighborhood you live in and the schools available to your children, now doesn't it? In my case, I damned well would educate my kids to be at least aware of the chance, since they'd be among the minority in their classes. Again, this is not an inherent advantage; like most of the rest of this list, it is situational and relative to circumstances.

16. I can be pretty sure that my children's teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and
workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others' attitudes toward their race.
If I had kids going to school in this neighborhood, it would be on the list. I'd be more concerned, however, that my kids would fail to fit into the norms for other reasons, such as cultural or personal norms. My kids would be taught to question authority and reject dogma, but who knows if they'd accept what I taught them? Just one more paranoid fear stopping me from having them, is what that is.

17. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color.
No, I could put it down to people questioning my parents and their ability to raise me. I don't care what color someone is; talking with your mouth full is uncouth. (As an aside that I'm sure someone will find "telling," I've dined with more white people who are guilty of this faux pas than I have seen performed by members of other races.)

18. 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.
No, I can't, and neither can any white person. Have we forgotten the term "redneck?" There are plenty of people out there among other races who think all whites are rednecks and assholes and wouldn't be a bit surprised to see one of us act this way.

19. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.
Not if the group is the board of the NAACP, I can't. Or LULAC. This is assuming those groups are predominantly male, of course.

20. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
Situational. If I comport myself with respect among a large group of African-Americans, I might be fortunate enough to be considered okay for a "cracker." I might also be among a group of people who don't care what my skin color is and thus wouldn't be racist enough to think I was okay despite being white, so you tally that one however you like.

21. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
No, nor do I request that from anyone else. I'm intelligent enough to know that no one person represents all others who share a coincidence of genetics.

22. 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.
Yes, I can. I don't suffer for not speaking either Chinese language. I suspect this has more to do with where I live than anything; I wouldn't go to Hong Kong without learning at least enough Mandarin and Cantonese to get by.

23. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without
being seen as a cultural outsider.
No, I can't. I live in Texas; insulting the President or his policies is a good way to get shouted down and have my parentage questioned. Actually, let me amend that; generally, only white people in Texas would alienate me for thinking that Shrub is a moron who is destroying our nation.

24. 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.
Depends entirely on the business at hand. In my local neighborhood, this isn't very likely.

25. 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.
Probably not the IRS, no. The last three times I've been pulled over, the police officers in question included three African-American males and three white males. I suspect they pulled me over because I was speeding, but it's possible they were racists.

26. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children's
magazines featuring people of my race.
I can easily buy all of these things of any race. I suppose you could chalk this up to living in such a diverse, forward-thinking place as Dallas, Texas... That I don't buy any of them is beside the point. (What stores does Ms. McIntosh frequent, again?)

27. 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.
No, I can't, because I'm anti-social and worry that people I do choose to associate with find fault with me as a person for having strong opinions.

28. I can be pretty sure that an argument with a colleague of another race is more likely to jeopardize
her/his chances for advancement than to jeopardize mine.
I'm paranoid, so no, I can't. In a country where affirmative action and racial discrimination are triggers to lawsuits, no white person can be so certain of this.

29. I can be pretty sure that if I argue for the promotion of a person of another race, or a program
centering on race, this is not likely to cost me heavily within my present setting, even if my colleagues
disagree with me.
This would depend on whether I work with racists or not, wouldn't it? Or are we arguing that all white people are racists, whether we like it or not? If that's the argument, then we have come to the end of any potential dialogue, haven't we?

30. If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn't a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me
more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.
No, it won't. If I declare that there is a racial issue at hand, I will have my motivations questioned. If I declare there is not a racial issue at hand when someone of another color declares there is, I will be accused of racism.

31. I can choose to ignore developments in minority writing and minority activist programs, or disparage
them, or learn from them, but in any case, I can find ways to be more or less protected from negative
consequences of any of these choices.
Anyone can do this. It's called "blissful ignorance." Anyone can be ignorant; learning hurts, but it is damned well worth any pain.

32. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.
Yes, the American culture has tried to tell me that I don't have to worry what the world things of anything we do. Unfortunately for me, I don't buy it, so I have to suffer from knowledge yet again.

33. I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my
I'm fat and I slouch. I'm led now to understand that all white people are lazy slobs, so no, I'm fitting the stereotype on this one.

34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.
I'm always concerned that people are going to perceive me as being totally self-absorbed, so this isn't true, either. Then again, I always assume that everyone is acting from a position of self-interest, so I'm not seeing the problem with this.

35. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job
suspect that I got it because of my race.
No, there are plenty of people who'll think that I managed to get a job just because I'm white, probably based on a secret racism on the part of the hiring manager.

36. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether
it had racial overtones.
Entirely circumstantial. If I white guy mistreats me, I'm not going to ask if he did it because I'm white. If an African-American male is mistreated by another African-American male, is he going to think it's because the other guy was a racist?

37. I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my
next steps, professionally.
Well, I only know two people I could discuss my current profession with who are also in that field, but yes, I suspect they'd be willing to discuss it with me.

38. I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether
a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.
I can think about it, sure. Whether I can do it or not depends more on what the goal is and where I'm standing economically and socially. Do I know people who could help me advance towards my goal?

39. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.
Maybe, though if all white people are lazy and rude, I doubt it. Like chewing with my mouth open, it would reflect badly on my parents, I'd think.

40. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be
mistreated in the places I have chosen.
Depends on where I try to go.

41. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.
No, my insurance status would be more a question, at this point. Frankly, everyone's insurance standing is fucked up in this country, at the moment.

42. I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience feelings of rejection owing to my
No one can do this. Even the most powerful white asshole in the world can be hit with a pie in the face by a determined protester. It happened to Bill Gates.

43. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem.
No, I can't, if the people in my working group are all members of another race. Racism is not a one-way street going downhill from Honkeytown to Everyoneelseville.

44. I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race.
You show me a college that caters exclusively by policy only to whites and I will show you a lawsuit that I'm amazed hasn't already happened. Meanwhile, I could point to Morehouse, Spellman, Clark, Florida A&M...

45. I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race.
Not if I'm viewing cave paintings in Australia or sand mandalas in Tibet.

46. I can chose blemish cover or bandages in "flesh" color and have them more or less match my skin.
I'm pale as a sheet. The bandages and blemish colors that are typically called "flesh tone" stand out like pink flags on my skin.

47. I can travel alone or with my spouse without expecting embarrassment or hostility in those who deal
with us.
This depends on where I'm going. It's entirely situational.

48. I have no difficulty finding neighborhoods where people approve of our household.
I'm poly, pagan, and honestly rather anti-democracy. No, I can't, and I tend to avoid any deep relationship with my neighbors due to just such concerns.

49. My children are given texts and classes which implicitly support our kind of family unit and do not
turn them against my choice of domestic partnership.
If I had children? No, they wouldn't, because again, I'm poly, I'm pagan, and I fully support the right of people to live in whatever arrangements they choose, hetero couple, homo couple, or mixed groups. Christian monogamists on the other hand fight to keep their chosen version as the only culturally-acceptable "norm," so no, this isn't true, either. Not everyone is like you, Ms. McIntosh, not even all white people.
50. I will feel welcomed and "normal" in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.
I tend to feel welcome once a salesman sees my credit score, sure. I feel welcome in libraries because everyone assumes I'm a nerd, which I am. I feel like a potential criminal when I walk into a court because the cops are evaluating EVERYONE as a potential criminal, which is what they're trained to do in order to remain ready for anything. As for "normal," don't be insulting. I don't feel "normal" anywhere I go, and I'm proud of it.

I would say that Ms. McIntosh is seeing at work a social factor that is going to be in place everywhere, at all times, in all societies: the majority rules over the minority and generally sides with themselves in situations of conflict between those groups. In many ways, this is unavoidable; a person who does not side with the majority is not part of that majority when dealing with cognizant positions, and in situations of unconscious position such as race, individuals cannot control how they are treated by others in the unconscious status majority. If someone offers me a job because I am white, I am not going to demand they give it to someone else as this goes against self-interest. I could not care less if the person a job goes to other than me is white or black; all I know is that I am now denied the resources that come with performing the job and am worse off for it than the person who is now getting those resources.

I will remind you of this: a carpenter will always first and foremost think to solve a problem using wood. If all you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.
Current Mood: expectant of arguments
Naomi: 'Concerned Citizens'omimouse on April 16th, 2008 08:00 pm (UTC)
And it's really damn easy to chalk shit up to 'they treated me that way because I'm a FITB' and give up then it is to say 'shit happens' and move on with your life and keep trying.
Naomiomimouse on April 16th, 2008 08:14 pm (UTC)
Wow, my ability to form coherent sentences is screwed up today. Okay, that's supposed to be: "And it's really much damn easier' and so on and so forth.

Traveler Farlandertwfarlan on April 16th, 2008 08:36 pm (UTC)
You could have edited the comment, of course (until you replied to it, heh), but no matter. I knew what you meant.

It's insidious, is what it is. It's so easy, so attractive, to place the blame on the prejudices of others rather than to accept that things simply happen, even to otherwise good people, and have someone to blame rather than to just admit that everyone has problems.
(Deleted comment)
Traveler Farlandertwfarlan on April 16th, 2008 08:37 pm (UTC)
If, if, if. Always the bridesmaid... oh wait, I'm already married.

I'm tempted to insert Nicky's "If I Were Gay" song here, but nevermind.
Kat: catdurrrrrrkatmoonshaker on April 16th, 2008 08:20 pm (UTC)
Duh. Major duh. Of course, Ms. McIntosh was obviously never a token white woman working at an all-black day care center. BTDT
Traveler Farlandertwfarlan on April 16th, 2008 08:39 pm (UTC)
I could make the argument that she's talking out of her ivory tower-dwelling ass, but I don't know what her life has been like. I can make some guess where she is now, but then, that is sort of my point: generalization is the heart of racism, whether you benefit from it or not.
Katkatmoonshaker on April 16th, 2008 08:45 pm (UTC)
Yeah. My late grandfather said you should always take each person on their own merits. 'Nuff said.
Ace Lightning: feminismacelightning on April 17th, 2008 10:29 am (UTC)
whoo-ah, this pushes one of my buttons REALLY HARD.

on "career day", in high school, i went to the presentation for "airline pilot", only to be laughed at and told i was in the wrong place - the "airline stewardess" presentation was across the hall.

in my sophomore year of college, as a physics major, i was having trouble keeping up with some of the work. i made an appointment to talk to the professor; i waited around, and missed my next class, but he never showed up. tried it again, with the same result. i finally waylaid him on his way across campus, and his response was, "well, of course you're having trouble - girls can't understand science. you should just switch your major to Elementary Education, meet a nice boy, get married and have kids."

in my second sophomore year of college, working at the campus radio station, the chief engineer said that the reason women weren't allowed to do remote broadcasts was because they weren't strong enough to carry the equipment. i picked up the equipment box and crab-walked it across the room. to his credit, he saw the logic in my argument, and changed the rule. however, most remotes were sports events - and women, no matter what their job, weren't allowed in the broadcast booth for the football stadium or the basketball court.

out of college and applying for jobs in radio, being told by more than one receptionist, "we're not hiring secretaries, sweetie." upon telling them, "oh, no, i'd like to speak to the chief engineer...", the reply was "he doesn't need a secretary, sweetie."

on my first day of work as an engineer in a very minor place, being asked, quite literally to make coffee and do some typing and filing. the people doing the asking just assumed i was some kind of clerical worker.

on my first day of work at one of NYC's major radio stations, having one of the (obviously all male) other engineers familiarizing me with the studios. a very well-known DJ was on the air, and we went into the studio so i could observe on-air operations. the DJ asked me to leave, because "having a girl in the room is too distracting". to his credit, when he found out i was an engineer, he apologized; he had thought i was the other guy's girlfriend, just hanging out. but another well-known DJ at the station made it clear to management that he couldn't work with a woman at all, so they'd never have me engineer for him.

still later... Ray and i were finally able to buy a new (rather than used) car. because of our differing work schedules, i wound up doing the shopping. i will never, ever buy a Honda automobile; the salesman wouldn't take me for a test drive, giving me some bullshit about "we've locked up the lot for the day", when i clearly saw two other people - men, of course - going for test drives.

more recently... i dropped our car off for some repairs, discussing the work with the mechanic before i left. when Ray went to pick up the car, the mechanic told him why he hadn't done some of the things i'd specified, ending with "...but what do women know about cars, anyway? *heheh*" Ray never patronized that repair shop again. (i know more about cars than he does.)

thank the Goddess, things are getting better... but it's taken so long!

Traveler Farlandertwfarlan on April 17th, 2008 12:29 pm (UTC)
Yes, but that is one of the points I was making: things are not as they were.
Ace Lightning: audio studioacelightning on April 18th, 2008 02:08 am (UTC)
and every individual act that erodes the old assumptions makes it easier for someone to make another such act. and, yes, i'm going to toot my own horn here. at one point there was a young lady in Proteus Coven who was in college, majoring in audio production. everyone encouraged her to ask me what it had been like for me. as i told her about it, i began to realize... if i'd been doing what i was "supposed" to do when i was her age, she wouldn't have been able to follow the trail i blazed.

Davidchayatapa on May 24th, 2008 09:51 am (UTC)
I actually think that's his point. That it's better to continue on doing things in the face of prejudice than to blame prejudice and give up.
Ace Lightning: feminismacelightning on May 24th, 2008 10:52 am (UTC)
well, of course! it's far too easy to say, "i can never succeed, because i'm black/female/gay/whatever, so i might as well not try at all". i'm not saying that prejudice doesn't exist... but the only way prejudice ever gets overcome is by people trying anyway, in spite of prejudice, and occasionally managing to succeed. these little individual successes slowly chip away at the assumptions that cause prejudice.

somebody has to try...

Jon Reidcrossfire on April 17th, 2008 05:31 pm (UTC)
So...you are agreeing with her, then? *is confused*
Traveler Farlandertwfarlan on April 17th, 2008 06:51 pm (UTC)
Nope. The conclusions she seems to have drawn include:

1) that an individual's life and circumstances don't matter, nor does how a person lives, when compared to the effect that race has upon the individual's life and perceptions of status in America. I say it does matter.

2) that whites as a group (and men as a group, which is her normal prey of choice as an academic) should do everything they can to give up any advantages conveyed by this unasked for and unearned package of racial benefits, that it is not enough to raise the disadvantaged but that the advantaged should consciously reduce their own position. This is against self-interest and is unworkable.
Jon Reidcrossfire on April 17th, 2008 08:11 pm (UTC)
I don't...see either of those conclusions. At least, not in the "knapsack" paper. But I'll freely admit that's all of Ms. McIntosh, I don't think I've read anything else of hers.

The reason why I was confused is because, to me, the conclusions she's come to are:

1. Racism can be defined as more than just malicious actions, it can be defined as systemic conference of privilege.
2. Systemic conference of privilege denigrates everyone, not just the "targets."

And you pretty much seemed to be agreeing with both of those things, so.
browngirl on April 24th, 2008 01:15 pm (UTC)
[Edited to fix a sentence fragment.]

If everyone were like you, our society might be a slightly noisier but likely much better place.

Unfortunately, not everyone is like you. You've disclaimed each and every one of these for yourself, including pointing out how other aspects of your life invalidate some of them (such as bravely being an open pagan in a heavily Christian region), and that's valid with respect to your own life. However, I remain unconvinced that this analysis invalidates the Invisible Backpack concept across our entire society, not least because in my life I've witnessed some of the listed items in operation.

Edited at 2008-04-24 01:17 pm (UTC)
Traveler Farlandertwfarlan on April 24th, 2008 06:36 pm (UTC)
I don't know that it would be noisier or better. I'm not a nice person, but I do at least tend to leave people alone to live their own lives, lacking provocation to do otherwise.

I won't argue that there are not people who are living with the advantages listed as items in the Knapsack. There are, that much is plain. I do suggest that it has less to do with race and more to do with socioeconomic class factors. One could argue that the class factors are based in race issues, and that may well be a fair argument, but the direct source of the Knapsack items are not things that come or don't come based on melanin counts at birth.

I would also say that while there are those who walk around wearing the Knapsack, the author attempted to say that all white people get these advantages. That I do not, that any white person does not, invalidates that part of her argument.
Ace Lightning: chocolate01acelightning on May 24th, 2008 10:53 am (UTC)
p.s. - happy birthday!