Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Not Going to Be Quiet about Privilege

Sometimes I wonder how much I want to tackle the big stuff here. I enjoy posting pics of Blueberry and sharing stories about the big kids, too. But I'm a thinker. I am wrapped pretty tightly even though I often have a calm and easy demeanor. My intimate friends would tell you I'm pretty wired about the things I care about. I can't make happy over shopping, cooking, cleaning, or a new hair cut. Thus, when I'm not in the grip of managing the day to day events of our busy family I'm exercising my intellect. Recently I have been working on the notion of privilege - specifically, white privilege. Today my work was complicated as I'm over half way through my reading of A Thousand Hills. I cannot fathom how we (and I do mean WE) have continued to burrow into our privilege and ignored events as gruesome and obvious as the genocide was in Rwanda. Dang.

Understanding the idea of privilege is key to discussions of racism, sexism, classism, agism, and any other ism you can identify. My focus is primarily racism, but I think I get to my understanding from a grounding in feminism. I'm a white woman, so this makes sense in terms of my own growth.

The "go to" resource on privilege is Peggy McIntosh's "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" . I read it for the first time about 20 years ago. I've read it over 20 times. I use it when I teach - I have my freshman HS students read this. They're ready, believe me. Recently, I've been having a deep look into my knapsack. And, I've been trying to dig deeper into understanding the idea of privilege. I've got some resources I've been using to help me get it. If you haven't read McIntosh...READ IT!

I've decided to work at blogging about privilege. I don't want to write a term paper in one entry, so I'm going to do this piece by piece and label the posts "privilege" for easy access. This is for me, for my husband, and for my kids. It is so important to me that we work together in our commitment to be an anti-racist family. I'm not recreating the wheel here folks - a lot of my thoughts aren't original (very few are, in fact). I'll be citing the works of others and providing links to excellent and accessible resources. I'm hoping to allow other people to help me learn. You are welcome to learn along with me.

I want to start with a very clear articulation of Privilege provided by brown_betty:
Privilege is not: About you. Privilege is not your fault. Privilege is not anything you've done, or thought, or said. It may have allowed you to do, or think, or say things, but it's not those things, and it's not because of those things. Privilege is not about taking advantage, or cheating, although privilege may make this easier. Privilege is not negated. I can't balance my white privilege against my female disadvantage and come out neutral. Privilege is not something you can be exempt from by having had a difficult life. Privilege is not inherently bad. It really isn't.
Privilege is: About how society accommodates you. It's about advantages you have that you think are normal. It's about you being normal, and others being the deviation from normal. It's about fate dealing from the bottom of the deck on your behalf.

That's enough for now, even though I'm still in the thick of thinking as I write.


rebekah said...

I'm looking forward to more. Thank you. I do not take the time I would like to to think about this stuff. My education deviated away from it while I was still in my 20s. I will get that book and read it.

rebekah said...

Ok, I see now the Peggy McIntosh piece is not a book. I'll just print and read!

Mark and Sarah said...

Thanks for starting this conversation on your blog. I'm looking forward to the series of posts and learning more from your research and thoughts!

Cathy said...

Thanks for this post and future posts. It is great food for thought and so well written. Let's definitely get together soon!

VanVoorsts said...

Looking forward to more thoughtful posts. Thank you.

Clare Seguin said...

I think a lot about class privilege as well- especially lately with the economy crashing. I keep thinking about the folks who don't have the layers of family cushion many of us can count on if the shit hits the fan. How is it to be right on the edge of doom, knowing that one bad piece of news is going to bring down whatever grasp on security you might have.