another word on privilege

I ran across this article on privilege today, written by Peggy McIntosh, an anti-racist feminist. (Maybe I’m late to the table and you folks have already seen it?) Anyways, here were some of my favorite points that describe aspects of privilege:

  • 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.
  • I can go shopping alone most of the time, fairly well assured that I will not be followed or harassed by store detectives.
  • I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely and positively represented.
  • 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 can swear, or dress in secondhand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.
  • I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
  • I can remain oblivious to the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.
  • 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 can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co­workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.
  • I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.

While the list she created was specifically on white male privilege, what I found most interesting is how they could have easily been describing abled-bodied (nondisabled) privilege, heterosexual/cissexual privilege, and class privilege. She pointed out while society sometimes does talk about how racism and sexism disadvantages women and people of color, it doesn’t talk about how it gives others advantages (her words: “As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.”)

Although sometimes I think people who identify with an oppressed group of people think they have an automatic free pass from recognizing privilege (i.e. disabled men who are racist, feminists who are ableist, etc….) and it’s wrong to casually say all forms of privilege are the same, it still amazes/bothers/frusterates/surprises me how, as individuals or communities, it is still difficult to recognize that the struggle is one that is shared. 

But I guess that’s part of the oppression we face in the first place…



Filed under community, disability, queer issues/culture, race, woc

7 responses to “another word on privilege

  1. bev

    Yes, I’ve seen this, but it is important enough it needs to be shared again and again. Your analysis also adds a lot. Many times discrimination becuase of one aspect of one’s personhood is not sufficient to teach us to guard against our own prejudices in other areas, but instead fuels a need to find some arena in which we can be the top dog. Thank you for the reminder.

  2. Wow! I look at number one especially. I have been working in housing for such a long time and worked with People with Disabilities who were homeless. It makes me mad to think how many of my sisters and brothers are locked in institutions because they are homeless.

  3. I agree with you on the free pass. There is no guarantee that anyone who is marginalized in some way won’t turn around and marginalize people in other ways, no matter how well-meaning they may be.

  4. Wow, what a coincidence! I attended a racial justice conference this morning, where all of those points were mentioned. Oddly, what brought things home to the group was when they all did a group exercise that I could not participate in. Some folks were clearly uncomfortable with that, especially when I was asked to back outside the circle so others wouldn’t trip over me. Afterwards, when asked how I felt, I let them have it! It really hit home for them, and many of them were ashamed at their behavior.

  5. Dread, now that I am older (and my joints lots stiffer), I would totally feel okay backing out of that, if only one person could not participate…I’d say something like “Yall go on ahead,” which of course would make TWO people not participating, and might be a bit more disturbing to them. (Would they become *aware* at that point?)

    But even more than that, I realize I probably would NOT have the nerve to decline all by myself, so the presence of a disabled person would be empowering and strengthening in this instance… so it’s all in the perceptions. 🙂

  6. Daisy, you hit it spot on about the fear part. Several people openly admitted that they were too scared to openly object to what happened. One woman said that she was ashamed because she would rather see me hurt and excluded than face her fear of standing up and expressing her objection to what was happening. Believe me, it made me think hard because this is a group that works on social justice issues. Maybe its easier to deal with abstract injustices that affect people far away than when its right at hand.

  7. Chip Smith

    The thing is, even if a white (heterosexual, abled, male,…) person is personally pretty decent, that person still retains the advantages that go with being privileged in U.S. society. It’s built in. So how do we move from personal awareness to also fundamentally reshaping our social system? For me, one person at a time — though necessary — doesn’t get it done.

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