Checking your (my) privilege.

With all of the discussions about privilege, I recently red Peggy McIntosh’s 26 points about white privilege – those things in our daily lives that are easier because I am white.  With a few exceptions, they are drivel… She assumes her position to be that of everybody’s position.  Here are the points and my responses to them.  (Find the paper here).

[p.s. I copied her points directly from her paper.  There are many grammar errors, and I will not take time to point them all out].

1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

This is because you live in America, where most people are white.  If you lived in Asia, this would be impossible.  Is there such a thing as Asian privilege in China?

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.

This is 1) because you live in America; and, 2) because of your socio-economic status, which may or may not be tied to race, but is most likely associated with your education, age, and profession.

3. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.

They might also think you are annoying because you have cats.  Overt racism in the “nice” places to live is relatively non-existant.  Also, why would you want to live in a place with unpleasant neighbors?  I find this to be a straw-man argument that assumes that the white majority are rabid racists who never want non-whites in their neighborhoods, a patent falsehood.

4. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

I have witnessed first-hand what I would call racial profiling at shopping malls, so this may be true.  I would point out, however, that in some cases it is due to behavioral profiling, which can ensnare whites as much as any other race.

5. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

This is because you live in America and read local or national daily news papers.  Maybe you should pick up a magazine or paper targeting other groups, such as gays/lesbians, African-Americans, or Asians (there are lots of Asian papers on the west coast).  I bet if you lived in Mexico, your paper would have lots of Mexicans and stories about Mexicans in it.

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.

That is because America was settled by Western Europeans (clearly, I am leaving out Native Americans, which to me is an entirely different topic of discussion) and we take courses in American History and Western History.  I remember taking an Eastern History course many years ago and learning all about Asians and Islanders.  We also discussed some colonial history, both positive and negative.  I am sorry that imperialism is such an ongoing and present condition in your mind, such that the history of white people is somehow superior to you than that of any other culture.

7. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.

I don’t even know what this means… it sounds like a tautology.  You go to school in America and learn about Americans… weird.

8. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.

I’m pretty sure you can find a publisher for an African-American privilege piece if you want to.  In Western Europe you can probably find a publisher for a European privilege piece.  In fact, it is so easy to get things published these days that it doesn’t surprise me when I see very low quality work published on sites like Slate and Salon (the institutes for kids who can’t write good and wanna do other stuff worse, too).

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.

This is because you live in America.  If I went to a music shop in Africa (oh wait, I have been to a music shop in Africa) you will find regional African music.  The same goes for supermarkets (weird that you find Mexican staple foods in Mexican supermarkets in Mexico).  Alternatively, there are many places in the US where you can find a wide variety of “ethnic” foods and services; I would bet there are more here than in most countries around the world.

10. Whether I [use] checks, credit cards, or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.

Cash and credit and instantly accepted, so they are good regardless of race.  Checks, on the other hand, are not accepted in most places regardless of race.  Why?  Because it doesn’t matter who you are, checks are inefficient methods of payment with significant information asymmetries in their acceptance.

11. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.

I can see where this has a racial component to it, and I will acknowledge that having white children may lessen some concern about random acts of racism against your children.  I think parents of gay kids experience fears similar to those of parents of minority children.  Over a long enough time line, people are guaranteed to encounter racism, sexism, etc… and that is something we can continue improving as a nation.

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.

This may or may not be true.  But I would definitely say it is behavioral judgement rather than racial judgement.  Back to the shopping mall example from above: if you act like a punk, you will get treated like one, regardless of race.  The solution is to not swear and to answer letters, regardless of race, because it is the polite and responsible thing to do.  I also think these things are indictments of education and socioeconomics than they are of race.

13. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.

This just seems silly.  Plenty of non-white people speak to groups without invoking any racial judgments.

14. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.

This is a throwback to the 1960’s and a relative straw-man argument.

15. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

Again, this is a straw-man argument.  I don’t know anybody who would assume that all African-Americans speak with one voice.  If anything, minorities often perpetuate this by ostracizing those members of their group who refuse to believe what they feel is appropriate.  As an example, see how hateful gay rights groups are to gay, republican politicians.

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.

This is because you live in America.  If you live in Asia as an Asian, you can remain oblivious to American language (English, in case you are wondering) and culture without penalty from within your own culture.  Just like speaking Chinese, Spanish, or Japanese may confer financial benefits to Americans, speaking English can confer financial benefits on Asians, but is not culturally expected of them from a historical standpoint.

17. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.

This is because you live in America.  Having lived in France, any criticisms I voiced over government policies were seen as coming from an outsider.  The freedom to critique our government comes from being an American – we should be offended if people who just moved to America want to criticize it without first becoming part of it.  If you don’t like it, don’t come here.

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.

This is because you live in America.  If you live in Africa, the person in charge is probably going to be African – so if you’re an African, you get to talk with somebody of your own race.

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.

Police do profile, I will grant that.  I will also grant that police engage in unethical behavior (and may even do so with relative frequency).  This is a problem.  As for the IRS, you could also be audited because of how you voted (at least recently).  The fact that our government is oppressive is a problem for all Americans, not just minorities.  This is something we should stand against together, not through the lens of racial privilege.

20. I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children’s magazine featuring people of my race.

This is because you live in America.

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.

This is because 1) you choose which organizations you belong to, and we are likely to select organizations that fit our own world-view; and, 2) because organizations are more likely tied to socioeconomic status, geography, and interests than to race.  This argument, again, assumes pervasive racism, which is a straw-man argument.

22. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of race.

Then maybe we should get rid of affirmative action; then, everybody would know you received the job on merit and would be confident that you could perform the tasks.  It is true that when racial preferences were eliminated from the University of California system, more minority students graduated from four year universities.  Why?  Because they were accepted to schools at which their merits determined success instead of their race.

23. 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.

This seems strange.  Racial profiling is expressly forbidden in America, even in private enterprises; so you will not be rejected based on race.  Mistreatment assumes high levels of overt racism, which is, again, a straw-man argument.

24. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.

It is more likely that your socioeconomic status will work against you.  After-all, OJ Simpson was acquitted because he could hire Johnny Cochran (also African-American) to defend him.

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.

This is true – I suspect that minorities often find (or suspect) racial overtones when situations are going badly.  Whether this is true or not is entirely up to the particularly circumstances.

26. I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.

This is really silly.  Bandages as a harbinger of racial inequality?  There are blemish covers for almost every skin type, and personally, I go for the fun, colorful band-aids.  I suspect that alternative bandage colors exist and if they don’t and there is such a huge market for them (as presumed by this white privilege point), then why doesn’t anybody manufacture them?