After one reads McIntosh's powerful essay, it's impossible to deny that being born with white skin in America affords people certain unearned privileges in life that people of another skin color simple are not afforded... BUT LISTEN: This is not said to make white people feel guilty about their privilege. It's not your fault you were born with white skin and experience these privileges. BUT, whether you realize it or not, you DO benefit from it, and it IS your fault if you don't maintain awareness of that fact.
I, maybe more than most people, can completely understand why broke white folks get pissed when the word "Privilege" is thrown around. As a child, I was constantly discriminated against because of my poverty and those wounds still run very deep. But luckily my college education introduced me to a more nuanced concept of Privilege; the term Intersectionality. The concept of Intersectionality recognizes that people can be privileged in some ways and definitely not privileged in others. There are many different types of privilege, not just skin color privilege, that impact the way people can move through the world or are discriminated against. These are all things you are born into, not things you earned, that afford you opportunities others may not have. For example:
- Citizenship - Simply being born in this country affords you certain privileges non-citizens will never access.
- Class - Being born into a financially stable family can help guarantee your health, happiness, safety, education, intelligence, and future opportunities.
- Sexual Orientation - By being born straight, every state in this country affords you privileges that non-straight folks have to fight the Supreme Court for.
- Sex - By being born male, you can assume that you can walk through a parking garage without worrying you'll be raped and that a defense attorney will then blame it on what you were wearing.
- Ability - By being born able bodied, you probably don't have to plan your life around handicap access, braille, or other special needs.
- Gender - By being born cisgendered, you aren't worried that the restroom or locker room you use will invoke public outrage.
As you can see, belonging to one or more category of Privilege, especially being a Straight White Middle Class Able-Bodied Male, can be like winning a lottery you didn't even know you were playing.
Recognizing Privilege doesn't mean suffering guilt or shame for your lot in life. Nobody's saying that Straight White Middle Class Able-Bodied Males are all a bunch of assholes who don't work hard for what they have. Recognizing Privilege simply means being aware that some people have to work much harder just to experience the things you take for granted (if they ever can experience them at all.)
I know now that I AM Privileged in many ways. I am Privileged as a natural born white citizen. I am privileged as a cis-gendered woman. I am privileged as an able-bodied person. I am privileged that my first language is also our national language, and that I was born with an intellect and ambition that pulled me out of the poverty I was otherwise destined for. I was privileged to be able to marry my way "up" by partnering with a Privileged middle-class educated male who fully expected me to earn a college degree.
There are a million ways I experience Privilege, and some that I certainly don't. But thankfully, Intersectionality allows us to examine these varying dimensions and degrees of discrimination while raising awareness of the results of multiple systems of oppression at work.
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* The chart above shows that White people make up 41.5% of the country's poor, but they also make up a larger percentage of the total population. The
white poverty rate actually runs much lower than the black rate, just under
10 percent, about one-third of the black rate (27%).