“White Privilege” review

Published 12 May 2017

“White Privilege” by Peggy McIntosh is a white woman’s reflection on the possible advantages she has been given, unearned, as a white person. While her list of advantages is interesting and credible, her essay misses the point of what it takes to create true progression in society where racial discrimination is concerned.

It is true that societal progression can not be achieved if we continue to allow racial discrimination to permeate its every facet. Reading McIntosh’s list, it is surprising to realize, perhaps for the first time, that black individuals are asked to speak for their race on certain issues, and that being called a credit to his race is actually an insult. No, these things are not things taught in school. However, people are taught that discrimination is wrong, and they are given ways to change attitudes and behaviors. The first of these ways is education.

In order for education to exist concerning racism, there has to be an open, honest, and non-confrontational dialogue between whites and blacks. White individuals need to learn about each item on the list that McIntosh provides. There is no disagreement there. Where McIntosh errs is assuming that the only way to make things equal is to lower those at the top; this is often times called “leveling the playing field” in many circles. Nobody should have to give up an advantage in order for someone else to get it, unless he is playing a game with a three year old.

What exactly could a white person actually give up? The list the author provides deals with societal stereotypes and misconceptions, which are horribly unfortunate. However, how would anyone, as a white person, “give up” the advantage of, say, “not being followed around”? Would she run in the store and say, “Hey, retail clerks! Follow me, so I know what it is like!” Of course not. These attitudes belong to other people and are not in the control of any one individual but that person. Additionally, a school would not ask white students to purposefully score lower on a standardized test to help out those who have not had the proper educational support, motivation and supervision at home. Instead, it should find ways of raising the struggling minorities’ students scores.

Truly, what needs to happen is education as the author says. Show schoolchildren the disparities, the pain and the oppression of minorities. Ask them to offer solutions. Plead with them to make their world a more color blind place. Misconceptions can be overcome by dialogue. Unfortunately, schools are often too afraid of commencing with this dialogue. Often, conversation must happen freely and spontaneously. Only then can we raise everyone to a level of advantage – thus eliminating the advantage.

Los Olvidados: On the Making of Invisible People by Juan F. Perea makes the point that discrimination from the white people has its roots in the beginnings of the country. He argues that the forefathers drafted the constitution for a nation that was supposed to be created for white Anglos Saxons. Sadly, Perea is probably right, but, luckily, this has not become reality for the United States.

Perea argues that Germans, Africans, American Indians and Mexicans (who were seen as the worse combination of Spaniards and Native Americans) were particularly singled out for their differences in language, skin color, and morals. Primary source documents authored by Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush, among others, support this feeling with their undisguised repulsion of the non-white, even the Germans. Their fear was that mixing of races would produce a society of people with lower morals.

This desire to be superior to all springs from the fact that the colonists left England because they felt it was not religiously strict enough and had fallen into a type of Anglican degradation. As a result, they would certainly have been loath to accept any digression from their own idea of purity. They selfishly had laid claim to a new world in order to create a utopia in which only their kind was invited to partake.

Good thing they failed! Now that America is nearly its 250th birthday, it is the diversity of people which makes the United States stand out among all others. All have been welcomed to take part in the utopia, and for that reason, Perea’s invisible people are invisible no longer.

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