Day 3:  This knapsack is way too big

Credit:   Matthew Kenwrick flickr.com/people/58847482@N03/

Public Privilege Challenge Day 3: Acknowledging my white privilege

Hello, friends, welcome to Day 3.

I must admit I am losing both heart and steam. I have been feeling more powerless than empowered; more silly than wise. And I feel very very very ineffectual.

Day 1’s post had a reader comment regarding privilege being a blessing of purpose; that God bestows privilege in order “to bring people to a saving knowledge of the Gospel.” I wonder at this. When I read the New Testament I see stories of people giving up their privilege; of Jesus and Paul and numerous significant yet unnamed women giving up material wealth, living life without a physical home and pursuing a deep and meaningful spirituality which does not harm others. The privilege that I hold today is often harmful to others; my wealth is built on the backs of the global poor, my clothes are made by exploited children in sweatshops, my culture’s worship of able-bodies means that there are few accessible public or private spaces. In 1 Corinthians 4 Paul admonishes that group for being rich, arrogant, and for not pursuing a Paul-life lifestyle of being “scum of the world.” Call me idealistic, but I cannot believe that my privilege has been meant to bless others with an empty-sounding message of future salvation, of shelter only in heaven and of justice just over that proverbial hill. Injustice needs to be resisted against, especially those injustices which benefit my physical life.

I do recognize that my last few posts have been somewhat dark; privilege, once acknowledged, is a depressing thing. In the current issue of Geez, we put forward perhaps a new way of interacting with our privilege; instead of guilt or paranoia we fumble for love. This is bang-on and beautiful and provides a guiding path towards a better world; let’s fumble, try, experiment, resist, recoup, try again. Let’s stand firm against injustice, while providing each other with grace and gentleness. A tricky balance, but one to strive for.

Anyway, I am white. Let’s talk about that.

EVERYBODY READING THIS should click here and read Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. It gives a clearer, better description of white privilege than I ever could.

My life is somewhat boring lately (again, an aspect of my privilege) in that I basically only go to work and then go home, not really interacting with much of the outside world. Poor planning on my part, especially since I can’t talk much about my day job. But even with these limitations, this is what I saw today;

- everybody on my bus on the way to work looked like I do

- in the three television shows that I watched, there were five non-white characters; all were secondary characters in service positions including secretary, hotel clerk, car repair person, maid, and waitress

- people walked into my place of work and assumed that I was a staff member only because of the color of my skin

- people I interacted with on the phone quickly assumed my understanding and didn’t speak slowly, loudly, or use simple words

- walking home, everybody I passed on my street looked like I do

- the security guards, police, and Downtown Biz (ugh) members that I saw looked like I do

- the caretaker of my building looks like I do

- . . . and on and on and on

White privilege is an insidious evil thing which normalizes white people’s experiences and reinforces the cycle of racism that is so inherent within our culture. It is often impossible to see unless you are looking for it. It is also intricately connected to other privileges including wealth and literacy. As such, I had a very difficult time resisting this privilege of mine and don’t have any tangible examples of doing so. This is not meant to be an excuse; it is a lament. I really don’t know what to do about it in my day to day life.

So I have ordered some books, including Uprooting Racism by Paul Kivel. I have begun conversations with friends and confidantes. I have done a multitude of google searches. I could do with more on the ground methods of resisting my privilege and undoing racism. Pass them on if you have suggestions. I’ll keep you updated in later posts.

Thanks for sticking close,
Bre

Read Day 4: Resisting my cisgender privilege

Read Day 2: Resisting my able-bodied privilege

Why am I doing this? Click here to find out.

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks for this, Bre. White privilege is a topic not many want to engage in or even acknowledge exists because “we’re looking for what’s not there. People are only wanting and excuse to blame the system or refuse to take personal responsibility for their moral failures”. This is myopic at best — fully acknowledging that personal responsibility is a crucial element in our lives, but it is not the sum & total of why our lives the way they are.

    When we look at what has brought white people to power over the centuries, and the practices both church & gov’t engaged in, unpacking that knapsack becomes all the more critical. People of the Civil Rights era swinging the pendulum so far to become “colour blind” in an effort to eradicate racism had good intentions, & perhaps felt the immediate need for that drastic stance, but in doing so, we now become defensive and upset when people point out that we did not do away with racism or racialized issues, but rather took away our vision to see them clearly. In order to address racism, we need to be willing to receive that hurt from others and trust that ‘their’ stories are as valid and necessary as ‘ours’ are (if we’re going to use the us/them paradigm).

    I realize racism cannot stand alone — socio-economics, family situations, community circumstances, and a host of other pressure points all contribute to worldviews, the circumstances of people of all colour. Myself? I am a white woman working at an aboriginal Friendship Centre. It’s hard. I won’t lie. On the one hand, I attend my predominantly working/middle/upper class white church who believe almost fully in personal accountability for life’s circumstances and often place blame entirely on the shoulders of aboriginal folks for ‘their’ situation. On the other hand, aborignal folks often mistrust me and my intentions knowing I have had far more given to me without any hard work or suffering to come along with it. I could argue the point, but the reality is: I’ve never been followed around a store “in case I steal something”, or been put in a ‘special’ class automatically because of my heritage.

    Racism is not the hideous explosions of events like the Holocaust or apartheid — these are outcomes. Racism is subtle… ordinary… acceptable… not even deigned to be called racism because “there’s nothing wrong with…” (insert ordinary everyday practice or thought process here). When we begin to identify the ordinary nature of racism, then we begin to see how holocausts happen, how centuries of oppression won’t go away overnight, and how we need to be Rebuilders of Streets with Dwellings (Is 58), & Restorers of Places in Which to Dwell for our entire lives.

    Erin Lac La Biche November 24th, 2011 2:47pm

  2. Hi Bre:

    Thanks for sharing about your journey. It’s quite a challenge to try to be aware of one’s privilege, and even more so to endeavor to live in less privileged ways.

    Readers interested in straight privilege might want to read http://www.campusactivism.org/uploads/straightprivilege.pdf — an adaptation of Peggy McIntosh’s article to look at how straight people are privileged.

    rob g edmonton December 13th, 2011 2:44pm

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