September 20th, 2019
Some time ago, a friend replied to one of my Facebook posts where I had shared an article on the college admission scandal. My friend had simply written “white privilege.” In response, another friend wrote that she was “so sick of white privileged (sic) being thrown around.” I realized that she was correct in this case, in that the article didn’t really have much to do with white privilege. However, after a few more responses from her it quickly became clear to me that she didn’t understand what the term meant. She talked about how her father came as an immigrant and made his way to success. The fact that she wanted to make it clear that he had earned his money cemented in my mind, that she really didn’t understand what “white privilege” meant.
I decided to find the best definition I could, so I returned to McIntosh’s 1989 seminal article “White Privilege, Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” then wrote my own Facebook-length precis. I was certain that once she understood the concept better, she would change her opinion. She did not. In fact, she insisted that that not all white people were rich, which made it abundantly clear that she wasn’t open to considering that this shameful sounding phrase could mean anything other than that white people were successful just because they were white. In fact, the concept of “white privilege” has little to do with money and success but more to do with the opportunities afforded white people just because they aren’t people of color (which can lead to money and success).
There’s a house in my neighborhood which I pass almost daily. Posted on the front is a hand-written sign that reads “All lives are equal therefore all lives matter.” Next to it a confederate flag with a middle finger sticking up in the center, proudly hangs. Each time I pass I am reminded of all the slogans various communities have come up with to try to gain acceptance and or understanding of their plight.
Black lives matter
Safe space signs
The rainbow pride flag
Diversity and Inclusion
And then I think of the backlash to all of these movements. I was recently staying at an Airbnb and was talking to the host, who wanted to joke about his “man boobs” but told me he felt he no longer could “because of that ridiculous Me Too movement.” Another example of a lack of understanding of the problem.
I recently saw another sign in a yard that read “we support our police. They work every day to save our lives.” I agree but I can’t help thinking this is the backlash against Black Lives Matter, which never meant to say that police lives didn’t
As a lifelong student of racism, homophobia, sexism, let’s just say all the isms; I am constantly in dialogue with people of all colors on issues of race and more so now that I work in diversity and inclusion. So, in an attempt to simplify the messages, I came up with the following:
White privilege ≠ White shame
Black Lives Matter ≠ White and Blue lives don’t matter
Safe space ≠ Coddling
Me too ≠ you can’t flirt with women or ask them out on a date anymore
Diversity and Inclusion ≠ you have to like all cultures
Though with the last one, I must add that I agree with Trevor Noah who, in his Netflix show, Son of Patricia said, “There should be a rule in America. You can hate immigrants all you want but if you do, you don’t get to eat their food.”
The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo
“1619” The New York Times
“Seeing White,” Scene on Radio
Kathleen Hylen, M.A. International Education Management from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. Graduated with honors from UC, Santa Cruz with a B.A. in Community Studies, focus on anti-bias. Kathleen is also a member of ACEI’s Professional Consultancy Team. Her focus is on helping institutions and organizations develop and/or bolster their diversity and inclusion strategies. For more information, please contact ACEI at firstname.lastname@example.org.