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Me & The Invisible Knapsack

So, Peggy McIntosh, a renowned researcher and essayist on the topic of white privilege, says that, 'white privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, code books, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.' She goes on to describe it as a package of unearned assets or privileges that white or white-passing individuals can count on in their everyday lives, but that we're meant to remain oblivious to.

I'm only beginning to understand what that means in practical terms, but as I continue to become more aware of what this work is bringing up for me, I feel newly accountable to better understand white privilege (not even going to get into how my sexuality and gender identity compound it right now, but...), and to figure out what I can do to lessen it. My years on the modern psychoanalytic couch has also put me in the zone of wanting to make the unconscious conscious, knowing that this is truly the only way for me to unlearn and re-learn.

So I began to translate McIntosh's list to de-generalize it and give myself tangible examples of how my whiteness and my white privilege permeates my everyday life...

So, as I begin to wrap my head loosely around the ways in which I hold white privilege in my life, I also need to make it more real for me, more authentic to my world. So I began to translate McIntosh's list to de-generalize it and give myself tangible examples of how my whiteness and my white privilege permeates my everyday life and has allowed me to live a life I am comfortable in — often at the expense of marginalized communities that I have subconsciously averted. One thing is for sure, I've opted into both and here's what I'm thinking about today:

  • I have, for the most part, arranged to be in the company of white people most of the time. Most of my friends are white, all of my relatives are white, most of my neighbors have always been white.

  • When I moved from Long Island, New York to Los Angeles where I knew close to no one, I was able to purchase a home (and get a home loan I could afford from a new bank) in a neighborhood I wanted to live in.

  • When I moved to LA, I had the privilege of enrolling my three kids in three new schools, and was welcomed by each school community with enthusiasm and open arms.

  • I have had the privilege of knowing that my kids would be taught curricula that affirmed their identities, and testified to the existence and history of their race.

  • I have never felt the need to educate my children about systemic racism.

  • For the most part, and integral to my peace of mind, I feel that I can arrange to protect my kids from people who might not like them.

  • When I was younger, and in school myself, I had the privilege of learning about my history, white history, culture, iconography and perspectives. And when I learned about the story of America, I was taught that white people were the heroes of my heritage.

  • Most of the children's books, the classics that I made sure I read with my kids, are about the white experience. It's true that the whitewashing of curriculum in schools extends to the bookstores, with fewer books on the shelves affirming People of Color, but even still, I believe I chose those books because they told the stories that I wanted to hear and share.

  • I can, if I want to, go shopping alone, either in a boutique shopping area or a mall, and have never once been followed, watched, or harassed.

  • I have the privilege of having a positive relationship with the police, generally speaking. If a cop pulls me over, I've never felt that I've been singled out because of my race. If I'm in a situation where I need the police, I've never hesitated to speak with them or call, always anticipating the experience would be respectful and helpful.

  • I have the privilege of consuming media that is blatantly biased towards white people. I can turn on the news and see white people represented, through algorithms in social media, I am fed stories, podcasts, videos and essays that are presented from the white perspective.

  • I have remained completely oblivious to the languages, the history, the customs, the identities of People of Color without feeling any social or cultural penalty for my illiteracy.

  • If I've ever needed medical attention, I can get it from doctors who have been predominantly trained to recognize ailments as they present in white patients.

  • Despite the fact that there are certainly white people that I don't relate to, from white supremacists to white serial killers, I feel like I have the privilege of escaping the violent stereotypes associated with those white people and can take myself out of the 'white' equation of those I don't identify with.

  • For the most part, I feel protected from the dangers of a society that does not respect the value of all lives equally.

  • I have the privilege of being insulated from the daily toll of racism and am embarrassed to admit have had the privilege of living my life ignorant of the history and dire state of racism in my world.

Everything I take for granted -- my happiness, my success, my disposition, my optimism, my sense of security, my relationships, where and how I live, essentially the building blocks of my whole life -- exist because of the protections my white privilege has afforded me. And as I think through what that actually means, I feel like I'm Dorothy, only traveling in reverse from the technicolor dream of Oz back to the world of black & white. And everything is coming into focus.

How illiterate I am as it relates to how power, white power specifically, really works in this country. How immeasurably ignorant and insensitive I am to what it means to navigate the world as anything other than white. The systems and structures in place to precipitate racism across all measures of society, and my role in supporting them. How numb I have been to the suffering of others. How much I don't know about the other side of history I wasn't taught, and the doors I have consciously closed that might have helped me gain insight into what that might mean. Man, I have work to do.

For someone who fancies herself as intentional, well educated, and thoughtful, I am beginning to see that I have no racial world view as a white person. And as I take a daily deep dive into the entire universe that I have spent my whole life ignoring, I feel many things, but mostly incredulity and shame. But with every rabbit hole I go down, every article, book, video, film, essay, podcast, organization, or petition, I am ravenous for the centuries more points of view I can and will unlearn and learn. I get lost at times in the guilt and complicity of my implicit bias, and at the same time, I feel empowered to change the way I see myself because for the first time in my life, I am seeing white, and do not like what I see.

But for now, I'm trying to hold myself accountable, and still learning.

with love, Cindy

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