As of July 2016, white Americans have been the racial majority in the U.S. But what many white Americans have a hard time recognizing is that “racial majority” and “superior race” are in no way synonymous.
A few months ago, I came across a paper written by Peggy McIntosh, an American feminist and anti-racism activist raised in New Jersey. The paper was called “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” in which McIntosh defines privilege as “an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious.” When I first read this paper, I did not expect that it would change the way I live my life.
Back in September, history class was nothing new (literally). I was learning the same things I had for years: which white men “built” America, which white men came into and out of power, which white men created the first government, which white men lead armies into battle, which white women were sitting quietly by their sides, you get it. Only, back in September, I would not have put the word “white” in all of those sentences. And I’m sure a lot of the people reading this would not have either.
And why is that? For the same reason that I don’t think twice about stopping at a gas station to buy a bag of chips. The same reason others praise me when I succeed without a single reference to my race. The same reason I do not immediately fear for my life when stopped by a police officer. Because back in September, the privilege I so clearly held was invisible to me.
As white people, we were born with an unearned life advantage. No matter how hard people of color work, they will likely never have the same privileges we have, privileges that we have done nothing to deserve.
For hundreds of years, this has been what has divided not only our country, but the entire world, and this is what perpetuates our unjust society every day. The unacknowledged privilege white people hold all over the world is what continues to put people of color at a constant disadvantage, not the other way around.
In her paper, McIntosh talks about this exact idea. She explains how she believes she was raised to view racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, rather than seeing it’s opposite, white privilege, as something that puts her at an advantage. Until white people recognize these unearned advantages and work to reject them, the damaged societal structure we live in will have no chance of ever reaching true equality.
There is no one solution to racism, there is no “quick fix” to this problem. It is a battle that has been fought for thousands of years and likely will not end anytime soon. Yet with the “narrow-minded” slowly fading from our society and so many progressive minds being introduced, the time for change has never been more ideal.
The more people who begin to recognize and acknowledge this “invisible privilege,” the more progress will be made. By rejecting unearned advantages and instead capitalizing on our earned ones, we can slowly begin to break down the social hierarchy that has put white people in power since the birth of our country.
Once white people recognize they are the ones who hold the power and that it is up to them to get rid of it, our country can begin to end our “War on Racism.” Because if one thing is true, it is that without white privilege, colored disadvantage does not exist.
Sources: White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh