|photograph of Peggy McIntosh is from here|
An excerpt from Peggy McIntosh, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, 1989
"I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group. I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege. I have come to see white 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. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools , and blank checks." -- Peggy McIntosh [source: *here*]
I: You appear to be critiquing radical feminists in ways that several white women view as anti-woman.
JR: I've been accused of attacking some white radical feminists, not “radical feminists” generally. (See *here* for a post about the misuse of the term “attack”. And see *here* for the Facebook discussion being referred to below.) A fundamental expression of white power is when white people present ourselves as unraced, whether among woman-haters or feminists—radical or otherwise. To declare one's political location and affiliation, one's identity and values, and leave out the fact of being white if one is white, is a very political act, as we well know when men claim to be human-only, or believe men's literature, or leaders, represent all humans in their country or, more preposterously, “universally”. To even believe this—to get to believe this—is a huge entitlement among whites and men that I don't see women of color online feeling entitled to do quite so much—or doing at all. When one is either white or a man, one is raised to believe one is human, more or less: less if a man of color not a white man; less if a white woman not a white man.
So what's anti-woman about pointing out, non-misogynistically, how and where racism lives and breathes? What it looks like? Where it hides—or appears to hide to whites? One would have to render women of color not women to conclude this is anti-woman. Because as Andrea Dworkin said, “If it hurts women, feminists are against it.” But that doesn't quite appear to be the cherished motto or practiced politic if one looks at how anyone white responds to challenges and charges of white supremacy among whites. And when whiteness is readily, glaringly apparent to people oppressed by it, whites tend to miss it, don't see it, or pretend not to see it.
I: But being white means one doesn't see whiteness or its effect, right? Why would you call it out as if it's a politically egregious thing to do?
JR: When men tend to miss where sexism and misogyny lives—and men across class and race do this systematically and with the great and horrible political effect of maintaining and enforcing male supremacy. When men don't see it or pretend not to see it, few whites who are pro/feminist claim that's not a glaring example of men's sexism and misogyny. Few white pro/feminists I know get upset or defensive or antagonistic to males who call out how and when men do that. It's considered respectful and responsible for pro/feminists to call it out, to name it, to identify it, to not pretend it's really not the men's fault for not seeing it. The unconsciousness isn't an excuse, after all. Nor should it be.
I: That's sure my experience! That seems to be one of the main practices among class-privileged folks, actually—to put forth effort to name the systems of harm and how and where misogynist harm happens. Except with regard to class! [laughs]
JR: Yeah, about that. So how does naming when and where racist-misogyny happens become a form of irresponsible sexism or a practice of anti-feminist male supremacy? All my adult life I've witnessed or read about women of color calling out both racism and sexism—and heterosexism and classism and other forms of oppression. And all my adult life I've seen how whites and men refuse to engage responsibly.
I: Do you think white women who are practicing racism should be accountable to you?
JR: No. I don't think women across race or region are or ought to be accountable to me, as a male. But that doesn't mean whites across gender can't and shouldn't engage on these issues.
I: If I may, why don't you call yourself a “man”. You seem to only use the terms “adult” and “male” which structurally speaking means “a man”, doesn't it? I don't see you refusing to use the term “white”. So why reject the term “man” for yourself?
JR: I am “a man” structurally, in the sense that wherever I am, I don't appear to be a woman or someone who is transsexual, transgender, or intersex—and I don't appear to be any of the latter three in part because of gross stereotypes of what non-trans and non-intersex people believe trans and intersex people look and act like. But in my mind, soul, politics, and practice, I'm a "non-observant" man as much as possible--I'm making a parallel here to being a non-observant Jew--someone who doesn't practice the "faith" so to speak. (I'm not exactly a non-observant Jew, however. Just for the record. Non-religious: yes; non-observant: no.) I obviously maintain my institutional and interpersonal privileges and have some male supremacist entitlements—not the het kind. And those may be acted out by me against any woman, with intention or by effect.
I: So do you understand and appreciate why some white women think your challenges to white women about their racism is sexist or offensive?
JR: I understand it. Women ought not be lectured by men—or males—about anything. I suppose in the truest sense of the word, though, I don't appreciate the refusal to engage on the matter of whiteness—I won't make my practice not calling out racism, in other words. If racism is presented to me—as it was on that Facebook discussion page—or if I come across it, it's not going to be unnoticed or given a pass. Women across race who I know generally assume and expect that if I encounter sexism or misogyny, I'll call it out when men exhibit it. They don't assume I'll call it out when women exhibit it, however. And I get why that is.
I: What leads you to not call out women's sexism, say, among white women?
JR: Because it really isn't my work to do it, as male who is not gender-oppressed by them. It isn't my work to do it and that conclusion is one I come to by listening to women, not by arriving at it based on my own musings and thinking removed from women's lives.
I: If you think racism is a form of sexism, and vice versa, isn't calling out white women's racism also calling out sexism—the sexism of white women towards women of color?
JR: Yes, I suppose it is. But doing political practice isn't like doing math: the equations and solutions aren't set or preordained. What whites generally refuse to do, across gender, is to name and challenge whiteness and its political effects over and against women of color. Some whites, like Tim Wise, will speak out about white supremacy and racism, but he systematically keeps men at the center of his concerns and analysis. His work is structurally racist-sexist. I don't see women of color in the center of his consciousness or writings. And many white men who are profeminist—well, the few who are!! [laughs]—will pretend that only reading what white feminists have to say, or only being accountable to white women, is sufficient to understand the political condition of women and be a responsible ally.
This single idea-in-practice—that whites can speak for all humans; that white men speak for all men; that white women speak for all women—is nothing at all but a racist notion, so women of color have told me. And I have observed this and felt in my own gut too. And the question I brought to Facebook was to ask how whites' protection of our own racism is similar to men's protection of sexism. And it's quite stunning to me, if not surprising, to see what white women did in response to me proposing that as a topic for serious political reflection and discussion.
I: What? What did you notice?
JR: I noticed how many whites or white-privileged people immediately needed to challenge not white's racism and white supremacy, but my reasoning for asking the question, or my “right” to ask it. One white woman in particular, C., came forth in a posture of what felt to me like aggression and insult, and not much visible interest in exploring the many ways whites are racist.
I: Why do you think she did that?
JR: I could speculate all day long, but trying to imagine what's in her mind or heart isn't really appropriate, in my view. Noticing how her behavior participates in standard racist political practice is something I will call out, however. Because so much of what she did is “classic” white supremacist behavior. Classic. Like, one could predict it, script it, and then watch whites show up and say the lines. It's as predictable as what men say about feminism; what men typically say about women's struggles for human rights and liberation from patriarchal crimes and atrocities. The patterns, the practices, are remarkable similar.
I: What's similar? What do you see?
JR: Well, the first thing I see is the dynamic of trying to move the topic of conversation off the matter at hand—in this case whiteness and racist-misogyny, and how pervasive and protected both are by whites across gender. We all know some of the ways people do this. A cheating husband comes home and his wife asks, “Were you out with another woman?” He could say “Yes” or “No”; he may lie and say “No”. But what typically happens is he'll shift the focus to the interrogator, the questioner, and make her wrong or feel ashamed in some way for having asked the question at all—a question that was right on the spot. A question that, if answered honestly and directly, would reveal he was cheating on her. So instead he says CRAP like “Why is that the first thing you have to say to me?!! Why are you so fucking paranoid? Why don't you trust me?!” “I just walked in the door after working late and THIS is what I have to greet me?!”
The whole point of this strategy is to evade responsibility for what one has done that is being named.
I: You realize, I hope, that you are positioning white women as abusers and you as the victim, in your analogy.
JR: I am trying to identify an oppressor dynamic that also plays out among oppressed people—it's what my feminist mentor called a structure of enemyhood. I'm just giving an example of how it tends to play out, so we might compare that to what C. did when I posed the question I did. It doesn't have to be me as victim, in other words—and it's not in this instance, structurally, even while I do view her as, effectively, not much more than a shaming bully and protector of white power, in terms of the role she takes on in the conversation. But an oppressor to the husband might ask him the same question, right? I mean if the husband is Black or Brown, or poor, and a rich white attorney or police officer asks him if he was out cheating on her, he will likely employ similar strategies—perhaps not as misogynistic in effect, if the interrogator is a male. In fact, if the questioner is male, what he's likely to do is bond with the husband against the wife—they will do their male supremacist bonding behavior, such as a wink between the males when one of them names her as something akin to a jealous b-word.
But as I see it, from my decidedly privileged point of view, what C. does in that conversation is perhaps just as misogynistic in effect if the interrogator—the attorney or the police officer—is female. But not interpersonally—only socially. She's not my oppressor structurally, by gender. And by race we're peers. She's also Lesbian so I could be her oppressor as a gay male, and am, structurally. And the intention is not really the salient issue here; the effect is. What is the effect of anyone who is white showing up to a conversation in part about unnamed and willfully refused acknowledgement of racism and white supremacy, only to take the focus off of that and place it elsewhere? It would be one thing if I posted the discussion to a white woman's page on Facebook; that could be seen as an aggressive act on my part—and it would be one too! But I posted the question to my own page, among my own readers. Again, I don't have any contact with C. I had no idea she'd show up—to do what she did there, which was mostly avoid taking the question seriously.
I: Even if it requires speculation, why do you think she showed up there and said what she did?
JR: Well, I suppose to establish some sort of dominance, to shame the questioner, to be a bully and therefore silence me because taking the question seriously would mean looking at something she doesn't want to look at. That's my hunch, and I could be completely wrong, of course. But it comes off as a Facebook version of attempting to silence the messenger or derail the conversation. Because she exercised her power in ways that appear to be pro-woman but are, to me, effectively silencing of women of color. To protect white power in a space is to effectively render it hostile space for anyone of color—that's my view. And it's my view that men or males who show up in woman-only spaces attempting to get the women to take care of or attend to the needs of the interrupter or invader, is decidedly male supremacist behavior.
But, she'd have to speak for herself. I seriously doubt, if this were true, that she'd own she did what she did to protect white power over and against women of color.
I: How, specifically, are women of color silenced by her actions in the discussion, Julian?
JR: Did you notice what the women of color stated there—how and where their voices were present compared to the white voices? Whites pretty quickly dominated the scene. She took up a lot of space as a white person in a space that while white-majority, was attempting to create safe space for women of color to speak to or respond to the issues raised in the question. When a white person derails the conversation away from white power and white privilege, how does that make a space more safe for anyone who isn't white? Especially if the people who aren't white witness a white person challenge another person questioning racism, in interpersonally abusive or shaming ways? Shall people of color show up and assume they'll be treated BETTER than I was—me, a white male? What structural realities would permit any woman of color to be treated BETTER by C.? Her efforts at white dominance –willful, conscious, or neither—mean that she is effectively making the space a more white supremacist one that it would be if she arrived and directly spoke to the question before us, in ways that responsibly owned her own political location as a white person, I mean. In my experience, whites are about as ignorant about how to be responsibly white (meaning, effectively anti-racist) in a social space as men are ignorant about how to be responsible men (effectively anti-sexist) in social spaces.
What we see is one woman of color expressing concern or regard for me, and C. going out of her way to shame and attempt to degrade or disempower me. So, effectively, she's calling the woman of color stupid for caring about me, right? That was passive-aggressive racist-misogyny, as far as I'm concerned. I'm not at all saying she was intending to silence or shame women of color; I'm saying her actions participate in dynamics that do just that and aren't likely to do much else other than that.
I'm not likely to welcome her voice here on my blog unless she owns her whiteness first and throughout the conversation. This blog exists to promote safe and responsibly anti-racist/anti-sexist spaces for women of color to read and participate as they wish to.
I: So what do you want to have happen?
JR: I want the question posed to be directly responded to by anyone who is interested in identifying how white power is expressed and exercised; I want the women of color who show up to be more, not less, comfortable and supported in speaking their truths. I don't want the matter of white power—and its many abuses—to be steered away from by whites. But what white women and men are likely to do is make sure that the focus goes anywhere else but on how they express whiteness oppressively in the environment of people of color.
I: Are you disappointed that white women from Rad Fem Hub have been so unresponsive to what you've written about their blog's racist structure and practices?
JR: I don't have any need or particular wish for them to respond to ME. I mean if they wish to, fine. But what I want for the cause of lessening white power in the world is for them to deal concretely and responsibly with their own white power, which, as far as I can determine, they won't even admit they have on the blog which positions itself, names itself, as a place to go for unraced Radical Feminist theory and practice. So that means the blog is not likely to be a safe space for radical feminist women of color. It means any woman of color is likely to encounter many forms of racist behavior there. And, perhaps even more dangerously than that, it means the white supremacy embedded in their views and values will continue to go unnamed and unnoticed by them. And it means many more radical feminist women of color will not be so likely to embrace the term “radical feminist” because, here again, it is associated with racist white women. And it means white pro/feminists will scratch our/their heads wondering why the circle of colleagues and the communities of resistance are so overwhelmingly white. They are that way because the white folks work very hard to ensure they remain that way. Or they just don't do anything to interrupt or notice the structural racism, and so the white power just flows on and on, unchallenged.
I: Do you think white radical feminists ought to change their views on pornography, prostitution, and the other matters which most centrally concern them?
JR: I think they ought to tell their readers or followers what's privileged about their perspectives and politics, and also listen to radical feminist women of color around the world about what issues are most pressing and oppressive. Because it's not likely to be the same constellation of conditions that effects class-privileged, mostly het, white women from the US and Australia. But I appreciate and deeply value the white radical feminist perspectives on pornography and prostitution. I've benefitted from them greatly and I think anyone familiar with my blog's contents will see those views represented and supported here. But before more white women show up here or anywhere else to try and shame me or any messenger of bad news about white supremacy—or to pretend anyone challenging white supremacist power and white supremacist protectionism is THE obstacle to resolving the problem of a lack of sisterhood, they might want to ask how the following contribute to ensuring that “radical feminism” appears and is white supremacist when done by whites: how many millions of white women practice racism, including racist-misogyny?
How many decades of white's willful refusal to de-center whiteness means that women of color and everyone else too, except white women, will view white radical feminism as “radical feminism”?
How much white collusion with white men's economic systems and social practice means that women of color's conditions won't shift as white women work to accomplish their goals?
How much white adherence to white male power structures—including structures of enemyhood within oppressed groups will ensure that white ways rule and disagreement means a form dissent experienced only as betrayal?
How much unspoken or vocal insistence that whites, not women of color, must be in leadership in spaces, regions, and countries that aren't all white and that are committing genocide and gynocide against Indigenous women has to continue before we get that white supremacist power is operating in that insistence?
When will whites acknowledge, openly, publicly, on their “radical” blogs and in other social spaces, how all of that and more destroys the possibility of global sisterhood while invisibilising the work of women of color globally to continue to accomplish what white women, white men, and men of color cannot and will not accomplish? As long as those other groups maintain or do battle for a dominant position relative to one another, they cannot be responsive allies to radical women of color who, despite that oppressive struggle for dominant position among whites and men, are moving the world toward liberation for all women. It is women of color, not whites, not men, who continue to fight the multiple systems of harm and horror that oppress and kill them. When will it occur to whites and men to ask this simple question: “How can I assist you and be a caring ally?”
In closing, I welcome any and all white readers to carefully review the following, which is from *here*:
Here are some excepts from a paper by Peggy McIntosh. A professor and feminist at Wellesley College. She published the list in a Working Paper in 1989. She developed her list after first considering how positions of dominance and subordinance in society via gender lead privileged groups (men) to be unaware of their priviledge. From there, she decided racial priviledge must act the same way. The privileged group (whites) must be generally unaware of their priviledge. She describes ways in which this unawareness is maintained by white society -- and of course the list, which is frequently published without the rest of her article [a PDF doc] (Thanks goes to Jeff Hitchcock for the background information).
ON THE INVISIBILITY OF PRIVILEGE
from Dr. Peggy McIntosh, Wellesley College Center for Research on Women... "I had been taught about racism as something which puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege... "I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was 'meant' to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, code books, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear and blank checks. "Whites are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, formative and average, and also ideal, so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work which will allow 'them' to be more like 'us.'" Dr. McIntosh has named some of the ways of white privilege:
1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time."Having described this, what will we each do to lessen this imbalance of power and privilege? Will we choose to use 'any or our arbitrarily-awarded power to try to re-construct power systems?'
2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.
3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
7. When I am told about our national heritage or about "civilization," I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
9. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
10. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.
11. I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person's voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her race.
12. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser's shop and find someone who can cut my hair.
13. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
14. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
15. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.
16. I can be pretty sure that my children's teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others' attitudes toward their race.
17. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color.
18. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.
19. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.
20. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
21. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
22. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world's majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.
23. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.
24. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the "person in charge", I will be facing a person of my race.
25. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven't been singled out because of my race.
26. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children's magazines featuring people of my race.
27. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared.
28. I can be pretty sure that an argument with a colleague of another race is more likely to jeopardize her/his chances for advancement than to jeopardize mine.
29. I can be pretty sure that if I argue for the promotion of a person of another race, or a program centering on race, this is not likely to cost me heavily within my prsent setting, eben if my colleagues disagree with me.
30. If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn't a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.
31. I can choose to ignore developments in minority writing and minority activist programs, or disparage them, or learn from them, but in any case, I can find ways to be more or less protected from negative consequences of any of these choices.
32. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.
33. I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race.
34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.
35. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.
36. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones.
37. I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps, professionally.
38. I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.
39. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.
40. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.
41. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.
42. I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience feelings of rejection owing to my race.
43. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem.
44. I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race.
45. I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race.
46. I can chose blemish cover or bandages in "flesh" color and have them more or less match my skin.
47. I can travel alone or with my spouse without expecting embarrassment or hostility in those who deal with us.
48. I have no difficulty finding neighborhoods where people approve of our household.
49. My children are given texts and classes which implicitly support our kind of family unit and do not turn them against my choice of domestic partnership.
50. I will feel welcomed and "normal" in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.