White Privilege and Racial Healing

Doug has a very important post on his blog about his recent experiences in an activity called “The Privilage Walk”:

Last week, on the final evening of the class, we participated in what was called the “Privilege Walk.” Each person took one step forward when they could affirmatively respond to a statement based on their race. There were about two dozen statements.

A sample of some of the statements

1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
2. 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.
3. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
4. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
5. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
6. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

The list was read item and by item, alternating between each of the two facilitators. The class members advanced one step at a time toward a line, all moving in the same direction, some more steadily than others. The statements were taken from an article called White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, by Peggy McIntosh. [pdf version]. Most of the White people in the room advanced every step, which I expected given the point of the exercise. What surprised me, was how far back in the room the Blacks, Native Americans, and Asians were. It was sobering. When asked how she felt being in the back, a Native American woman said, very frankly and matter-of-factly, “I wish I was up there,” and she gestured forward toward the front of the room, as if to say “anywhere but here.” I was touched by the overwhelming realization that I had no idea how it must feel to be standing where she was. I learned that

Reading McIntosh’s article as a sophomore in college changed my life. It, along with Ted Sizer’s Horace’s Compromise, were probably the two most important factors in my decision to become a teacher. The McIntosh article also set me along the path that led to my work this year on a master’s degree in African-American Studies. I’ve used the article to start conversations about race with my students (If any of my old students are still reading this, I’d encourage you to go leave a comment on Doug’s post about your experiences with the article).

The fight against structural racism, and the unjust privileges that ALL white people gain from it, must start by acknowledging this privilege, as Doug eloquently argues. And then the next step, which Doug took by posting, is helping other whites to recognize their privialge. Like Malcolm X said, “Where the really sincere white people have got to do their ‘proving’ of themselves in not among the black victims, but out on the battle lines of where America’s racism really is–and that’s in their own home communities”.

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