An invisible package of unearned assets

Versailles
A statue at Versailles.

“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, assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks.”

— Peggy MacIntosh (1988), quoted in What Does It Mean to Be White?, by Robin DiAngelo (2012)

I have been thinking about this quote so much this week. I read African-American writers all summer but had been lulled into this sense that I was somehow removed from the ongoing struggle for civil rights in America, that it was not about me, a white woman; it was a cause to care about and advocate for but somehow outside my purview or even responsibility. DiAngelo’s book was an experience of having the scales fall from my eyes. I have been thinking about white complicity for some months now, but nowhere nearly as deeply as I have upon reading What Does It Mean to Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy. I have so much more to say and process on the subject, but I feel like (a) I’m having a personal awakening, and (b) I’m ashamed that it’s taken me this long. Please forgive me. Forgive me for my lifetime of white blindness. I am working on myself.

And it is always good to be outside oneself, to focus sincerely on someone else and her life or his experiences.

I whipped myself into a brief rage today over something very trivial, a benefit that I was usually given that was temporarily taken away (only for a day!), and I was angry until my (weird/genial) coworker asked me to touch his hair and assess if my curly-girl recommendations were working, and I thought, Oh, this person is ridiculous, and I am being ridiculous, and everything is going to be fine. Drink some green tea and get over yourself, Self.

Currently reading:

  • The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, ed. Jesmyn Ward
  • The End of the Story, Lydia Davis
  • Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, Mary Roach
  • In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way: A Graphic Novel, Stéphane Heuet
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3 thoughts on “An invisible package of unearned assets

  1. I must confess I get a bit prickly and a little uncomfortable about being reminded of my white male privilege. I don’t feel very privileged, and I don’t want to feel guilty for something I didn’t knowingly step into. Nevertheless, I am privileged, and I don’t know any other way – it’s all I’ve known. Still a bit reluctant to own that revelation, but you’re right – we are blind to it, aren’t we? Not quite sure what to do about it, either. I’m not keen to rush around and start doing something, but I hope that over time my perspectives will change and I will begin to act and see things differently. Thanks for your post.

  2. Must say a brave post, I lived in Canada for almost ten years, worked with different cultures, some very open, some would judge me from my Indian skin and some had no clue about the third world…my daughter asked me to read the world between you and me…will try to get hold of the books you have recommended.

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