White Privilege

December 14, 2011

Political Theory

I took my seat at 8:20. Although I dreaded waking up early like the plague, I wasn’t going to be late to this class. I was ready to cherish the greats such as Biggie and Tupac and write of their overwhelming success. My first class at the University of Michigan was Hip-Hop writing. I soon found that my teacher had different plans, “Today we will be examining the privileges of being white and its widespread dominance in society,” she stated. “White Privilege?” I thought. “Umm, I believe we’re in the twenty-first century…” I kept my mouth shut.That day we took a look at specific questions in which the outcome was directly related to the individuals race. The examples came from “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack By Peggy McIntosh” and are summarized in part by the following video:

Reading Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail I noticed a correlation between the lack of motivation for racial equality in 1963 and the White Privilege that exists today. MLK stated that his greatest disappointment was in the white moderate “who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice,” and that the white moderate, through their lack of involvement, is the one blocking African-American’s path to freedom rather than the “White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner.” MLK showed that in order to create change for an entire race it is necessary for members of the un-oppressed to take action. Peggy McIntosh describes the changes essential to end white privilege in a similar manner.

Just as MLK pondered whether the white moderate would take action McIntosh wonders whether those unaffected by racial inequality will ever be distressed by the system. She states, “one question for me and others like me is…whether we will get truly distressed, even outraged about unearned race advantage.” Both authors understood the importance of change and sacrifice coming from varying sources. The underlying question is what can be done to end White Privilege? McIntosh explains, “The silences and denials surrounding privilege are the key political tool here.” By silencing and denying the idea that these injustices exist, White Privilege remains integrated into everyday life and remains unexposed. To end White Privilege it needs to be made public and extinguished.

 A comic strip playing on examples of White Privilege.

Did you before and do you know believe that there are privileges to those that are white? If you had never heard of White Privilege what was your reaction to the video? Did any of the examples surprise you as to their prevalence or illegitimacy? How can white privilege be exposed and rejected by those that generally reap its rewards? And lastly, what view do you think MLK would hold on White Privilege in the United States?


White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack By Peggy McIntosh

Letter From a Birmingham Jail By Martin Luther King Jr.




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