White Privilege

The current state of the United States right now––December 5, 2014––is protest. From Ferguson, MO, to Boston, MA, to New York, NY, to Chicago, IL, to Phoenix, AZ, and places in between, people are publicly protesting the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and 12-year-old Tamir Rice of Cleveland. What these three persons had in common is that they were unarmed African-American males who were killed by police. The police in the first two instances were exonerated by grand juries, in spite of the fact that Garner’s death had been ruled a homicide.

Maybe it’s time for white folks to dust off Peggy McIntosh’s essay on white privilege, originally published in 1988 by Wellesley College’s Center for Research on Women. An honest and thoughtful reading of this essay can be a consciousness-raising, life-changing experience. You can read the points she raises as she unpacks the backpack of white privilege here.

McIntosh effectively dispels the myth of meritocracy when applied to African- Americans, and challenges white Americans to look at the interlocking systems of dominance in this country, and in our individual lives, whom they exclude and whom they include. With knowledge comes responsibility, and although systemic change takes many decades––that fact borne out by the 26 years that have elapsed since her essay was first published––we can’t turn away.

Recall Martin Luther King Jr.’s saying, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”  In addition, consider the words of the last verse of a nineteenth-century hymn, “Once to Every Man and Nation,” by James R. Lowell.

‘Though the cause of evil prosper,

Yet the truth alone is strong;

Though her portion be the scaffold,

And upon the throne be wrong,

Yet that scaffold sways the future,

And, behind the dim unknown,

Standeth God within the shadow,

Keeping watch above his own.”

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