The controversial notion of white privilege, though debated for decades in academic circles, has recently gathered much public notice, initially when Black Lives Matter formed and exponentially more so since the elevation of Trump to the presidency. The foremost definition, to this blogger, comes courtesy of Joshua Rothman in the New Yorker: that white people benefit from unearned, and largely unconscious, advantages, even when those advantages are not discriminatory.
The key to privilege, and what distinguishes it from overt racism to which it is frequently and erroneously equated, is that privilege is tacit, as those who benefit do not even understand that they benefit from privilege. “I’m not racist – I’m a good person” is the common retort when vehement denials of white privilege fly, often from relatives around the Thanksgiving table. And yes it is true, you are not a racist and you are not a bad person, but that does not make white privilege any less real or any less pernicious.
Academic discourse aside, what really makes white privilege stick are specific examples. An initial list of 50 examples posted by historian Peggy McIntosh way back in 1989 still has resonance today, and it is worth scanning slowly for the many ‘aha’ moments when you realize a particular item is something you say and do. A personal favorite is No. 20: I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race. That’s the one that tripped up Joe Biden in his assessment of future running mate Barack Obama: the “first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” To his credit Biden has grown and now enjoys a deep bromance with Obama.
A personal example will hammer home how unconscious is white privilege. Ten years ago, almost to the day, the home of this blogger was broken into in the middle of the day. The perpetrator walked around the house checking windows and doors. Finding all locked, he picked up a pickax left out from garden plantings and smashed the back door. The elderly women in the house behind mine heard the noise and stepped out on her deck just in time to watch the man step through the shattered door, pickax in hand. She did NOT call the police, because as explained later in her interview with the detective, “I thought it was okay. It was a white guy.” A white guy on a crime spree, my house the first of five break-ins that afternoon before the police caught up.
White privilege can sometimes hurt, not just benefit.
This is a blog about the Gallows Hill neighborhood of Salem, so what does white privilege have to do with Gallows Hill? It was all prelude to the introduction here of the corollary thesis of “McIntire Privilege”: that residents of the McIntire Historic District of Salem benefit from unearned, and largely unaware, advantages, to the detriment to other neighborhoods of Salem.
The McIntire District adjoins Gallows Hill, and an early post to this blog promised that the “historic and sometimes less than felicitous relations between the two neighborhoods will be topics of future posts.” This post today is to be the start of what is hoped to be a long-lasting thread on McIntire Privilege, sometimes disputatious, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, with examples provided, critiques posted, and eventually solutions proffered.