Monday, June 15, 2015

White Privilege

Contributed by Nell Byler

Racism did not begin and end with Jim Crow. Fighting racism isn't just about battling hate crimes and overtly discriminatory laws. To paraphrase Peggy McIntosh, racism is more than just individual acts of meanness – it's the invisible system that bestows unearned advantages and power to one group of people and denies those advantages to another. Often, those benefiting from privilege are unaware of how it has made their life easier and better. Acknowledging this privilege – that subtle racism exists and that you benefit from it – is the first step to becoming a more effective ally.
"White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks." – Peggy McIntosh.
Unpack your own invisible knapsack and recognize the benefits you reap every day solely for looking like you do.

Note: One very common response to discussions of white privilege is to play the "trump card" of socioeconomic class; I intentionally link to an article that addresses this (resource 2). It's important to understand that privilege takes many forms - people can be privileged in some ways and not privileged in others (think: citizenship, class, sexual orientation and ability). It's also important to understand that all privilege is not created equal - and intersectionality allows us to examine the varying dimensions and degrees of discrimination.


Discussion Questions

  • In what ways does racial privilege apply to your life? In what was does it apply to the astronomical community? What might prevent us from seeing privilege?
  • Do organizations have a responsibility to balance their racial makeup? Why/why not?
  • Is color blindness the goal? If not, what is?
  • What can be done to dismantle unearned advantage?

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