An Anti-Racist Lens over a Background of Privilege

I’ve spent a lot of time in my adult life thinking about privilege, gender, race, power, and prejudice. I always felt “not racist” coming from a liberal middle-class white family and I had the good fortune to grow up in a place where not everybody looked like me. It didn’t quite feel like good fortune when I was in middle school and getting treated like an “other” for being white and not wearing all the fashions of the day. But I say wholeheartedly that it was good to have diversity in my neighborhood and schools.

I read Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” when I was high school aged (after we’d moved from Houston to more-segregated Arlington). I got the message to a degree but didn’t internalize the the term “white privilege” until after college, when I attended a Unitarian Universalist conference for young adults in 2003 (as of this writing, 12 years ago. It comes into play later in the post). At the conference, during Anti-Racism/Anti-Oppression workshops when white privilege was brought up, my visceral internal reaction was “But I’m a woman! Sexism!” It weirdly helped my understanding of intersecting oppressions / privileges that during the same workshop, a white man who grew up poor had a similarly visceral, and much more vocal, reaction to the idea of having privilege. Without realizing it at the moment, I used my white privilege to get him to simmer down. Hearing that he had white-skin privilege (even if he’d been marginalized for being poor) from a woman of color made him react as though she was saying directly to him “you are a bad person for being white, you are oppressing me.” From me, someone also being “accused” of racism, it was easier for him to understand. (I realize now that him taking up a lot of the group’s time and energy with *his* discomfort is itself an often-unrealized-by-privileged-people symptom of privilege.)

Anyway, I’ve spent a lot more time in workshops and conferences about racism and privilege since then, and I wanted to write today to give some example of how I still do some racist shit (gratuitous use of scare quotes ahead):

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