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September28LookingAtPrivilege

 I once thought it was easy to be anti-racist. Don’t think bad things about other people’s skin color, right? Or just kind of think everyone is “the same”?

But, as a woman, I’ve often experienced patronizing sexism from well-intentioned men who are oblivious. By the same extension, being white, I’ve committed the same blunders to people of color.

Well, white readers out there, as a fellow whitie let me tell you something: You have white privilege. To be anti-racist means recognizing privilege, and figuring out how to put it to a better use.

It’s not necessarily based on skin color, but what is privilege? It’s growing up with ‘taken for granted’ things: Food in the house, schoolbooks of “my people’s” history or parents who speak English at job interviews.

Privilege is inquiring for a loan or paying cash for a car, without thinking about skin color. Privilege is tracking mud into the library without someone attributing it to my race. (For a list of privileges, look up Peggy McIntosh. For a list of hilariously strange white habits, see the Web site ‘Stuff White People Like.’)

A big blunder I’ve made is with generalizations. I’ve stupidly said things like ‘we’ or ‘us’ in an elitist way. “My generation just doesn’t learn sustainable skills while growing up, like how to grow and preserve food”.

Oops! With one swipe I discount the low-income families who heartily do these things. Not everyone grew up in a South Hill subdivision.

Or sometimes privileged folks pretend they don’t have a step up in life. What a joke. I make a few hundred dollars a month, don’t own a car or anything ‘big’, and sleep in a treehouse with no electricity. Is this poverty? Heck no. If I wanted to I could choose a different lifestyle. Not everyone has a choice.

A pernicious mistake is to gloss over history, like in this town.

Puyallup Tribe near annihilation leads to Meeker Days. Chinese were once expelled by angry white mobs. Japanese were imprisoned at the fairgrounds.

Even now this town isn’t hite (just ride the bus), but all our major institutions are pretty darn “vanilla.” Why is that?

I like to use an analogy from “You Can’t Teach What You Don’t Know,” an anti-racist primer for Puyallup school-teachers. Privilege is like a terribly mean old uncle who is secreted away in the attic. His younger relatives deny his existence, but they still receive his inheritance.

So what to do? I don’t know. Maybe share that inheritance with the village, where it belongs. Privilege is luck, after all, and some people just aren’t so lucky.

CALENDAR: Sept. 27 Salmon Homecoming , Oct. 4 HarvestFest and Solar Tour, Oct. 5 Hunger Walk

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Page last modified on December 12, 2008, at 05:15 PM