When I was in college at UNC, I read an article that had a profound effect on the way I view my life. Peggy McIntosh wrote about White Privilege. This is the idea that some of us have “an invisible package of unearned assets that [we] can count on cashing in each day.” (p. 30*) McIntosh found that she had difficulty explaining this concept, even to people who were open to discussing issues of diversity. So she made a list of these privileges. I wanted to share a few of them to give you the idea and then share my own list that I have made recently.
1. I can, if I wish, arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
2. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
3. I can go into a bookshop and count of finding the writing of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods that fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can deal with my hair.
4. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color.
5. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
6. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
7. I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.
8. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.
9. I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.
These are just a sample of the 46 privileges that McIntosh came up with for herself. Most of these privileges are good things and should be extended to everyone. Having privilege is like playing baseball and automatically getting to start on second base. Or playing basketball and always getting to inbound the ball at half court. It’s not that those things are bad, it’s that they are not extended to everyone who is playing the game.
This article was brought to mind for me this morning because of a very big issue that has arisen in many states and finally became personal to me because it happened in my home state. Yesterday, North Carolina added their first amendment to their state constitution. But rather than protecting the rights of their citizens, this amendment took rights away. I have always avoided discussing political issues on my professional websites, blogs, and Facebook pages because of a fear of alienating potential and current clients. However, this has become more than a political issue for me.
Let me begin by saying that I am an ally for the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community. I work with members of this community in my practice on a daily basis and so many of them come to see me because of the overt and covert discrimination that they face on a daily basis. They come to see me because I am one of the few professionals who will advertise that I am an ally. They come to see me because it is one of the few safe places they have in their lives. So for me this has become a mental health issue that is impacting my clients, my colleagues, and my friends.
So, yesterday when my home state passed an amendment to their state constitution banning same sex marriage and declaring that the only union that would be legally recognized would be a marriage between one man and one woman, I became angry, sad, ashamed, and determined. I also have to recognize some level of feeling privileged and not in a good way. I recognize the impact votes like these in states so far from where I practice have on my GLBT clients. They are constantly aware of the atmosphere in this country and it creates a sense of fear and mistrust in their lives. So I decided to make my own list of privileges. Some of these are based on posts I saw from my friends on Facebook yesterday and today, some are based on things clients have said to me through the years, and some are based on just my own thoughts. I hope they give some people pause and cause them to think about how their beliefs impact others. But mostly, I hope it shows people who identify as GLBT that they do have allies and that we are aware of the lack of justice that is in our country right now.
1. I can decide to marry the person that I love and be confident that my current state and any other state in which I choose to live will recognize my marriage as a legal union.
2. I can hold hands with, kiss, and hug my partner in public without worrying about my safety or the safety of my partner.
3. When I am out with my partner, other people do not stare at us trying to figure out if we are in a relationship.
4. I can attend any church or religiously affiliated organization and not worry that they may not accept my life partner.
5. No one questions whether my “lifestyle” is a choice. It is assumed that I was born straight.
6. I never have to “come out” to anyone.
7. I never have to fear that by coming out I might jeopardize my career, my family, or my safety.
8. I never have to worry that my children will be rejected because of the sex of my partner.
9. If I am ever hospitalized, I do not have to worry about whether my partner will be able to visit me, make medical decisions, or have medical information about me withheld. The same is true if my partner is hospitalized.
10. In the event of my death, I have no fear that our children may not be raised by my partner. My partner does not have to fear this either.
11. When I started dating my partner, I had no concern that my family and friends would disapprove of him simply because of his sex.
12. Either me or my partner will always be able to sign permission slips for our children, make medical decisions about our children, and pick up our children from school and daycare. With no questions asked.
13. I do not have to worry about being evicted from my home in the event that my partner dies, regardless of whose name is on the deed.
14. I never have to worry about people trying to “save” me because of the sex of my partner.
15. I do not have to worry about whether my family doctor, my OB/GYN, my therapist, my psychiatrist, or my pharmacist will disapprove of my “lifestyle” or if they might even deny me treatment.
16. No one thinks about my sex life when they are introduced to my partner.
17. No one has ever reacted to me with fear or disgust because of the person that I love.
18. I can receive tax advantages for being married.
19. I do not have to worry about having health insurance because my partner’s insurance will automatically cover my health care and the health care of our children.
20.. I have never been told that I am a sinner or that I will go to hell because of the person I love.
21. No state has ever made a law or changed their constitution in an effort to deny my rights to marry.
22. If I chose to do so, I could ignore all of these privileges and live my life in total denial that they even exist.
These are just a few quick things that I came up with in the 15 minutes that it took me to type the list. I’m sure there are more. I am also equally as sure that my GLBT clients are aware of these things everyday. Can you imagine living your life without these rights?
*”White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies” by Peggy McIntosh. Published in: Feminist Frontiers: 5th Edition edited by Laurel Richardson, Verta Taylor, and Nancy Whittier.