White and Male Privilege

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Over the last years, and most recently, topics related to white privilege come up continuously. Of course, it depends on what is in your newsfeed and who you follow on social media, but I can state that I read about the topics daily. I perceive this as positive as well as challenging.

The topic of inequality in general and related to gender and the distribution of wealth has been at the forefront most of my life and I credit the opportunity of being educated in history and social science topics. As I have revealed in one of my previous Blog posts, rather than being more optimistic, I have lost a lot of my naïve optimism of believing that the world is developing in the right direction, but I have not given up yet.

I intended to write about age and gender and use the casting in Hollywood movies as an example of inequality that has not changed. The Washington Post reported in 2017, that at the age of 20, 80% of leading roles go to females, but that at the age of 40, only 20% of women get casted. For BIPOC women, this percentage is a lot smaller. This means that ageism affects women disproportionally and it means that we are far removed from equality. At the same time this explains the uncomfortable age differences between leading males and females, and one does not have to go too far to understand that Hollywood is not contributing to realistic role models and healthy relationships based on equality.

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The Globe and Mail is currently publishing a series of articles on the lack of progress for women in the workplace with the self-explanatory title “Out-earned, outnumbered, outranked”. The content of the articles are no surprise, as many women have reported the issues. The shocking part is the lack of change due to an attitude of indifference and an acceptance of the status quo.

In summary, I feel that we have a responsibility to open our eyes to inequality and rather than gender, I wanted to start with race.

When reading more about the topics, it is as always good to follow the suggestions of those who have identified the blind spots in people’s thinking: First and foremost, identify the blind spots in yourself! One way of doing this, is to take a test on white privilege.

You learn a lot from doing assessments and when you take these on a regular basis you can easily identify its strengths and the weaknesses as the self-assessments of course, rely mostly upon the integrity of the test taker.

When taking tests to learn more about ourselves, we need to be mindful that as soon as we identify these convenient oversights, we are accountable to ourselves to follow through with suggestions to become part of the solution. This means, knowing about your shortcomings is not enough and requires action to close the gap.

I recommend to everyone to take the white privilege test. One example I found on “Monitor Global intelligence on Racism” but there are quite a few and you can easily Google for some options. Most tests have similar questions, but some have more items. The articles that accompany the tests, often reference Dr. Peggy McIntosh who wrote about the topic in 1989. Please find the test she developed attached. The fact that this article, is now as relevant as it was 30 years ago, confirms the lack of progress in our societies.

In “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack “(1989), McIntosh defines white privilege as “an invisible package of unearned assets…”. As a professor of women studies, McIntosh focused on male privilege and understood that men work from a base of unacknowledged privilege. This helped her to understand that white women are perceived by women of color as oppressive, even though the women did not perceive themselves as such. Just as men, white women too were conditioned in oblivion. These women individually may not have treated women of colour differently, but they were oblivious to the systems in place that excluded and marginalized women of colour.

Once however, when it is revealed, and described, we are accountable at least in acknowledging that due to our privilege, others are disadvantaged. The solution starts with asking ourselves what we can do to reduce or end the power differential.

I do know that I am privileged. When going through the items I am aware of white privilege and answer nearly all items confirmative as I am a white woman and live in a country and province of which most people are white.

McIntosh chose the items that applied more to skin colour privilege than to class, religion, ethnic status, or geographical location. But she states that all of these factors are closely related, and this observation is an important one as its inclusion deepens our insight in how complex the topic of privilege is.

McIntosh writes that she, like me, took the unearned power for granted. Some items on the list should be the norm for all and it is shocking to realize that even now in 2021 we are far removed from having achieved equal rights, while others are evidence of the power of conferred dominance based on being part of a white majority.

I am increasingly aware of the importance not to perceive any of these privileges as something I am entitled to.

At the end of the test, McIntosh asks what other privileges there are. This is interesting and helpful. If I change the word race to gender/sex, ability, immigrant status, I will answer “no” or “I am not sure” to quite a few of these questions. All of these nuances and the realizations of the complexity due to several factors being intricately intertwined make for good discussions that are helpful in how we can identify the hidden systems of advantage and what we can do “to reconstruct power on a broader base” McIntosh (1989).

I decided the place a copy of the test here as it is publicly available on the Internet but not that easy to find depending on your browser.

Let me know your thoughts and comments, if you feel like sharing,

Take care,

Elisabeth

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