White Privilege from Two Views


By Donna Stringer

When Peggy McIntosh first published her paper on White Privilege and Male Privilege in 1988 I, like many Whites, was astounded at the list of privileges she identified. I could see my life in the entire list—many items I had been acutely aware of for many years. Others I had not thought of. And since then, I have added many to my own list.

I grew up in an Irish immigrant, working class family. We lived in a rural area. Our nearest neighbors were ten miles away. I attended an eight-grade, three-room, thirty-student school. We did not have television or newspapers. I was supremely isolated. I saw my first person of color in high school. In retrospect, we were fairly poor but like many others it never occurred to me that I didn’t have much in the way of material benefits. It also did not occur to me that I had any privileges.

I am the birth mother of three white sons. I am also a “child of the 60’s” and gained much of my information and social activism during those years. I learned about racism from friends of color who gave me a brutally honest, and loving, education about their lives. I was slow to make the connection to my own life. With no small embarrassment I would have to say that I understood the issues intellectually but not emotionally.

By the time my three sons were in middle school I was a single parent and social activist. My sons “invited” me to quit attending parent nights at school because they were embarrassed by my tirades about the lack of appropriate history in their textbooks and the failure of teachers to educate them about issues related to social justice.

And then I got another view—and a real opportunity to internalize the power of my own privilege. I married an African American man and we have a son—and grandchildren. I became aware of how differently we were treated in public places: when we eat out with others who are also White, my husband is almost always the last one served. When we go to retail stores together, but shop separately, he is often asked for photo ID to cash a check or use a credit card. I am virtually never asked for verification of my identity.

And children. Every mother knows how important children are. I was aware that when my sons were out at night that I didn’t really relax until they were home. But there is a major difference. When my White sons are late coming home, I get irritated at their failure to watch the time. When my husband or African American son is late, I am terrified about what might be happening to them.

My opportunity to experience two worlds—both Black and White—has been a gift. It has allowed me to be far more aware of my White privilege—and to insist that others be given the same privileges—at least when I am around to see it.

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