Jumping Off Points - Who I am...White Privilege

The Spires of Oxford from St. Edmund Hall

I had two strong grandmothers who were born at the tail end of the British Empire when Britain colonized two thirds of the World. In India, the British colonists believed “themselves to be a ‘superior’ and ‘intelligent’ race; consequently they were born to rule the ‘inferior’ and ‘black colored’ Indians who were more akin to crude animals than humans. The foundations for this system were laid down as far back as the mid-1660s when the British East India Company founded its Fort George settlement. They gave it the name White Town, distinguishing it from the nearby Indian settlement that was named, Black Town. And so the binary was born.1

Peggy McIntosh, who first coined the word White Privilege in 1988 wrote “White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, emergency gear, and blank checks.2

When I was growing up my heritage was that the British were civilized, and we had to civilize the savages across the globe. I began to question this as a teenager. Did we need to send missionaries across the globe to save other people? Could we not respect and value other people and their beliefs, cultures and traditions?

But did I ever challenge the status quo. No. I continued to amble through my life, participating unknowingly and benefiting in a system that was set up over three hundred years ago to keep people segregated based solely on the color of their skin. Turns out only .01% of your genes is reflected in your external appearance.3 The concept of race is not a biological fact but rather a social concept. It’s never too late to learn and stand up against hate, to stand beside those being oppressed and held back, held down and demonized simply based on skin color.

  1. Hamad, Ruby, White Tears/Brown Scars, Catapult Press, New York, 2020
  2. Peggy McIntosh, “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies,” College Art, 1988, https://www.collegeart.org/pdf/diversity/white-privilege-and-male-privilege.pdf.
  3. Natalie Angier, “Do Races Differ? Not Really, Genes Show,” New York Times, August 22, 2000, https://www.nytimes.com/2000/08/22/science/do-races-differ-not-really-genes-show.html.