Race (for White People): Week 2

Ready for your second week of race-related nuggets of wisdom?

DAY 8: How learning to connect across difference is like learning about math

I love the idea that learning to connect with people across our differences (in race, gender, workstyle, whatever) is a skill you learn just like math: step by step. You can’t jump from arithmetic to calculus without going through algebra and geometry. Same with being comfortable with difference. The Intercultural Development Continuum is more academic than some of my other links but gives a framework for how to learn bridging skills (side benefit: it explains why other people can’t leap from “I don’t see race” to fully woke in one conversation).


DAY 9: What is white privilege?

Very few things make white people shut down faster than calling them privileged. So first, this reminder: “White privilege doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been hard; it means that your skin color isn’t one of the things making it harder.” I like how Omar Ismail uses height to explain what privilege means (and doesn’t mean).


DAY 10: Seeing your privilege

Peggy McIntosh’s essay on unpacking the knapsack of white privilege is a classic. I loved her list of things that indicate privilege that I rarely (never?) think about:

1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time. 

2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me. 

3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live. 

4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me. 

5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed. 

6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented. 

7. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is. 

8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race. 

9. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege. 

10. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race. 

11. I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person’s voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her race. 

12. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair. 

13. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.

14. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them. 15. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection. 

16. I can be pretty sure that my children’s teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others’ attitudes toward their race. 

17. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color. 

18. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race. 

19. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial. 

20. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race. 

21. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group. 

22. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion. 

23. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider. 

24. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the “person in charge”, I will be facing a person of my race. 

25. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.

 26. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children’s magazines featuring people of my race. 

27. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared. 

28. I can be pretty sure that an argument with a colleague of another race is more likely to jeopardize her/his chances for advancement than to jeopardize mine. 

29. I can be pretty sure that if I argue for the promotion of a person of another race, or a program centering on race, this is not likely to cost me heavily within my present setting, even if my colleagues disagree with me. 

30. If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn’t a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.

Click to access mcintosh.pdf

DAY 11: Coming to terms with white privilege

Nancy Myers Rust’s entertainingly pointed piece on the Five Stages of White Privilege Awareness made me both laugh and cringe because yes. Been there, thought that.


DAY 12: Field trip!

Still a little confused about the idea that our world is built for white people’s convenience and comfort? Take a field trip to CVS or Walgreens and spend 10 minutes looking at the products designed for hair or skin different than yours. How easy was it to find the section? Is it a separate (small) section with some vague and demeaning label like “ethnic”? Have you noticed these products before? Would you know how to use them? (I’m pretty sure most black Americans know what the “white” products are for.)  If your RiteAid doesn’t carry products for black hair and skin, sit for a minute with the realization that your neighborhood doesn’t have enough black people to justify that section. Do you already feel defensive? I’ll explain why tomorrow. (And also why some of you might be feeling extra smug that your Target’s section of black hair products is bigger than the one for white hair products.) But opening your eyes to all the things you never had to see as white person is a fascinating journey and doesn’t require a passport.

DAY 13: White fragility

I’m circling back to Robin DiAngelo and an article-length version of her amazing-slash-excruciating  book, “White Fragility.” In this article, she repeats some of the ideas from the talk I shared earlier but dives more deeply into the idea of white fragility: why white people react the way they do when their accidental racism is pointed out to them. If you want to go deeper, read the book. It made me see myself in a new way that was profoundly unflattering yet also caused a little internal revolution.


DAY 14: Reverse racism

Reverse racism is not a thing. Racism = prejudice + power. So people of color can be prejudiced (all humans have prejudices) but they don’t have the power to enact racism. Comedian Aamer Rahman’s explanation of what would be required for him to be a reverse racist made me laugh — and think.

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