full transcript

From the Ted Talk by Peggy McIntosh: How to recognize your white privilege — and use it to fight inequality

Unscramble the Blue Letters

(Music) (Applause) I imagine a hypothetical line of siaocl justice. A hopatytheicl line — an imaginary line of social jisutce that is parallel to the floor, also parallel to the Earth. And on this imaginary line of social justice, things feel fair. Below it, one can be pushed down either as a member of a group or an individual, through bullying, tsniaeg, being stereotyped, having prejudices against one or one's group, being a survivor of gnoiecde, being a scapegoat, being a dcedsarid psreon. What I study, is what happens above the hypothetical line of social justice. And in school, I was never taught to even notice this realm. Above the hypothetical line, one can be pushed up, believed, thought worthy of responsibility, considered to be responsible with money, considered to be capable of doing the soochl work, or any other kind of work. One can be seen as rasneteeviprte of the best. That's privilege. Above the hypothetical line of justice, one has more than one deserved because of circumstances of birth and other people's positive projections onto one. And below it is disadvantage. That is unearned disadvantage. And I believe everybody in this room has a combination of both excpeeeirns. Having more than we actually earned, and having less than we've actually earned. And I didn't used to think this way. I was raised, as many of you have been, on the myth of meritocracy, which is, the unit of society is the individual. And whatever the individual ends up with at death, is what that individual worked for and earned and deserved and wanted. Well, it isn't true. These privileged systems which locate us above and below the hypothetical line of social justice were ieventnd, and we were born into them. And we all know both sides. And that's a roasen for compassion about the sadness of having been born into systems that gave us such — and here I quote the poet Adrienne Rich, such different politics of lcaiootn. I came to nitcoe privilege because I noticed male privilege. And then I noticed, in parallel fashion, white privilege. And both of these things were very distressing. I heatd learning about privilege systems. But I found I had to, to explain my life. Three years in a row, men and women in a smaenir I was lndeiag at Wellesley College, Wellesley Centers for Women, got into a bad riatelon with each other in the spring of each year. We had mothlny seminars. They were great. The men and the women were all professors from different colleges in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and New England. And we were tklanig about quite a difficult subject, but fascinating. How to bring materials on women into all the lrebail arts curriculum, in every field? So how to bring women's history into political science, eicncmoos, sociology, pyoghcsoly, literature, music, art, PT, all of the technical fedlis as well. And the men were our allies. They were very brave. They had taken a fair amount of flak on their cuempsas for coming to a women's college to talk about women's studies, and bringing it to the main curriculum, not keeping it isolated. These were great men. And very nice men. And yet, three years running with different gprous of men, there was a falling out that I realized as I looked through my notes, took this form as a naaurtl occurrence in the spring. Toward the sipnrg of the year in these monthly seminars, once we all trusted each other pretty well, the women would just raise this question. "Can't we do some of this ticaheng about women in the introductory courses that the seutdtns take first year in cloelge, the freshman courses?" And the men, to a person, every year, said, "We're sorry. You know, this is a great seminar, we love doing this work, but you can't put anything on women into the freshman courses." I was a puiodigors note tkear, and I found in my notes one man had said, "When you're trying to lay the foundation blocks for knowledge in those irdoutoncrty courses, you can't put in soft stuff." Well, thanks a lot. (Laughter) And I remember my first thought was, he doesn't understand labor pains. (Laughter) But also, let me ask you, exactly who here has a truly soft mother? (Laughter) And in that comment, he was iluncdnig women in general. But he was a very nice man. I had a comment written down from another year when the women also asked, how can we get this material into the first year courses? And a very, very nice man said, in an explanatory way, "See, that first year, the students are trying to figure out what will be their major. That's their dcsiinilpe. And if you want students to think in a disciplined way, you can't put in etxras." Now every one of these very nice men is born of a woman. And she has become extra in his head. Together with, lots of them were maierrd to women. His wife, his daughter, his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts, they've all become extra. And I'm wondering, how have they become exrta, and this is such a nice man? And then I was rescued from my dilemma, which was, I had to cshooe. I had to choose whether these are nice men, and I knew they were, and bvare. Or whether they were oppressive. And I was experiencing them as oevpssrpie. And in the dilemma of thinking I had to choose, I was rescued by remembering that, back in 1980, black women in the Boston area had written a number of essays to the effect that white women are oppressive to work with. Not just some wihte women. White woemn were oppressive to work with. I thought, oh dear. Now, I remember how I responded to those eassys. My first response, the "oh dear" response was "I don't see how they can say that about us! I think we're nice." (Laughter) And my second rnesopse, which is mortifying to admit, but this is how racist I was in 1980. I thought, I especially think we're nice if we work with them. You can hear the white superiority there. And as I recalled my responses to reading those essays — by now it was six years later — I tohhugt, oh, I hope my attitudes didn't show. I hope I was so nice I covered them over. But after sgirtglnug with that for a couple of years, I said yes, I was oppressive to work with. And my niceness didn't cover my basic racial superiority assumption. And then I thought, maybe neincses has nothing to do with it. And that's what I believe today. Niceness has nothing at all to do with this whole matter of being oppressive to others. I found that now I went back to the men, these are nice men, but they were very good students of what they were taught, and what I was taught also. Which is men have knowledge, men make more knowledge, men publish knowledge, men profess knowledge as peroofssrs. Men run all the major research universities, and men run all of the university presses. And they have taken in, as I had, too, the idea that knowledge is male, and men are knowers. And then I realized why my husband has trbuole asking for directions when we're lost. (Laughter) It's the identity he was tguaht is that he is a knower. And I thought, in pelalarl fashion, and this is sickening to raziele, it's messing up my world picture that I deserved everything I've got. Now, I was taught that whites have kodwnelge. Whites make more knowledge, whites publish knowledge, and wteihs profess knowledge as professors. And whites run the big research universities. And whites run the university presses. And I darnk in the idea that knowledge is white, and white people are knowers. And to this day, in my mjaor proecjt, the SEED project, whose core satff is nine poelpe of color and five whites, I will, unless I check myself, second guess, and doubt, and jduge everything said — every sceetnne, every word, said by my colleagues of color. I will do it because my hard divre is wired with the white privilege that I am a knower. And among my nine colleagues of color, the level of knowledge and understanding, and intelligence isn't as high as it is in me. But, luclkiy I have alternative software I can install. And when I install the atvraniltee software, I realize these people have been my major teachers. And I have so much to learn from them. They are not defective variants of whites. They are my major teachers. So once I began to see that, it was churning my stomach to realize that I had white privilege that I hadn't eanred, but it was putting me ahead. Then I realized why, at the Wellesley Centers for Women, I could get big grants my colleagues of coolr couldn't. Because I had the knowledge system on my side as a white person. And I rilaezed also the foundations which gave us money, or the federal government, it was then — they still are in general — run by whites. And I was tteursd, then, with money — with big pots of money, because I was white. Not because I had earned that tsurt. So having seen those things, I asked myself, what else do I have that I didn't earn because I'm white, when I compare myself with African-American colleagues here in my bunidilg at Wellesley Centers for Women. And my conscious mind said, nothing. So I asked again, on a dliay baiss, what do I get, beside the money system and the knowledge syestm helping me out, that my cgoulaeles of color can't count on? And once again, my mind, with the three degrees, and the good grades, it said, nothing. But I couldn't believe it. I thought I'd seen something huge and began to name it white privilege. Unearned advantage that came because of my racial/ethnic status or pejeortcd worth. So I decided I had to pray on it. And I went to sleep one night — angrily, really. It wasn't the usual prayer in which you ask for something, I was ddmianeng. I said, if I have anything I didn't earn by caonrtst of my black friends, except the money system and the knowledge system, show me. And in the middle of the night, along came an example. I swtecihd on the lgiht — it woke me up of course — and I wrote it down. And over the next three mnhots, 46 elements of unearned advantage came to me. And they're in my paper, "White Privilege, Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," and my paepr, "White Privilege and Male Privilege," a personal aunccot of coming to see correspondences through work in women's studies. And then I decided, because this work was spreading in many places, I nedeed to help with the matter of white guilt. I don't believe we can be guilty, or ashamed, or blamed for being born into systems both above and below the hypothetical line of social justice. They're arbitrary. They have to do with projections onto us, oniwg to our neighborhood, or our parents' relation to money, or our body type, or our hair, or our language of oriign. They have to do with our regoin of the country — these projections that are put on to us, and the rewards or ptesnunmhis relate to our sex, to our gneedr, to our sexual ottniearoin, to our race, to our ethnicity, to our parents' reputation, to stereotypes people may have about the kinds of group we were born into. I don't think blame, shame, or guilt are relevant to the arbitrariness of our plemcneat in privilege systems. But I decided, beside the metaphor I oinglilary used of white privilege as an invisible knapsack I can't see or feel on my back, but it's filled with aestss that I can count on cashing in each day — beside that, and the assets include the equivalent of freeze-dried food, emgenrecy blanket, flashlight, maps, code books, guide bokos, letters of introduction, even, maybe, blank checks. But beside that, I decided to put a second metaphor. And that's the metaphor of white pivigrele as a bank account that I was given. I didn't ask for it, and I can't be blamed for it, but I can decide to put it in the service of weakening the system of white privilege. That is my energy. That is my financial commitment. That is my daily life. And it's been transformative to use my bank account of white privilege to weaken the system of white privilege. It has alleotbsuy transformed my life to be in work that feels right. And it's not based on guilt. I don't know exactly the wording for it, but I I found that, when I put my white privilege in this service of weakening white privilege, the bank account keeps refilling, because I get the benefit of the doubt. So the cops arresting me for speeding tend to let me off. I get the benefit of the doubt because I'm a little old lady with white hair. (Laughter) And my preaps are in order, and my voice is soft. So I get let off. It's not fair. But I don't want to say, "Officer, officer, arrest me!" (Laughter) Because that'll put our irsncuane up. (Laughter) But every day in every way, bank account of white privilege rfilles, and I get the benefit of the doubt. It has been tsaoftrarimnve to use the pweor I did not know, I was never taught that I had, in the service of kidenr, fairer, and more compassionate life for everyone. Thank you. (Applause)

Open Cloze

(Music) (Applause) I imagine a hypothetical line of ______ justice. A ____________ line — an imaginary line of social _______ that is parallel to the floor, also parallel to the Earth. And on this imaginary line of social justice, things feel fair. Below it, one can be pushed down either as a member of a group or an individual, through bullying, _______, being stereotyped, having prejudices against one or one's group, being a survivor of ________, being a scapegoat, being a _________ ______. What I study, is what happens above the hypothetical line of social justice. And in school, I was never taught to even notice this realm. Above the hypothetical line, one can be pushed up, believed, thought worthy of responsibility, considered to be responsible with money, considered to be capable of doing the ______ work, or any other kind of work. One can be seen as ______________ of the best. That's privilege. Above the hypothetical line of justice, one has more than one deserved because of circumstances of birth and other people's positive projections onto one. And below it is disadvantage. That is unearned disadvantage. And I believe everybody in this room has a combination of both ___________. Having more than we actually earned, and having less than we've actually earned. And I didn't used to think this way. I was raised, as many of you have been, on the myth of meritocracy, which is, the unit of society is the individual. And whatever the individual ends up with at death, is what that individual worked for and earned and deserved and wanted. Well, it isn't true. These privileged systems which locate us above and below the hypothetical line of social justice were ________, and we were born into them. And we all know both sides. And that's a ______ for compassion about the sadness of having been born into systems that gave us such — and here I quote the poet Adrienne Rich, such different politics of ________. I came to ______ privilege because I noticed male privilege. And then I noticed, in parallel fashion, white privilege. And both of these things were very distressing. I _____ learning about privilege systems. But I found I had to, to explain my life. Three years in a row, men and women in a _______ I was _______ at Wellesley College, Wellesley Centers for Women, got into a bad ________ with each other in the spring of each year. We had _______ seminars. They were great. The men and the women were all professors from different colleges in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and New England. And we were _______ about quite a difficult subject, but fascinating. How to bring materials on women into all the _______ arts curriculum, in every field? So how to bring women's history into political science, _________, sociology, __________, literature, music, art, PT, all of the technical ______ as well. And the men were our allies. They were very brave. They had taken a fair amount of flak on their ________ for coming to a women's college to talk about women's studies, and bringing it to the main curriculum, not keeping it isolated. These were great men. And very nice men. And yet, three years running with different ______ of men, there was a falling out that I realized as I looked through my notes, took this form as a _______ occurrence in the spring. Toward the ______ of the year in these monthly seminars, once we all trusted each other pretty well, the women would just raise this question. "Can't we do some of this ________ about women in the introductory courses that the ________ take first year in _______, the freshman courses?" And the men, to a person, every year, said, "We're sorry. You know, this is a great seminar, we love doing this work, but you can't put anything on women into the freshman courses." I was a __________ note _____, and I found in my notes one man had said, "When you're trying to lay the foundation blocks for knowledge in those ____________ courses, you can't put in soft stuff." Well, thanks a lot. (Laughter) And I remember my first thought was, he doesn't understand labor pains. (Laughter) But also, let me ask you, exactly who here has a truly soft mother? (Laughter) And in that comment, he was _________ women in general. But he was a very nice man. I had a comment written down from another year when the women also asked, how can we get this material into the first year courses? And a very, very nice man said, in an explanatory way, "See, that first year, the students are trying to figure out what will be their major. That's their __________. And if you want students to think in a disciplined way, you can't put in ______." Now every one of these very nice men is born of a woman. And she has become extra in his head. Together with, lots of them were _______ to women. His wife, his daughter, his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts, they've all become extra. And I'm wondering, how have they become _____, and this is such a nice man? And then I was rescued from my dilemma, which was, I had to ______. I had to choose whether these are nice men, and I knew they were, and _____. Or whether they were oppressive. And I was experiencing them as __________. And in the dilemma of thinking I had to choose, I was rescued by remembering that, back in 1980, black women in the Boston area had written a number of essays to the effect that white women are oppressive to work with. Not just some _____ women. White _____ were oppressive to work with. I thought, oh dear. Now, I remember how I responded to those ______. My first response, the "oh dear" response was "I don't see how they can say that about us! I think we're nice." (Laughter) And my second ________, which is mortifying to admit, but this is how racist I was in 1980. I thought, I especially think we're nice if we work with them. You can hear the white superiority there. And as I recalled my responses to reading those essays — by now it was six years later — I _______, oh, I hope my attitudes didn't show. I hope I was so nice I covered them over. But after __________ with that for a couple of years, I said yes, I was oppressive to work with. And my niceness didn't cover my basic racial superiority assumption. And then I thought, maybe ________ has nothing to do with it. And that's what I believe today. Niceness has nothing at all to do with this whole matter of being oppressive to others. I found that now I went back to the men, these are nice men, but they were very good students of what they were taught, and what I was taught also. Which is men have knowledge, men make more knowledge, men publish knowledge, men profess knowledge as __________. Men run all the major research universities, and men run all of the university presses. And they have taken in, as I had, too, the idea that knowledge is male, and men are knowers. And then I realized why my husband has _______ asking for directions when we're lost. (Laughter) It's the identity he was ______ is that he is a knower. And I thought, in ________ fashion, and this is sickening to _______, it's messing up my world picture that I deserved everything I've got. Now, I was taught that whites have _________. Whites make more knowledge, whites publish knowledge, and ______ profess knowledge as professors. And whites run the big research universities. And whites run the university presses. And I _____ in the idea that knowledge is white, and white people are knowers. And to this day, in my _____ _______, the SEED project, whose core _____ is nine ______ of color and five whites, I will, unless I check myself, second guess, and doubt, and _____ everything said — every ________, every word, said by my colleagues of color. I will do it because my hard _____ is wired with the white privilege that I am a knower. And among my nine colleagues of color, the level of knowledge and understanding, and intelligence isn't as high as it is in me. But, _______ I have alternative software I can install. And when I install the ___________ software, I realize these people have been my major teachers. And I have so much to learn from them. They are not defective variants of whites. They are my major teachers. So once I began to see that, it was churning my stomach to realize that I had white privilege that I hadn't ______, but it was putting me ahead. Then I realized why, at the Wellesley Centers for Women, I could get big grants my colleagues of _____ couldn't. Because I had the knowledge system on my side as a white person. And I ________ also the foundations which gave us money, or the federal government, it was then — they still are in general — run by whites. And I was _______, then, with money — with big pots of money, because I was white. Not because I had earned that _____. So having seen those things, I asked myself, what else do I have that I didn't earn because I'm white, when I compare myself with African-American colleagues here in my ________ at Wellesley Centers for Women. And my conscious mind said, nothing. So I asked again, on a _____ _____, what do I get, beside the money system and the knowledge ______ helping me out, that my __________ of color can't count on? And once again, my mind, with the three degrees, and the good grades, it said, nothing. But I couldn't believe it. I thought I'd seen something huge and began to name it white privilege. Unearned advantage that came because of my racial/ethnic status or _________ worth. So I decided I had to pray on it. And I went to sleep one night — angrily, really. It wasn't the usual prayer in which you ask for something, I was _________. I said, if I have anything I didn't earn by ________ of my black friends, except the money system and the knowledge system, show me. And in the middle of the night, along came an example. I ________ on the _____ — it woke me up of course — and I wrote it down. And over the next three ______, 46 elements of unearned advantage came to me. And they're in my paper, "White Privilege, Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," and my _____, "White Privilege and Male Privilege," a personal _______ of coming to see correspondences through work in women's studies. And then I decided, because this work was spreading in many places, I ______ to help with the matter of white guilt. I don't believe we can be guilty, or ashamed, or blamed for being born into systems both above and below the hypothetical line of social justice. They're arbitrary. They have to do with projections onto us, _____ to our neighborhood, or our parents' relation to money, or our body type, or our hair, or our language of ______. They have to do with our ______ of the country — these projections that are put on to us, and the rewards or ___________ relate to our sex, to our ______, to our sexual ___________, to our race, to our ethnicity, to our parents' reputation, to stereotypes people may have about the kinds of group we were born into. I don't think blame, shame, or guilt are relevant to the arbitrariness of our _________ in privilege systems. But I decided, beside the metaphor I __________ used of white privilege as an invisible knapsack I can't see or feel on my back, but it's filled with ______ that I can count on cashing in each day — beside that, and the assets include the equivalent of freeze-dried food, _________ blanket, flashlight, maps, code books, guide _____, letters of introduction, even, maybe, blank checks. But beside that, I decided to put a second metaphor. And that's the metaphor of white _________ as a bank account that I was given. I didn't ask for it, and I can't be blamed for it, but I can decide to put it in the service of weakening the system of white privilege. That is my energy. That is my financial commitment. That is my daily life. And it's been transformative to use my bank account of white privilege to weaken the system of white privilege. It has __________ transformed my life to be in work that feels right. And it's not based on guilt. I don't know exactly the wording for it, but I I found that, when I put my white privilege in this service of weakening white privilege, the bank account keeps refilling, because I get the benefit of the doubt. So the cops arresting me for speeding tend to let me off. I get the benefit of the doubt because I'm a little old lady with white hair. (Laughter) And my ______ are in order, and my voice is soft. So I get let off. It's not fair. But I don't want to say, "Officer, officer, arrest me!" (Laughter) Because that'll put our _________ up. (Laughter) But every day in every way, bank account of white privilege _______, and I get the benefit of the doubt. It has been ______________ to use the _____ I did not know, I was never taught that I had, in the service of ______, fairer, and more compassionate life for everyone. Thank you. (Applause)

Solution

  1. teasing
  2. introductory
  3. person
  4. trouble
  5. project
  6. experiences
  7. natural
  8. professors
  9. groups
  10. trust
  11. liberal
  12. privilege
  13. discipline
  14. social
  15. owing
  16. light
  17. seminar
  18. earned
  19. origin
  20. insurance
  21. essays
  22. building
  23. needed
  24. oppressive
  25. hated
  26. gender
  27. assets
  28. months
  29. system
  30. transformative
  31. account
  32. absolutely
  33. teaching
  34. campuses
  35. drive
  36. orientation
  37. kinder
  38. school
  39. spring
  40. genocide
  41. students
  42. judge
  43. niceness
  44. including
  45. punishments
  46. colleagues
  47. thought
  48. daily
  49. brave
  50. fields
  51. monthly
  52. extras
  53. relation
  54. taught
  55. alternative
  56. parallel
  57. refills
  58. basis
  59. paper
  60. knowledge
  61. extra
  62. realized
  63. realize
  64. college
  65. location
  66. justice
  67. reason
  68. trusted
  69. projected
  70. struggling
  71. drank
  72. taker
  73. hypothetical
  74. representative
  75. choose
  76. white
  77. invented
  78. papers
  79. demanding
  80. leading
  81. originally
  82. major
  83. women
  84. region
  85. people
  86. talking
  87. placement
  88. discarded
  89. power
  90. response
  91. notice
  92. luckily
  93. emergency
  94. sentence
  95. psychology
  96. prodigious
  97. books
  98. whites
  99. economics
  100. married
  101. contrast
  102. switched
  103. staff
  104. color

Original Text

(Music) (Applause) I imagine a hypothetical line of social justice. A hypothetical line — an imaginary line of social justice that is parallel to the floor, also parallel to the Earth. And on this imaginary line of social justice, things feel fair. Below it, one can be pushed down either as a member of a group or an individual, through bullying, teasing, being stereotyped, having prejudices against one or one's group, being a survivor of genocide, being a scapegoat, being a discarded person. What I study, is what happens above the hypothetical line of social justice. And in school, I was never taught to even notice this realm. Above the hypothetical line, one can be pushed up, believed, thought worthy of responsibility, considered to be responsible with money, considered to be capable of doing the school work, or any other kind of work. One can be seen as representative of the best. That's privilege. Above the hypothetical line of justice, one has more than one deserved because of circumstances of birth and other people's positive projections onto one. And below it is disadvantage. That is unearned disadvantage. And I believe everybody in this room has a combination of both experiences. Having more than we actually earned, and having less than we've actually earned. And I didn't used to think this way. I was raised, as many of you have been, on the myth of meritocracy, which is, the unit of society is the individual. And whatever the individual ends up with at death, is what that individual worked for and earned and deserved and wanted. Well, it isn't true. These privileged systems which locate us above and below the hypothetical line of social justice were invented, and we were born into them. And we all know both sides. And that's a reason for compassion about the sadness of having been born into systems that gave us such — and here I quote the poet Adrienne Rich, such different politics of location. I came to notice privilege because I noticed male privilege. And then I noticed, in parallel fashion, white privilege. And both of these things were very distressing. I hated learning about privilege systems. But I found I had to, to explain my life. Three years in a row, men and women in a seminar I was leading at Wellesley College, Wellesley Centers for Women, got into a bad relation with each other in the spring of each year. We had monthly seminars. They were great. The men and the women were all professors from different colleges in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and New England. And we were talking about quite a difficult subject, but fascinating. How to bring materials on women into all the liberal arts curriculum, in every field? So how to bring women's history into political science, economics, sociology, psychology, literature, music, art, PT, all of the technical fields as well. And the men were our allies. They were very brave. They had taken a fair amount of flak on their campuses for coming to a women's college to talk about women's studies, and bringing it to the main curriculum, not keeping it isolated. These were great men. And very nice men. And yet, three years running with different groups of men, there was a falling out that I realized as I looked through my notes, took this form as a natural occurrence in the spring. Toward the spring of the year in these monthly seminars, once we all trusted each other pretty well, the women would just raise this question. "Can't we do some of this teaching about women in the introductory courses that the students take first year in college, the freshman courses?" And the men, to a person, every year, said, "We're sorry. You know, this is a great seminar, we love doing this work, but you can't put anything on women into the freshman courses." I was a prodigious note taker, and I found in my notes one man had said, "When you're trying to lay the foundation blocks for knowledge in those introductory courses, you can't put in soft stuff." Well, thanks a lot. (Laughter) And I remember my first thought was, he doesn't understand labor pains. (Laughter) But also, let me ask you, exactly who here has a truly soft mother? (Laughter) And in that comment, he was including women in general. But he was a very nice man. I had a comment written down from another year when the women also asked, how can we get this material into the first year courses? And a very, very nice man said, in an explanatory way, "See, that first year, the students are trying to figure out what will be their major. That's their discipline. And if you want students to think in a disciplined way, you can't put in extras." Now every one of these very nice men is born of a woman. And she has become extra in his head. Together with, lots of them were married to women. His wife, his daughter, his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts, they've all become extra. And I'm wondering, how have they become extra, and this is such a nice man? And then I was rescued from my dilemma, which was, I had to choose. I had to choose whether these are nice men, and I knew they were, and brave. Or whether they were oppressive. And I was experiencing them as oppressive. And in the dilemma of thinking I had to choose, I was rescued by remembering that, back in 1980, black women in the Boston area had written a number of essays to the effect that white women are oppressive to work with. Not just some white women. White women were oppressive to work with. I thought, oh dear. Now, I remember how I responded to those essays. My first response, the "oh dear" response was "I don't see how they can say that about us! I think we're nice." (Laughter) And my second response, which is mortifying to admit, but this is how racist I was in 1980. I thought, I especially think we're nice if we work with them. You can hear the white superiority there. And as I recalled my responses to reading those essays — by now it was six years later — I thought, oh, I hope my attitudes didn't show. I hope I was so nice I covered them over. But after struggling with that for a couple of years, I said yes, I was oppressive to work with. And my niceness didn't cover my basic racial superiority assumption. And then I thought, maybe niceness has nothing to do with it. And that's what I believe today. Niceness has nothing at all to do with this whole matter of being oppressive to others. I found that now I went back to the men, these are nice men, but they were very good students of what they were taught, and what I was taught also. Which is men have knowledge, men make more knowledge, men publish knowledge, men profess knowledge as professors. Men run all the major research universities, and men run all of the university presses. And they have taken in, as I had, too, the idea that knowledge is male, and men are knowers. And then I realized why my husband has trouble asking for directions when we're lost. (Laughter) It's the identity he was taught is that he is a knower. And I thought, in parallel fashion, and this is sickening to realize, it's messing up my world picture that I deserved everything I've got. Now, I was taught that whites have knowledge. Whites make more knowledge, whites publish knowledge, and whites profess knowledge as professors. And whites run the big research universities. And whites run the university presses. And I drank in the idea that knowledge is white, and white people are knowers. And to this day, in my major project, the SEED project, whose core staff is nine people of color and five whites, I will, unless I check myself, second guess, and doubt, and judge everything said — every sentence, every word, said by my colleagues of color. I will do it because my hard drive is wired with the white privilege that I am a knower. And among my nine colleagues of color, the level of knowledge and understanding, and intelligence isn't as high as it is in me. But, luckily I have alternative software I can install. And when I install the alternative software, I realize these people have been my major teachers. And I have so much to learn from them. They are not defective variants of whites. They are my major teachers. So once I began to see that, it was churning my stomach to realize that I had white privilege that I hadn't earned, but it was putting me ahead. Then I realized why, at the Wellesley Centers for Women, I could get big grants my colleagues of color couldn't. Because I had the knowledge system on my side as a white person. And I realized also the foundations which gave us money, or the federal government, it was then — they still are in general — run by whites. And I was trusted, then, with money — with big pots of money, because I was white. Not because I had earned that trust. So having seen those things, I asked myself, what else do I have that I didn't earn because I'm white, when I compare myself with African-American colleagues here in my building at Wellesley Centers for Women. And my conscious mind said, nothing. So I asked again, on a daily basis, what do I get, beside the money system and the knowledge system helping me out, that my colleagues of color can't count on? And once again, my mind, with the three degrees, and the good grades, it said, nothing. But I couldn't believe it. I thought I'd seen something huge and began to name it white privilege. Unearned advantage that came because of my racial/ethnic status or projected worth. So I decided I had to pray on it. And I went to sleep one night — angrily, really. It wasn't the usual prayer in which you ask for something, I was demanding. I said, if I have anything I didn't earn by contrast of my black friends, except the money system and the knowledge system, show me. And in the middle of the night, along came an example. I switched on the light — it woke me up of course — and I wrote it down. And over the next three months, 46 elements of unearned advantage came to me. And they're in my paper, "White Privilege, Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," and my paper, "White Privilege and Male Privilege," a personal account of coming to see correspondences through work in women's studies. And then I decided, because this work was spreading in many places, I needed to help with the matter of white guilt. I don't believe we can be guilty, or ashamed, or blamed for being born into systems both above and below the hypothetical line of social justice. They're arbitrary. They have to do with projections onto us, owing to our neighborhood, or our parents' relation to money, or our body type, or our hair, or our language of origin. They have to do with our region of the country — these projections that are put on to us, and the rewards or punishments relate to our sex, to our gender, to our sexual orientation, to our race, to our ethnicity, to our parents' reputation, to stereotypes people may have about the kinds of group we were born into. I don't think blame, shame, or guilt are relevant to the arbitrariness of our placement in privilege systems. But I decided, beside the metaphor I originally used of white privilege as an invisible knapsack I can't see or feel on my back, but it's filled with assets that I can count on cashing in each day — beside that, and the assets include the equivalent of freeze-dried food, emergency blanket, flashlight, maps, code books, guide books, letters of introduction, even, maybe, blank checks. But beside that, I decided to put a second metaphor. And that's the metaphor of white privilege as a bank account that I was given. I didn't ask for it, and I can't be blamed for it, but I can decide to put it in the service of weakening the system of white privilege. That is my energy. That is my financial commitment. That is my daily life. And it's been transformative to use my bank account of white privilege to weaken the system of white privilege. It has absolutely transformed my life to be in work that feels right. And it's not based on guilt. I don't know exactly the wording for it, but I I found that, when I put my white privilege in this service of weakening white privilege, the bank account keeps refilling, because I get the benefit of the doubt. So the cops arresting me for speeding tend to let me off. I get the benefit of the doubt because I'm a little old lady with white hair. (Laughter) And my papers are in order, and my voice is soft. So I get let off. It's not fair. But I don't want to say, "Officer, officer, arrest me!" (Laughter) Because that'll put our insurance up. (Laughter) But every day in every way, bank account of white privilege refills, and I get the benefit of the doubt. It has been transformative to use the power I did not know, I was never taught that I had, in the service of kinder, fairer, and more compassionate life for everyone. Thank you. (Applause)

Frequently Occurring Word Combinations

ngrams of length 2

collocation frequency
white privilege 11
hypothetical line 6
social justice 5
bank account 4
wellesley centers 3
white women 3
imaginary line 2
privilege systems 2
nice men 2
nice man 2
profess knowledge 2
men run 2
whites run 2
major teachers 2
knowledge system 2
money system 2
unearned advantage 2

Important Words

  1. absolutely
  2. account
  3. admit
  4. adrienne
  5. advantage
  6. allies
  7. alternative
  8. amount
  9. angrily
  10. applause
  11. arbitrariness
  12. arbitrary
  13. area
  14. arrest
  15. arresting
  16. art
  17. arts
  18. ashamed
  19. asked
  20. assets
  21. assumption
  22. attitudes
  23. aunts
  24. bad
  25. bank
  26. based
  27. basic
  28. basis
  29. began
  30. believed
  31. benefit
  32. big
  33. birth
  34. black
  35. blame
  36. blamed
  37. blank
  38. blanket
  39. blocks
  40. body
  41. books
  42. born
  43. boston
  44. brave
  45. bring
  46. bringing
  47. building
  48. bullying
  49. campuses
  50. capable
  51. cashing
  52. centers
  53. check
  54. checks
  55. choose
  56. churning
  57. circumstances
  58. code
  59. colleagues
  60. college
  61. colleges
  62. color
  63. combination
  64. coming
  65. comment
  66. commitment
  67. compare
  68. compassion
  69. compassionate
  70. connecticut
  71. conscious
  72. considered
  73. contrast
  74. cops
  75. core
  76. correspondences
  77. count
  78. country
  79. couple
  80. courses
  81. cousins
  82. cover
  83. covered
  84. curriculum
  85. daily
  86. daughter
  87. day
  88. dear
  89. death
  90. decide
  91. decided
  92. defective
  93. degrees
  94. demanding
  95. deserved
  96. difficult
  97. dilemma
  98. directions
  99. disadvantage
  100. discarded
  101. discipline
  102. disciplined
  103. distressing
  104. doubt
  105. drank
  106. drive
  107. earn
  108. earned
  109. earth
  110. economics
  111. effect
  112. elements
  113. emergency
  114. ends
  115. energy
  116. england
  117. equivalent
  118. essays
  119. ethnicity
  120. experiences
  121. experiencing
  122. explain
  123. explanatory
  124. extra
  125. extras
  126. fair
  127. fairer
  128. falling
  129. fascinating
  130. fashion
  131. federal
  132. feel
  133. feels
  134. fields
  135. figure
  136. filled
  137. financial
  138. flak
  139. flashlight
  140. floor
  141. food
  142. form
  143. foundation
  144. foundations
  145. freshman
  146. friends
  147. gave
  148. gender
  149. general
  150. genocide
  151. good
  152. government
  153. grades
  154. grants
  155. great
  156. group
  157. groups
  158. guess
  159. guide
  160. guilt
  161. guilty
  162. hair
  163. hard
  164. hated
  165. head
  166. hear
  167. helping
  168. high
  169. history
  170. hope
  171. huge
  172. husband
  173. hypothetical
  174. idea
  175. identity
  176. imaginary
  177. imagine
  178. include
  179. including
  180. individual
  181. install
  182. insurance
  183. intelligence
  184. introduction
  185. introductory
  186. invented
  187. invisible
  188. isolated
  189. jersey
  190. judge
  191. justice
  192. keeping
  193. kind
  194. kinder
  195. kinds
  196. knapsack
  197. knew
  198. knower
  199. knowers
  200. knowledge
  201. labor
  202. lady
  203. language
  204. laughter
  205. lay
  206. leading
  207. learn
  208. learning
  209. letters
  210. level
  211. liberal
  212. life
  213. light
  214. line
  215. literature
  216. locate
  217. location
  218. looked
  219. lost
  220. lot
  221. lots
  222. love
  223. luckily
  224. main
  225. major
  226. male
  227. man
  228. maps
  229. married
  230. material
  231. materials
  232. matter
  233. member
  234. men
  235. meritocracy
  236. messing
  237. metaphor
  238. middle
  239. mind
  240. money
  241. monthly
  242. months
  243. mortifying
  244. mother
  245. music
  246. myth
  247. natural
  248. needed
  249. neighborhood
  250. nice
  251. niceness
  252. night
  253. note
  254. notes
  255. notice
  256. noticed
  257. number
  258. occurrence
  259. officer
  260. oppressive
  261. order
  262. orientation
  263. origin
  264. originally
  265. owing
  266. pains
  267. paper
  268. papers
  269. parallel
  270. people
  271. person
  272. personal
  273. picture
  274. placement
  275. places
  276. poet
  277. political
  278. politics
  279. positive
  280. pots
  281. power
  282. pray
  283. prayer
  284. prejudices
  285. presses
  286. pretty
  287. privilege
  288. privileged
  289. prodigious
  290. profess
  291. professors
  292. project
  293. projected
  294. projections
  295. psychology
  296. pt
  297. publish
  298. punishments
  299. pushed
  300. put
  301. putting
  302. question
  303. quote
  304. race
  305. racial
  306. racist
  307. raise
  308. raised
  309. reading
  310. realize
  311. realized
  312. realm
  313. reason
  314. recalled
  315. refilling
  316. refills
  317. region
  318. relate
  319. relation
  320. relevant
  321. remember
  322. remembering
  323. representative
  324. reputation
  325. rescued
  326. research
  327. responded
  328. response
  329. responses
  330. responsibility
  331. responsible
  332. rewards
  333. rich
  334. room
  335. row
  336. run
  337. running
  338. sadness
  339. scapegoat
  340. school
  341. science
  342. seed
  343. seminar
  344. seminars
  345. sentence
  346. service
  347. sex
  348. sexual
  349. shame
  350. show
  351. sickening
  352. side
  353. sides
  354. sisters
  355. sleep
  356. social
  357. society
  358. sociology
  359. soft
  360. software
  361. speeding
  362. spreading
  363. spring
  364. staff
  365. status
  366. stereotyped
  367. stereotypes
  368. stomach
  369. struggling
  370. students
  371. studies
  372. study
  373. stuff
  374. subject
  375. superiority
  376. survivor
  377. switched
  378. system
  379. systems
  380. taker
  381. talk
  382. talking
  383. taught
  384. teachers
  385. teaching
  386. teasing
  387. technical
  388. tend
  389. thinking
  390. thought
  391. today
  392. transformative
  393. transformed
  394. trouble
  395. true
  396. trust
  397. trusted
  398. type
  399. understand
  400. understanding
  401. unearned
  402. unit
  403. universities
  404. university
  405. unpacking
  406. usual
  407. variants
  408. voice
  409. wanted
  410. weaken
  411. weakening
  412. wellesley
  413. white
  414. whites
  415. wife
  416. wired
  417. woke
  418. woman
  419. women
  420. wondering
  421. word
  422. wording
  423. work
  424. worked
  425. world
  426. worth
  427. worthy
  428. written
  429. wrote
  430. year
  431. years
  432. york