Two readers suggested that I read this essay. At first I could not bring myself to read it, but since I decided to respond to it, I thought that I should. It’s hard to read. It’s annoying, because it is so full of politically correct mumbo-jumbo that I find myself wanting to take a red pen to it to mark my many objections and challenges.
The essay is vaguely familiar. I do not know if I have read it before or if it just contains all the typical catch-phrases of the intellectual leftists, so that I only feel as though I have read it before.
The author, Ms McIntosh writes, “My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an oppressor. . .” This is not the first egregious statement in the essay, but it is the first that I absolutely balk at. I cannot imagine that Ms McIntosh has ever oppressed anyone, except maybe, humorously speaking, her younger siblings if she has any. Why should a school teach her to see herself as something that she is not. Then again, if she really has oppressed people, then she should admit it and make amends. If she is truly an oppressor, she has bigger problems than a misplaced sense of guilt for having “white privilege.”
She also writes, “. . .so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work which will allow ‘them’ to be more like ‘us.’ This is but one example of the double talk and gobbledygook that is rife within the “every white person is racist” crowd. First they tell us that white people are privileged and unfairly advantaged and that black people are oppressed. One could assume, then, that what black people want is to have more privilege and more advantages; in other words, “they” want to be more like “us.” If that is not what black people want, then what are we arguing about anyway?
One assumes that working for the benefit of others is a good thing. The alternative is to work for the detriment of others. I wonder that Ms McIntosh didn’t give up working altogether, since having a job is proably another way in which she was unfairly advantaged.
I think it is wrong to say anything definitive about whole races of people. There is no such thing as “what black people want.” There is only what each person, black or white, wants. And the only way to know is to let each person speak for himself or herself–not to make pronouncements as though one is omniscient. Then again, I think it is possible to talk about what most people want, and that seems to very little to do with whether a person is white or black.
Ms McIntosh then begins her list. It is interesting, and some of her points have validity. Nevertheless, I disagree with certain aspects of almost all of them. I’ll take just a few.
“I can if I wish arrange to be in the people of my race most of the time.”
First, Ms McIntosh seems to me to be admitting that she is very ethnocentric. Maybe not, since she said if I wish. I do not see why anyone would arrange to be around people of their own race most of the time. Its fun and interesting to know people of other races. I would prefer that neither black people nor white people act so exclusive.
Besides, wasn’t the whole point of integration that white people were trying to keep black people associating only with people “of their own kind”? It doesn’t make sense to suggest that white racists’ real problem was forcing black people to spend lots of time with them and thus to be away from their own race.
“I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.”
This one is certainly outdated. I can remember when I first heard the complaint expressed that black people were underrepresented in the media. I can also remember some of the first all-black or mostly-black television series. Now there is at least one network devoted to black people’s interests. Now some of our hottest stars in television and movies are black.
“When I am told about our national heritage or about ‘civilization,’ I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.”
This one is outdated but also inaccurate. It now goes without saying that America’s heritage was made by people of several races and not just by white people. It is part of every history curriculum and is the subject of documentaries galore. I’m not sure what McIntosh had in mind when she mentioned “civilization.” The thing is that schools used to teach Western Cvilization, because, like it or not, that is the background of most Americans. We now have excellent curricula in our schools that teach on a variety of civilizations and their contributions to the world at large.
This statement is very misleading and outdated. Since the 1950′s, it has been possible for black people to buy music produced by other black people. And it became extremely popular among white people as well. As a person with eclectic taste in music, I don’t even get the phrase “the music of my race.” It’s pretty weird in my book.
When I go to my grocery store I can find stacks of tortillas, jars of mole, and fresh jalapeno peppers. Those things are pretty exotic for a white boy from Vermont. I can also find collard greens, black eyed peas, chit’lin’s, and other foods that my black friends used to rave about. In another aisle one can find rice noodles, canned bamboo shoots, and bean sprouts. The refrigerated section even has tofu. I don’t know where McIntosh shops, but it is not at my local grocery store.
Besides, whenever white people talk about food that is typical of African American culture, they are branded as racist. There’s no particular food that all black people like, anymore than there is any particular food that white people like. Most of my black friends are huge fans of pizza, just like my white friends.
One time my son, who comes from Africa, decided that he wanted his hair braided in rows. When I looked in the phone book I noticed several salons that catered to black people. It didn’t take long to find one in our neighborhood that had a woman who specialized in braiding. When our son just wants a buzz cut, we go to the cheap salon (where lower middle class people go) and there are usually several black women and several white women working there, all of whom can run clippers through my son’s hair.
“I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.”
I wonder if McIntosh went to a a “nice” private school or if she sent her kids to one. When I was growing up there was plenty of bullying to go around, and it had litle to do with race. Both the perpetrators and the victims could be of any race. And when I was in middle school my black principal tolearted no bullying of any kind, no matter what race or races were involved. Most of the bullying I endured was from other white kids who resented me for getting good grades and who knew that the could “take” me because I was short and scrawny.
Enough. I have made my point. I know some people will not like what I have written. That’s okay. There is a lot of stuff in writing that I don’t like.
“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.”