Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Speaker Attempts to Break Racial Barriers

Joyelle Freeman

Diversity Awareness Month, a Student Senate event under the University Life Commission aimed at promoting diversity among Ohio University students, has introduced many students and faculty alike to a deeper way of thinking about the multicultural society we live in.

According to the Ohio Board of Regents 2007 Diversity Report, OU ranks as the whitest college campus in the state, despite its efforts to increase diversity with its Vision Ohio Plan and the college’s many multicultural programs.

Dr. Peggy McIntosh, Associate Director for Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, spoke last night in Baker University Center Ballroom about some things that might otherwise go unnoticed on a predominantly Caucasian campus.

McIntosh notes that issues of race are rarely talked about.

McIntosh focused on her article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” She compares white privilege to “an invisible package of unearned assets which [she] can count on cashing in each day, but about which [she] was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious.”

McIntosh noted whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege; rather, they are taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness.

McIntosh comments on white society's learned unconsciousness to white privilege.

She once compiled a 46-item list to demonstrate the effects of white privilege on the African American community. McIntosh said she finds these conditions, which she also calls unearned privileges, attached somewhat more to skin-color privilege.

A portion of the list includes the following:

•I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
•I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
•I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
•I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.
•I can be sure if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.
•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.
•I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
•I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of race.
•Whether I use checks, credit cards, or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
•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.

McIntosh stressed that the decision to end white privilege is a choice one must make on his or her own.

“It is an open question whether we will choose to use an unearned advantage to weaken hidden systems of advantage, and whether we will use any of our arbitrarily-awarded power to try to reconstruct power systems on a broader base," she said.

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