It’s funny that it took me moving to NW Argentina to realize what it feels like to be discriminated against. Below is a list of 50 things that make up “White Privilege.” Peggy McIntosh was the first major sociologist to come up with a term for what she refers to as this: “I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools , and blank checks.”
Here’s the list:
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.
31. I can choose to ignore developments in minority writing and minority activist programs, or disparage them, or learn from them, but in any case, I can find ways to be more or less protected from negative consequences of any of these choices.
32. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.
33. I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race.
34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.
35. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.
36. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones.
37. I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps, professionally.
38. I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.
39. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.
40. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.
41. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.
42. I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience feelings of rejection owing to my race.
43. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem.
44. I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race.
45. I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race.
46. I can chose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.
47. I can travel alone or with my spouse without expecting embarrassment or hostility in those who deal with us.
48. I have no difficulty finding neighborhoods where people approve of our household.
49. My children are given texts and classes which implicitly support our kind of family unit and do not turn them against my choice of domestic partnership.
50. I will feel welcomed and “normal” in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.
I don’t remember when I first saw this complete list – it was either in a sociology or education course at Marquette. But as I read through it, I remember thinking, “Wow. These are things I have been granted simply because of my skin color, that I never even had to think about!”
In a previous post I talked about race, racial segregation, etc. in Salta. The longer I am here, the more I think about my race on a daily basis. Salta is divided between those that have a strong European heritage and tend to have whiter skin, lighter hair… and more money. And those that have indigenous heritage or heritage from other Andean countries like Bolivia and Perú. In turn, this city is an interesting place that’s split between these two worlds. And they don’t really always get along.
One of the most interesting things for me to experience here is that the discrimination truly goes both ways. Lately I’ve felt this burden on my shoulders that basically makes me feel like because I am white, I must have money. Even more interestingly, I have felt what it is like to be an immigrant. That word carries so many strong connotations in English. And I am starting to see all of the insane benefits just having a simple identity card provides for you.
Last weekend my friends and I rented a car to go down to Cafayate and Cachi. We had a great time. When we got back to Salta, I parked the car on the street outside my apartment overnight. In the morning, I went to take the car back to the rental car place. The employee went outside to take a look around and motioned for me to come outside. Someone had broken into the car, broke the lock on the passenger side, and stole the spare tire from the trunk.
I didn’t know what to do. I just kept saying “I can’t believe it” over and over in Spanish. The employee told me to go to the police department in the plaza that is meant to help tourists. I told him I wasn’t a tourist and he seemed shocked. He told me to go anyways. So I walked the 3 blocks and went inside, in tears. I told the policewoman I had to do a “denuncia” and she took me back to the office. About halfway through she asked me if I was a tourist and I told her no, that I live in Salta. She asked if I had my DNI (ID card). I told her no, it was still being processed. She told me “Well, normally we only act on behalf of tourists. Because you live here, you have to handle this on your own.” I replied and told her “Well then I am a tourist. I entered Argentina on August 4th, coming in from Perú, and am leaving in November.” She said “No, you live here. We can’t really do anything.”
She filled out the police report nonetheless but they have been basically useless since that time.
I went back to the rental car company with the police report. The female employee was there, but the male employee I had been talking to earlier was nowhere to be found. She called him and asked how much the damages would be. $2600 pesos, she told me. That’s more than $500. I freaked out, and told her that I live here and know how much things cost and that it should not be that much for that small of a problem. I went out, and brought back 2 police officers who were nearby. INSTANTLY the price was $2100 pesos. I couldn’t believe it.
She figured I didn’t know what I was doing so she just tried to tell me a higher price, expecting that I would pay it. This has to be because she thought I was a tourist and saw that I was white. Then the male employee returned. The police confronted him about the price and instantly the price was now $1890 pesos. Isn’t that funny? I couldn’t believe it.
I went out with my friend Clemence to a number of car repair shops in the city, and got the price down to $1800 pesos. For the same thing the woman wanted to charge me $2600 pesos for just hours earlier.
Unfortunately this kind of thing has been happening more and more lately. When I was out with Clemence the other day, a shoeshiner came up to us when we were sitting down and when she refused to have him shine her shoes, he said “Where are you from?” She responded France, and his response was something like “Then give me some money to eat” (you must have extra money lying around everywhere).
Today I finally got my DNI, my Argentinian ID. After 7 months. This means that I can now get the student bus rate (because I have the DNI and a letter saying I am a student), as well as a cell phone plan. Or so I thought.
I went down the main office for SAETA, the bus company, to get a student ID. I had my paperwork and my DNI in hand. When I told her I was so excited I could finally get a student bus card, she asked why? She told me that all along I could’ve gotten it with my passport. This is funny, because the last 3 TIMES I went and asked, I was told no, you need a DNI. The second time, I heard someone literally say to their co-worker “She’s from the US, she doesn’t need the student rate.” SERIOUSLY?
After this I went to Movistar, my cell phone company. I was told in January that you had to have your DNI in order to get a cell phone plan. Until then, you just need to have pay-as-you-go, which is much more expensive than a plan. So since January 30th, I have had pay-as-you-go, waiting for my DNI to arrive. Today was finally the day I could get a plan! I went into Movistar with my freshly-made DNI. The LOVELY employee looked at me and said “You might have to get a new number if you switch to a plan.” (WTF? Same company. But okay…). He flipped my DNI over. “Oh wait. No, this is just a temporary DNI, and it says “Extranjero.” We can’t use this.”
I’m sorry. What? I waited nearly 9 months to have a plan and now you’re telling me this DNI STILL won’t work? I immediately told him I wanted to talk to a manager. He said he had to “ask some people in Buenos Aires” on the computer about it. 15 minutes later, he looked up and said “No, this DNI doesn’t work because it says Extranjero (foreigner).” WHAT? I looked at him and said “THIS IS ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS. I KNOW MANY EXTRANJEROS IN BUENOS AIRES THAT GOT A PLAN WITH JUST THEIR PASSPORT. AND YOU ARE TELLING ME THAT NOT EVEN MY ACTUAL, OFFICIAL DNI THAT SAYS I AM A RESIDENT WILL WORK?”
I put my hand out waiting for him to give me back my DNI, I screamed (no joke) THEN I GUESS I SHOULD SWITCH COMPANIES BECAUSE YOU APPARENTLY DISCRIMINATE AGAINST PEOPLE HERE and walked out.
20 minutes later I had a cell phone plan from Claro (and a new phone number, but who cares). Now I’m paying 140 pesos a month ($28) for basically all the minutes and texts I will need. Instead of paying between 300-400 pesos per month.
Some people might be reading this thinking, “White girl problems,” “First world problems,” or something of that nature. I am not saying that the problems I have been faced with are horrendous by any stretch of the imagination. All I am saying is that, for the first time in my life, I’ve been able to “put myself in someone else’s shoes” for real and have started to see all of the barriers that stand in the way for immigrants to any country. I never had a lack of respect for immigrants in the United States at all. Many of my students have been immigrants both in public high schools and at a literacy non-profit I used to volunteer at. I’ve always respected them and been fascinated by their stories. But I never fully understood what it takes to actually try to live somewhere else – all of the hoops, all of the barriers, and the discrimination. I am fortunate that here, just as in the US, my race tends to help me, rather than inhibit me. I know that if I were, for example, an African immigrant in Argentina this entire process would have been 50,000,000 times worse. But my race carries certain connotations too, and I’ve had to push against many stereotypes and assumptions people have made. In fact, just tonight I had to explain to someone that in order to graduate college I had to take out a significant amount of loans that I will be paying back until about 2040. They couldn’t believe that someone like me did not have the money to finish college on their own.
Le sigh. This is why it’s called an ambassadorial scholarship, isn’t it? You have to represent “your people.” Sometimes this is easy, and sometimes it is so, so hard.