When Dr. Johnson gave us the assignment of reading the article on white privilege by MacIntosh, and then creating our own list of white privileges at Rhodes, I admit that it proved to be much more difficult than I thought it would be. Perhaps because I found MacIntosh’s list to be so exhaustive, but also partly because our white privilege is so indelibly ingrained in our everyday life that it is hard to disconnect the two.
In light of our class discussion on Thursday, I wanted to write my blog on some of my leftover thoughts from our conversation about white privilege. Somebody brought up the privilege that if they were written about in the campus safety report in the Sou’Wester’ they would have the privilege of not having their race attached. And I thought that was interesting. And it made me think of my grandmother, who lives in a tiny southern Mississippi town of about 3,000 people, and it’s probably 90% white. On countless occasions, my grandmother will tell me something about the “nice black family” at the table next to her in the restaurant, or the “sweet black girl at the grocery store”. And I don’t believe her to mean those descriptions offensively. But to me, they just seemed like unnecessary qualifiers. It didn’t change the story to know that the family was black, just as it wouldn’t have changed it if the father had been tall. So perhaps her descriptions are not racist so much as racial (to borrow terms from Sartre). But to tie this back to the campus safety example, if my grandmother met a nice white family at the grocery store, she would undoubtedly just call them a nice family, and not race them. Because that would be the norm, as we talked about in class.
Are we somehow lessening what we have learned in this class if we use race as just a way to describe people, as my grandmother does? Or what if we “race” things that do not necessarily need to be raced? If my grandmother uses the term black just to distinguish between people, but does not mean to attach any value to it, is it racist? Is it just another white privilege to be able to race everyone around us, because we are the norm and they are not? What would the philosophers that we’ve read this semester say?