The Invisibility of Privilege

From Michael Kimmel’s  essay This Breeze at My Back:

“This invisibility [of privilege] is political. This was first made visible to me in the early 1980s, when I participated in a small discussion group on feminism. A white woman and a black woman were discussing whether all women were, by definition, “Sisters,” because they all had essentially the same experiences and because all women faced a common oppression by men. The white woman asserted that the fact that they were both women bonded them, in spite of racial differences. The black woman disagreed.

“When you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, what do you see?” she asked.

“I see a woman,” replied the white woman.

“That’s precisely the problem,” responded the black woman. “I see a black woman. To me, race is visible every day, because race is how I am not privileged in our culture. Race is invisible to you, because it’s how you are privileged. It’s why there will always be differences in our experience.”

As I witnessed this exchange, I was startled, and groaned – more audibly, perhaps, than I had intended. Being the only man in the room, someone asked what my response had meant.

“Well,” I said, “when I look in the mirror, I see a human being. I’m universally generalizable. As a middle-class white man, I have no class, no race, and no gender. I’m the generic person!”

Sometimes, I like to think that it was on that day that I became a middle-class white man. Sure, I had been all those before, but they had not meant much to me. I enjoyed the privilege of invisibility. The very processes that confer privilege to one group and not another group are often invisible to those upon whom that privilege is conferred…”

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One thought on “The Invisibility of Privilege

  1. Kim Drake says:

    Short, but eye opening; thought provoking. This blog inspires me to continue down this road and learn. As a white almost 60 year old woman, I will never know what it is like to be anything but. However, I can always develop more understanding and empathy toward humankind; and after all, isn’t that what it should be all about? How can we EVER achieve peace without understanding. Thanks for the posting!

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