Privilege

Privilege is easy to recognize when you don’t have it, but it often goes unseen when we benefit from it. Most of us benefit from some type of privilege: gender privilege, race privilege, economic class privilege, age privilege, religious privilege, able-bodied privilege, etc. It’s important to recognize when privilege is present and when it’s not, because its presence will often affect how you’re seeing a specific topic. As you become more aware of the privileges you hold, you’ll discover that they might not be present for your children, or that your children are simply benefiting from your privilege when you’re around, but lose it when they’re on their own. The greater your awareness this issue, the better you’ll be able to support your children as they negotiate our privilege-saturated society. We located a wonderful blog that metaphorically breaks down the complex issue of white privilege and how it affects individuals, but in many ways the metaphor extends to other types of privilege. You can read a portion of this blog below. This is a brief introduction to the concept and we hope it encourages you.

Exerpt from Sindeloke blog post entitled “Of Dogs and Lizards: A Parable of Privilege”, January 13, 2010:

Imagine, if you will, a small house, built someplace cool-ish but not cold, perhaps somewhere in Ohio, and inhabited by a dog and a lizard. The dog is a big dog, something shaggy and Nordic, like a Husky or Lapp hound – a sled dog, built for the snow. The lizard is small, a little gecko best adapted to living in a muggy rainforest somewhere. Neither have ever lived anywhere else, nor met any other creature; for the purposes of this exercise, this small house is the entirety of their universe.

The dog, much as you might expect, turns on the air conditioning. Really cranks it up, all the time – this dog was bred for hunting moose on the tundra, even the winter here in Ohio is a little warm for his taste. If he can get the house to fifty (that’s ten C, for all you weirdo metric users out there), he’s almost happy.Read More

The gecko can’t do much to control the temperature – she’s got tiny little fingers, she can’t really work the thermostat or turn the dials on the A/C. Sometimes, when there’s an incandescent light nearby, she can curl up near it and pick up some heat that way, but for the most part, most of the time, she just has to live with what the dog chooses. This is, of course, much too cold for her – she’s a gecko. Not only does she have no fur, she’s cold-blooded! The temperature makes her sluggish and sick, and it permeates her entire universe. Maybe here and there she can find small spaces of warmth, but if she ever wants to actually do anything, to eat or watch TV or talk to the dog, she has to move through the cold house.

Now, remember, she’s never known anything else. This is just how the world is – cold and painful and unhealthy for her, even dangerous, and she copes as she knows how. But maybe some small part of her thinks, “hey, it shouldn’t be like this,” some tiny growing seed of rebellion that says who she is right next to a lamp is who she should be all the time. And she and the dog are partners, in a sense, right? They live in this house together, they affect each other, all they’ve got is each other. So one day, she sees the dog messing with the A/C again, and she says, “Hey. Dog. Listen, it makes me really cold when you do that.”

The dog kind of looks at her, and shrugs, and keeps turning the dial.  This is not because the dog is a jerk.

This is because the dog has no clue what the lizard even just said.

Most privilege is like this.

Privilege isn’t a bad thing. It just happens. We all enjoy some type of privilege, be it race, class, gender, sexual identity, religion, being healthy, knowing birth parents and more.  And like the dog in this parable, we often live with the privilege without realizing it. What makes privilege so important to explore and understand is its impact on your family. If you choose to ignore the different privileges you have over your children, a less comfortable space is created, and your children will be left yearning for control over the thermostat.

Often, those who are of the majority or dominant racial group underestimate the experience and reality of racism that still exists today. We as a country have made progress in this area, but have a long ways to go.  As you think about your own racial identity and the racial identity of the child who will be joining your family, consider the following “privileges” that exist within our society for those of the majority or dominant racial group, which may or may not be privileges available to your child.

To see the full blog post click here.

Excerpt from “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh

I can, if I wish, arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area that I can afford and in which I would want to live.

I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.

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.

When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.

If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.

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.

Read More

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 arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.

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.

I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.

I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.

I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

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.

I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural insider.

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.

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.

I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.

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.

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.

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.

I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.

If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones.

I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.

Adopting a child of color means that you are responsible for fighting racism. This requires educating yourself through literature and trainings, and contesting all points of racial oppression when you are confronted by it. Any racist remark made about any ethnic group diminishes your child and your family.

Your child will feel different. As parents, it will be important to honor your children’s feelings by recognizing their difference and validating their thoughts when they present them. ‘It must be difficult not looking like those around you’ or ‘tell me what it’s like to feel different.’ Never use the phrase: ‘I don’t see you as different.’ This essentially says, ‘I don’t care if you feel different, because this is how I feel,’ which will squander precious opportunities to bond with your child around this important issue. Recognizing their difference will not make them feel worse. At the very least, it will make them feel valued and supported.

Discussion Questions on “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” 

Please use the following questions to help synthesize the topics presented in the “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” excerpt by Peggy McIntosh. The following questions are designed for every adoptive parent, regardless of race.

     1. Name the five privileges that provoked the strongest reaction and why.

     2. What were your feelings and thoughts as you read the article?  

    3. Did you agree with the article? If not, what was your objection?

Please click on the worksheet, which can be saved to your computer or printed. Each parent must complete their own worksheet. Please return all completed worksheets to your Holt branch office assistant, or the assistant for your country program at Holt’s home office.

Worksheet

Racism

Racism is a tricky concept. It affects everyone, regardless of the color of their skin. A system of advantage based on race impacts everyone’s lives: where you live, how much money you make, how law enforcement treats you, odds of being incarcerated, life expectancy, access to public services, educational level and more. In order to effectively explain these discrepancies to your children, it’s important to critically examine racism in our society — even though many people think it vanished after the civil rights movement. National statistics show otherwise.

The overt discrimination and prejudice often associated with racism has been replaced by a more subtle — but equally harmful — system of advantage that benefits the white population of this country. White privilege has been woven into the fabric of our social structure and it is difficult to see if you don’t look closely. Primetime television, cable news, magazine covers and hit movies are all dominated by white faces unless they target a specific ethnic demographic. Scratch a little deeper, and even the entertainment entities geared toward people of color are controlled by white males. Vibe magazine, which features R&B and hip hop music, is owned by Buzzmedia, whose CEO is Stephen Hansen — a white male. Black Entertainment Television is owned by Viacom, whose CEO is Philippe Dauman — a white male. ESPN, which often features African-American athletes, is a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Cooperation, whose CEO is Bob Iger — a white male. If you exclude films with Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Jackie Chan or Jett Li, how many blockbuster movies can you name whose lead protagonist is a person of color? These could be argued as trivial examples of pop culture, but it helps tease out how the white standard continues to permeate our society only a generation and a half outside the civil rights movement.

Everyone — black, Asian, Latino, American Indian, Middle Eastern — contributes to our perceptions of racism, but the white demographic is often overlooked, or seen as bystanders in a game that only people of color play. The best way to approach racism and its effects on your family is to begin deconstructing the white American role in a racist society. We’re not talking about the clan or neo-Nazi hate groups; we’re talking about typical white Americans who work hard to provide for themselves and their families. We all have a role to play in our fight to end racism. We hope these videos will challenge you and generate questions about how to create a more just world for you and your family.

Mirrors of Privilege

Making Whiteness Visible – Mirrors of Privilege was released in 2006, making the film over a decade old. While most of us remember 2006 like it was yesterday, the aesthetic of the film is a clear reminder of how quickly time passes. Despite the mid-aught style of the film, the content is just as relevant today as it ever was. We encourage you to keep an open mind when viewing and try to focus on the messages being delivered. To access this video please contact the branch office or program assistant to obtain a password. For parents whose children have already arrived home, please contact pas@holtinternational.org or sundays@holtinternational.org.