MARBLEHEAD — How white privilege enables or is a barrier to people in their daily lives, depending on their skin color, was the topic of discussion Monday night in the “Conversations on Race” series, co-sponsored by the Marblehead Racial Justice Team and the Abbot Public Library, which donates the space.
The “Daily Effects of White Privilege” discussion is the last scheduled conversation of the year, and the ninth in the series — the plan is to continue the monthly conversations indefinitely, according to Mary Gardner, a member of the Marblehead Racial Justice Team.
“It’s our goal to create a space for people to talk about racism in Marblehead and surrounding towns and come away with understanding that they change their lives,” said Gardner, one of the facilitators of the discussions which began in April. “Raising your personal awareness of racism in yourself and your surroundings just creates change. We’re like the stone that creates the ripples.”
Gardner said the conversations typically draw between 35 to 55 people. She said everyone who comes thinks they’re anti-racist and leave becoming aware that there’s so much that they don’t yet know.
Monday’s conversation was based on “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” an essay by Peggy McIntosh.
“As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something which puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage,” McIntosh wrote. “I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege.
“So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege. I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless backpack of special privilege, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks. Describing white privilege makes one accountable,” she wrote.”
Diane Vella, 68, of Rockport, said there have been similar conversations on race at her town’s church and that she “has become a student of her privilege.” She said she came to the conversation so that she can understand it and so that she doesn’t continue to perpetuate it.
Vella said you don’t see or hear privilege — you swim in it. Her privilege, she said, is that she has a network of support that includes finances and emotional support. She said she has never had to struggle for food, housing or education. She owns her home and she has an inheritance — she said her kids have an inheritance as well.
“That sets up a completely unlevel playing field for some people,” Vella said. “My nest egg is invested, so my financial stability is increased because I have assets a lot of people don’t.”
Jerome Hicks, 56, of Lynn, who is black, said he has been working for his company for 27 years, but that people have come into the company and been promoted with little experience because they were friends with other people.
Hicks also tells the story of his mother, who worked as a maid for 60 years in the south — she worked two to three jobs and made $75 a week to pay rent and feed her 10 kids. But he said he never saw his mother cry or get upset and she never missed a day of work.
“I tell people these stories so people will be grateful for what they have,” Hicks said.
Lynn Nadeau, 77, of Marblehead, said she has lived an easy life, when asked about how white privilege has benefited her. She said it’s important to look at institutions that created the disparity of income and power in our country.
“I can’t unpack skin color from economic advantage,” Nadeau said. “I’m trying to unpack and understand the impact of skin color on an individual’s life as compared to economics on an individual’s life.”