Rewriting the Knapsack

I’ve been thinking it’s time that we shift popular understanding of the nature of privilege away from being solely a system of immunity from white violence into a 3-part system of:

  1. PERMISSION TO ENACT/IGNORE WHITE VIOLENCE – White people’s permissible avoidances, aggressions, and silencings,
  2. IMMUNITY FROM WHITE VIOLENCE – White people’s immunity from racial aggression & silencing, and
  3. BENEFIT OF OTHERS’ (HISTORICAL & CONTEMPORARY) WHITE VIOLENCE –Value extracted from colonial genocide, displacement, exploitation, and enslavement, and the continued violence that other white people enact upon POC to maintain this extracted value, which all white people benefit from.

Perhaps it is time to clearly conceive of privilege not only as something that one has, but as something that one has the capacity to do, and the benefit of something that has been done.

This would, perhaps, allow us to better explain the intersections of privilege with police brutality, and white aggression (both macro- and micro-), and would allow us to better understand East Asian-American support of figures like Liang.

If we can see privilege as occurring in three ways, simultaneously, then we can see that the East Asian-Americans are actually protesting Liang’s lack of permission to enact white violence. That East Asian-Americans are actually protesting Liang’s lack of benefitting from others’ historical and contemporary violence. When white privilege becomes a three-part system, we are better able to analyze the various ways in which East Asian-Americans benefit from white privilege.

  1. East Asian-Americans have limited permission to enact/ignore white violence, and Liang’s protesters wish this were not the case.
  2. East Asian-Americans benefit from certain immunities from white violence, though there are also other immunities they do not benefit from.
  3. East Asian-Americans benefit from CONTEMPORARY violence against other POC, while continuing to be hurt by both HISTORICAL violence and CONTEMPORARY violence. This is something that must be interrogated further, and is especially important if we are to describe what an all-encompassing Asian-American political movement might look like – when combined with the desire for permission to enact white violence, the overlap and willful ignorance both historical and contemporary oppressions leads to Asian-American support of the oppression of Black people.

 

Stated another way:

  1. IF YOU CAN ENACT WHITE VIOLENCE, YOU HAVE WHITE PRIVILEGE.

  2. IF YOU ARE IMMUNE FROM WHITE VIOLENCE, YOU HAVE WHITE PRIVILEGE.

  3. IF YOU BENEFIT FROM WHITE VIOLENCE, YOU HAVE WHITE PRIVILEGE.

 

We can also use this system to address other kinds of privileges: it would allow us to see male privilege as being a system that gives men the capacity to sexually assault, silence those assaulted, and avoid seeing this as a system. It would allow us to understand #NotAllMen in a different way, because we would be able to see their protestations as being about certain people’s refusal to carry out the violence their privilege enables them to, and we’d be able to say that the capacity for violence is privilege.

We’d be able to say: we recognize that you are not enacting male violence, but here are the ways in which other men could, if they wanted to.

That could perhaps change the dynamic, maybe: force them to deny that they are helping, rather than having them deny that they have privilege. Let them know that we see them, the goodness of their hearts. Read their denial as caring for women, which they will not be able to deny. Then move the conversation into a different denial.

I believe that this is progress. To move someone from one denial to the next, until there are no denials left to stand on. Then you get something like the current state of the Republican party. Something running on pure emotion, not an ounce of any actual logic left. Something running out of steam. Something that is, quite literally, dying. The progress, of course, is not with those who are in denial, but with those who are watching those who are in denial. That is where our progress happens.

This is the purpose of this post – to help us move the conversation into a new denial. Perhaps this is not setting my sights high enough. But this what I see as a possibility, currently.

And in order to adequately create progress, we must address white denial, and go back to the knapsack, because white people love that shit way too much.

White people love talking about Peggy McIntosh’s text because, despite it’s apparent conceit, the knapsack remains centered on POC lack. As if privilege were solely about white people having things that POC do not, and without any historical context. This does not entirely address the nature of white oppression as being about clinging to white privilege, which originates from colonial exploitation.

And somehow in many of my circles, this discourse became part of the way in which POC themselves talk about privilege. It worked for a while, but we can no longer rely solely on an outdated text to explain privilege to ourselves, or white people. Because privilege is not only about have/have not. It is about the CAPACITY for MORE, and placing that in an historical context.

Rewriting the knapsack also allows us to see oppression, again, not as a material lack, but as the lack of permissible avoidance, aggression, and silencing. The end result, yes, is a lack, but the process through which the lack comes about is what is most important here.

WE NEED ANOTHER KNAPSACK.

So here, I’ve rewritten the knapsack, along with the three points I’ve outlined, to allow us to focus on whiteness as the reason for oppression, and to better explain what white privilege really is: a permissible violence, a permissible silencing, and a permissible ignorance of this violence and silencing.

  1. BECAUSE OF MY WHITENESS, I HAVE PERMISSION TO BE VIOLENT IN ALL THE BELOW WAYS.

  2. BECAUSE OF MY WHITENESS, I AM IMMUNE TO THE VIOLENCE OF ALL OF THE BELOW.

  3. BECAUSE OF MY WHITENESS, I BENEFIT FROM ALL THE VIOLENCE LISTED BELOW.

  1. It is permissible for me to exclude POC from my company because of my whiteness.
  2. It is permissible for me to distrust POC and to be unkind to POC because of my whiteness.
  3. It is permissible for me to deny housing and fair rent to POC because of my whiteness.
  4. It is permissible for me to suspect criminal activity and call the cops on POC because of my whiteness.
  5. It is permissible for me to harass POC in my shop or restaurant because of my whiteness.
  6. It is permissible for me to deny roles in media to POC because of my whiteness.
  7. It is permissible for me to erase the historical significance of POC in my country’s history because of my whiteness.
  8. It is permissible for me to deny children of color representational media because of my whiteness.
  9. It is permissible for me to deny POC the ability to publish with me because of my whiteness.
  10. It is permissible for me to ignore the voices of POC because of my whiteness.
  11. It is permissible for me to ignore the voices of POC because of my whiteness.
  12. It is permissible for me to deny POC access to objects of cultural significance in my business practices because of my whiteness.
  13. It is permissible for me to deny POC financial security because of my whiteness.
  14. It is permissible for me to be aggressive toward children of color because of my whiteness.
  15. It is permissible for me to trivialize the labor of parents of color in educating their children about the harmful effects of my whiteness, because of my whiteness.
  16. It is permissible for me to hold unconscious biases against POC in schools and workplaces, and to remain ignorant of this bias, because of my whiteness.
  17. It is permissible for me to inscribe rudeness onto bodies of color, because of my whiteness.
  18. It is permissible for me to inscribe violence onto bodies of color, because of my whiteness.
  19. It is even more permissible for me to silence POC, especially women of color, when I am in a position of authority, because of my whiteness.
  20. It is permissible for me to deny POC racial/cultural pride, because of my whiteness.
  21. It is permissible for me to ask POC to speak on behalf of all POC, because of my whiteness.
  22. It is permissible for me to demand that POC learn my language and customs, because of my whiteness.
  23. It is permissible for me to silence and alienate POC who criticize governments and institutions because of my whiteness.
  24. It is permissible for me to deny POC the ability to advocate for themselves in institutions.
  25. It is permissible for me to single out POC in law enforcement and tax collection, because of my whiteness.
  26. It is permissible for me to deny POC representation in media because of my whiteness.
  27. It is permissible for me to isolate, ignore, and remain fearful of POC in institutional spaces, because of my whiteness.
  28. It is permissible for me to deny POC career advancement through a simple conversation, because of my whiteness.
  29. It is permissible for me to silence POC’s request for representation in situations where it would be impermissible to silence a white person, because of my whiteness.
  30. It is permissible for me to silence POC when POC point out my own, or others’, violent whiteness, because of my whiteness.
  31. It is permissible for me to disparage or ignore POC writing, activism, and general cultural production, because of my whiteness.
  32. It is permissible for me to silence the perspectives of POC and disempower POC, because of my whiteness.
  33. It is permissible for me to inscribe bodies of color with filth, excess, and general abjection, because of my whiteness.
  34. It is permissible for me to silence POC’s identification of violent whiteness by accusing POC of being selfish and trivializing their perspective, because of my whiteness.
  35. It is permissible for me to erase the accomplishments of POC and attribute those accomplishments to white benevolence, because of my whiteness.
  36. It is permissible for me to continuously commit micro-aggressions against POC while simultaneously denying their existence, because of my whiteness.
  37. It is permissible for me to deny POC the ability to gain knowledge of my trade or profession, because of my whiteness.
  38. It is permissible for me to deny POC the ability to imagine the possibility of entering certain professional circles, political circles, or academic circles, because of my whiteness.
  39. It is permissible for me to reduce POC to a knowable other, because of my whiteness.
  40. It is permissible for me to mistreat and deny entrance to POC in public places, because of my whiteness.
  41. It is permissible for me to deny legal, medical, or other professional services to POC, because of my whiteness.
  42. It is permissible for me to alienate POC from any activity I participate in, because of my whiteness.
  43. It is permissible for me to discredit and undermine POC leaders, because of my whiteness.
  44. It is permissible for me to teach only the white canon to my students, because of my whiteness.
  45. It is permissible for me to teach only the white canon to my students, because of my whiteness.
  46. It is permissible for me to market only to white audiences, because of my whiteness.
  47. It is permissible for me to embarrass, harass, or be hostile to POC in public, because of my whiteness.
  48. It is permissible for me to undermine POC ability to live in a white neighborhood, because of my whiteness.
  49. It is permissible for me to use homophobia to target POC rights, because of my whiteness.
  50. It is permissible for me to make POC feel unwelcome in any public, institutional, or social situation, because of my whiteness.

IN CLOSING:

  1. BECAUSE OF MY WHITENESS, I HAVE PERMISSION TO BE VIOLENT IN ALL THE ABOVE WAYS.

  2. BECAUSE OF MY WHITENESS, I AM IMMUNE TO THE VIOLENCE OF ALL OF THE ABOVE.

  3. BECAUSE OF MY WHITENESS, I BENEFIT FROM ALL THE VIOLENCE LISTED ABOVE.

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