What Do I Have That I Didn’t Earn?

Ahmaud Arbery was born on Mother’s Day in 1994. This past Friday – May 8th, 2020 – he would have turned twenty-six, the same age as my oldest son.

I do not worry that my sons will be hunted and killed while on a jog through the neighborhood.

That is an unearned advantage.

Wanda Cooper-Jones does not have the same privilege.

“What do I have that I didn’t earn?”

That is the question that Peggy McIntosh, former associate director of the Wellesley Centers for Women, and founder of the National SEED Project, asked herself in 1988.

Her answer became the basis for her groundbreaking, still relevant article, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, which contains forty-six examples of her white privilege.

Written thirty-two years ago, numbers 14 and 15 on her list are still not privileges for ALL mothers in this country.

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

15. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.

Talking about privilege is complex. Rage, Shame, Fear, and Indifference often shout the loudest in the discourse.

I have been advantaged and disadvantaged by the circumstances of my birth. My choices have been shaped by a matrix of evolving societal and cultural systems.

What do I have that I didn’t earn?

It is not a complicated question.

It is a quiet, deeply personal, honest place to start. 

More importantly, what will I do with my answer?

End note: I took the photograph in 2008 in Austin, Texas.